TOP
Central America North America Solo Travel

The Best Way To Visit Chichen Itza – A Travel Guide

Last updated on June 4th, 2024 at 09:53 am

What is the best way to visit Chichen Itza? This question is often uppermost in the minds of those visiting Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It certainly was for me when I was planning a trip to Cancun. I had limited time and a long to-do list so was looking for the most efficient way to visit this important site.

The good news is there are several ways to visit Chichen Itza. Whether you want to know how to visit Chichen Itza on your own or how to visit Chichen Itza from Cancun, there’s an option for you.

In this post I’ll show you various alternatives and tell you which, in my view, is the best. I’ll share some key information along with some travel tips and advice to help you get the most out of your visit.

Regardless of how you choose to get there, a trip to this ancient Mayan city should definitely be part of your itinerary.

Image shows the Temple of Kukulcan, the most recognisable of the buildings at Chichén Itzá. This image is contained within an blog post detailing the best way to visit Chichen Itza.

What is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza (in Spanish, Chichén Itzá) was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people. The pre-Columbian era is the time period in the history of the Americas (comprising North America, Central America and South America) that began with the original arrival of people through to European colonisation which began with the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly when Chichen Itza was built, with historians and archeologists giving different dates. It does appear however that it was a significant centre in the Mayan world by around 600 AD and the regional capital by the 9th century. Population estimates range from 35,000 to 50,000 at the height of its power.

Chichen Itza started to decline during the 1100s. Today, the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

Image shows part of the site known as Chichen Itza located in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. In this blog post I'll discuss the best way to get to Chichén Itzá.

Chichen Itza was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1988. Then, in 2007, one of its most recognisable structures, the Temple of Kukulcán, was named one of the new seven wonders of the world following a worldwide vote.

The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are federal property with the site managed by the National Institute of Anthropology and History. The land under the monuments had been in private ownership until 2010 when it was purchased by the Yucatan state.

What does Chichen Itza mean?

The name Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”, with chi meaning mouths, chen meaning wells and Itza the tribe who had settled in the area. There are several cenotes in the region providing water thereby making it a suitable site for a settlement.

Where is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza is located in the state of Yucatan about 193 kilometres (120 miles) west of Cancun. To give a sense of distances from elsewhere, Chichen Itza is about:

  • 1400 kms (870 miles) from Mexico City
  • 45 kms (28 miles) from Valladolid
  • 180 kms (111 miles) from Playa del Carmen
  • 150 kms (93 miles) from Tulum

Image shows carved serpent heads protruding from one of the buildings seen on a visit to Chichen Itza.

What is the Best Way to Visit Chichen Itza?

I’ve set out below a summary of each of the ways you can visit Chichen Itza, however in my opinion, the best way to visit Chichen Itza is by joining an organised Chichen Itza tour.

These are the 5 ways to visit Chichen Itza:

1. Rental Car

If you prefer to visit Chichen Itza independently, then renting a car is a good option. You can create your own schedule, stop where and when you like and generally have the greatest amount of flexibility.

I did not hire a car during my stay in Cancun, however it’s worth keeping the following in mind:

  • book with a reputable company
  • be clear on pricing – does it include insurance, is there a security deposit etc.
  • check the minimum age for renting a car
  • confirm what documents/licences you need to produce (copies or originals)
  • check if there are any road tolls & if so, are they cash only
  • inspect the car before driving off – you don’t want to be charged for pre-existing damage
  • confirm who you contact for roadside assistance in the event you need help
  • confirm if you are required to return the car with a full tank of gas

Check here for rental car availability and pricing:

2. Bus

Taking the bus to Chichen Itza is the cheapest option. The ADO bus departs from Cancun going directly to Chichen Itza once a day at 8.45am and returns at 4pm. Check here for the latest schedule and pricing:

Travel everywhere for less

Alternatively, take the ADO bus to Valladolid, the closet town to Chichen Itza, and catch a shared minibus/minivan (Colectivo) to Chichen Itza. If you decide to stay overnight in Valladolid, then you have the option of taking an early morning Colectivo and arriving as Chichen Itza is opening.

3. Organised Group Tour

In my view, the easiest and best way to visit Chichen Itza is by joining an organsied group tour. There are plenty of options available, with most including a cenote visit for a swim, lunch and some time in Valladolid. I chose this tour.

You should note that many, if not all, tours do not include in the tour price the foreign tax fee payable to visit Chichen Itza. This will need to be paid by you separately on the day – I paid $39 USD.

Another alternative is to visit Chichen Itza using the Go City Cancun Pass. This will allow you to visit over 40 attractions including Chichen Itza.

Those companies operating Chichen Itza tours will pick you up from your hotel or from a pre-arranged meeting point and return you there at the end of the day. You will have a guided tour of Chichen Itza and some free time to explore on your own.

The main attraction to joining a group tour is convenience. You need do nothing more than show up! On the downside:

  • you will be following a schedule with little to no flexibility
  • you’re unlikely to be part of a small group tour – the bus will be full
  • you will likely arrive at Chichen Itza when it’s already busy with other visitors and when it’s already hot
  • time at Chichen Itza will be limited

That said, I still believe that the ease and efficiency offered by an organised group tour make it the best way to visit Chichen Itza.

4. Private transfer

If public transport or group tours aren’t your thing, then consider a private transfer with guide such as this one. Although more expensive than a group tour, you’ll likely arrive before the crowds and enjoy greater flexibility with your schedule.

5. Fly

If you are very short on time or want to have a different experience, then consider this private tour by plane. It’s not something I did…so let me know if you enjoyed it!

Image shows a close up of carvings in the stone base of one of the buildings at Chichén Itzá

Finally, regardless of what you decide when it comes to getting to Chichen Itza (or anywhere for that matter), be sure you have adequate travel insurance in place.

How Much Does it Cost to Visit Chichen Itza?

The general admission fee is 643 Mexican Pesos (about $39 USD) for tourists. That sum was, of course, on top of the cost of the tour, although my tour did include a visit to a cenote, lunch and a stop in Valladolid.

There are 2 elements to the general admission fee. One is payment to the Institute of History and Anthropology of Mexico and the other, the Ministry of Culture of Yucatan. I understand that there is a separate queue for each. Another benefit to joining a group tour is that this process is taken care of for you!

The overall cost to visit Chichen Itza will of course depend on which option you take to get there.

Best Time to Visit Chichen Itza

In determining when is the best time to visit Chichen Itza there are a few things to consider:

Weather

The best time to visit Chichen Itza in terms of the seasons is December to April. That said, visiting outside of the high season will mean a reduction in price and crowds but with potential weather impacts. You can read more about the weather generally in my Cancun post here. I visited in March.

Chichen Itza gets very hot – the average daily highs are 29-34° Celsius (84-93° F) between December and April. There is some shade on site, however you will likely spend a fair amount of time under the sun, especially if you are part of a guided tour. It was around 35 Celsius (feeling like 38° C) when I visited.

Opening Times

Chichen Itza is open from Monday to Sunday, 8am to 5pm. On Sunday, there is free admission for Mexican citizens and foreigners with residence in Mexico. There is also a light show at night.

Crowds

Chichen Itza gets very busy with visitors coming from surrounding areas, Cancun and elsewhere in the Riviera Maya. Staying nearby overnight will give you the opportunity to visit early before the crowds arrive. If you tour Chichen Itza with a group, you are less likely to arrive early and will have to deal with the crowds and heat.

I visited in mid-March and although it was hot and busy, I do still feel that, overall, it was the best time to visit the region generally and to go to Chichen Itza. Although I had no control over the time I arrived on site, I was aware beforehand that it would be hot and so I was prepared with the right clothing and enough water.

Image shows the writer of this blog post under the hot sun of Chichén Itzá

How Long Does it Take to Visit Chichen Itza?

A group tour will typically have around 2+ hours on site which may not be enough time for a really comprehensive visit. You will learn a lot about the Temple of Kukulcán, but you will need to explore much of the rest of the site yourself.

It goes without saying that if you visit independently you will have flexibility to stay longer than you will if you visit as part of a tour.

Generally speaking, most people find 3 hours enough time to explore Chichen Itza.

What is There to See at Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza is a large site, with the core covering an area of around 5 kilometres (1.9 square miles).

The site was originally rough terrain which was levelled to permit building. The structures on site comprise a number of architectural styles with all buildings linked by paved roads or walkways called sacbeob. Many of the structures were once painted in green, red, blue and purple – today however they are the gray colouring of the stone. The buildings remain testimony however to the incredible astronomical and architectural knowledge possessed by the Mayan people.

There is much to see including the following highlights:

The Temple of Kukulcán

The most recognisable structure at Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulcán. Also known in Spanish as El Castillo (meaning “the castle”), it is a 4-sided pyramid standing 24 metres (79 feet) tall. The temple on top takes the overall height to almost 100 feet tall.

Each side has a staircase and each staircase has 91 steps up – a total of 364 steps. One further step up to the temple makes 365 steps, one for each day of the year.

Stone balustrades appear on each staircase whilst at the base of the north staircase, there are two feathered serpent heads representing the god Kukulcán. It is along these balustrades that, during the spring and autumn equinoxes, shadows and light create the appearance of a serpent sliding down the staircase.

The Temple of Kukulcán was built on top of an earlier temple. The earlier temple contains a red jaguar throne with its spots created by inlaid jade. In 1997, investigations revealed that both temples were built on top of a cenote.

Whilst it used to be possible to climb up the Temple of Kukulcán, it is no longer permitted. You will need to admire it from the ground!

The Great Ball Court

Ball Courts were used for the playing of the Ball Game by Mesoamerican societies. It is thought that the Ball Game combined both ritualistic and sporting elements. The rules of the game are not known, however it’s believed that the aim was to keep a rubber ball in play using only hips and thighs. It is thought that stone ballcourt goals are a later addition to the game. The number of players, scoring system and how the winner was decided are all unknown.

Human sacrifice is also associated with the Ball Game, particularly in the Maya culture. It’s not known however who was sacrificed, perhaps the captain of a losing team.

If you have visited other Mayan ruins, you will no doubt have seen a ball court before. The Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza however is something else! Measuring 168 metres by 70 metres (551 by 230 feet), it’s enormous. The platforms which run parallel to one another and flank the playing area are 95 metres (312 feet) long and the walls are 8 metres (26 feet) high.

Image shows the walls of the Great Ballcourt at Chichén Itzá together with the stone ball court ring on the wall.

At the northern end of the Great Ball Court is the Temple of the Bearded Man. The temple is a relatively small building with carving on its inner walls. A central figure of a man is depicted with a carving beneath his chin resembling facial hair.

Image shows the Temple of the Bearded man located at the northern end of the Great Ball Court at Chichén Itzá

At the opposite end from the Temple of the Bearded Man is the South Temple. Built into the east wall of the Great Ball Court is the Temple of the Jaguars.

Platform of Venus

This square platform has a set of stairs on each side at the top of which protrude serpent heads. It is thought that the top of the platform was used for ceremonial purposes.

The Skull Platform

The Tzompantli, also known as the Skull Platform, is a platform once used for the display of human skulls, those of war prisoners or sacrificial victims.

Image shows the Skull Platform at Chichén Itzá, and is a close up of the carved skulls on the base of the platform.

The Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars

Located between the Skull Platform and the Temple of Venus is the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars. This is also a 4-sided platform with a stairway on each side. Each balustrade is topped with a serpent head and the carvings on the walls depict eagles and jaguars consuming human hearts. It is thought the platform was used for religious and ceremonial purposes.

The Temple of the Warriors

This is a large stepped pyramid surrounded by rows of carved columns depicting warriors.

Image shows the Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá

The Thousand Columns

Along the southern wall of the Temple of Warriors are exposed columns that would have supported a roof. The columns are in 3 sections, including the west group that runs along the front of the Temple of Warriors.

Image shows The Thousand Columns next to the Temple of Warriors at Chichen Itza

The Sacred Cenote

I did not get to the sacred cenote! I spent most of my time on the tour with the guide which limited the time I had to look around the rest of the site….I have flagged this in my list of tips below.

The sacred cenote was of great importance to the Mayan people. Rituals, offerings and human sacrifices were made here.

Best Places to Stay near Chichen Itza

As I mentioned above, I made a day trip to Chichen Itza so did not stay nearby. However, for those looking to base themselves closer to Chichen Itza or other Yucatan towns, then locations to consider include Piste, Valladolid, Merida or Izamal. You can start your accommodation research here:

Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza

Regardless of how you choose to visit Chichen Itza, here are my tips for getting the most from your visit:

1. if you are joining a group tour, check whether entrance fees are included and if not, make sure you have money to cover these;

2. if you are visiting independently, consider hiring a Chichen Itza guide at the entrance to the site. Alternatively, there is signage around Chichen Itza or consider taking your own guidebook;

3. if you are visiting as part of a day trip, this will include a Chichen Itza tour guide who should give you the option of whether to stay with them the whole time or leave early. Do the latter to give yourself more time to look around. My guide was excellent but most of the time was spent talking about the Temple of Kukulcán and we did not get to other areas;

4. the site is very large so do some research beforehand to identify what you want to see in addition to the Temple of Kukulcán;

5. Chichen Itza is hot! Take plenty of water. You can purchase drinks at the site but they are more expensive than what you’d pay nearer your accommodation;

6. wear loose fitting, cool clothing;

7. take an umbrella for shade – you can hire one for $5 USD if you forget to take your own;

8. wear sunscreen or a rash guard;

9. wear a hat and sunglasses;

10. wear comfortable shoes as you will do a bit of walking although surfaces were generally flat; and 

11. there are many traders at the site selling all kinds of trinkets and souvenirs (including a toy that makes the sound of a jaguar!). Consider buying on your way back so you aren’t having to carry things with you.

Final Thoughts

A visit to Chichen Itza is a must do for anyone visiting the Yucatan Peninsula. Choosing how to get to Chichen Itza however will depend very much on your circumstances. By doing your research and choosing the option best suited to your aspirations and budget, you will have a great visit to this amazing place.

For my part, I think an organsied group tour is the best way to visit Chichen Itza. Surely there can’t be an easier, more efficient way to visit than simply turning up and letting someone else do all the hard work! It’s also a particularly good choice for those whose time in the region is limited.

If you are looking for further things to do in and from Cancun, be sure you read my post on creating your own perfect Cancun itinerary, my post on kayaking in Cancun and my post on joining a cenote tour.

If you need any general assistance with planning a trip to Mexico, then check out my Resources page.

Disclaimer – Information correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

TAGS:

«

»

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.