Chichen Itza: Exploring the Most Famous Mayan Ruins in Mexico
Chichen Itza is the most famous Mayan Ruins in Mexico, if not in the entire world. The site is easily accessible from all towns and cities on the Yucatan Peninsula on a one-day trip. Read our traveler's guide on how to visit the New Wonder of the World with tips on how much things cost, how to get to Chichen Itza, what you can see and whether it is better to visit independently or with a tour.
Chichen Itza is an impressive archeological site standing in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula, astounding us until today how extraordinary and knowledgeable Maya people were in every aspect of their lives - architecture, astrology or mathematics.
It is one of the most well-known and most-visited places in the Americas, and we believe it would have been even without the UNESCO status or without the status of being one of New Seven Wonders of the World, simply because of its stunning beauty.
Do not skip ruins of Chichen Itza only because you are worried about the crowds.
Seeing the ancient Mayan city is a dream of every traveler - the iconic pyramids, sacred cenotes, and the mysterious Maya civilization are worth exploring, but to enjoy the visit of Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins to the fullest, we've created this guide aiming to cover all the basics you should know before visiting the famous archeological site.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHICHEN ITZA
Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan pre-Columbian cities inhabited between 400 AD to 1200 AD.
Although nowadays we don't know much about Maya people, one thing is sure. The city had been abandoned even before Spaniards arrived. But again, we cannot be exactly sure why. Some historians say that overpopulation caused that Maya people ran out of resources, others think that it was epidemy, too long dry season or war which wiped out the city.
Chichen Itza grew during centuries, and as the city thrived, it became more and more powerful, had a defined political structure, powerful economy, and we can also find here evidence that the city was in contact with other cities and cultures.
At Maya times, architecture was a way how to express importance and power, so until today we can admire unique and well-preserved structures within this archeological site.
THE MOST FAMOUS STRUCTURES IN CHICHEN ITZA
Chichen Itza is a pretty large site, and be prepared to spend here three to four hours minimum.
The ruin site itself is quite spread out and well-maintained, so you can easily get to all structures within the area. It is easy to navigate in Chichen Itza, so you should not miss any important structure, but here we will point out some of the most significant ones to make sure you will see them.
El Castillo Pyramid (The Kukulcan Temple) | Actually, you really cannot miss the most famous structure of Chichen Itza, the stunning and massive El Castillo Pyramid, as it stands right in the middle of the courtyard a short walk from the entrance. The 30 meters tall pyramid is impressive not only for its look but also for the connection with Mayan believe system and astrology. The pyramid has four sides like a compass, each side has 91 steps plus one platform on the top, which gives number 365 for each day in the solar calendar (we must admit here that Maya people were pretty advanced). Thanks to 3D technology, archeologists has recently discovered that inside the pyramid are another two, smaller ones, and it seems that the structure we can see today was built on top of the old pyramids.
Temple of the Warrior | This large structure consists of four platforms, and a wide staircase leading to the top. Next, to the staircase are statues holding bowls in hands, probably used during religious rituals.
Wall of Skulls | The Wall of Skulls shows decapitated human heads of enemies defeated in war or sacrificed to Gods.
The Ball Court | One of the most impressive places within Chichen Itza is the Ball Court. Practically, every single Mayan archeological site in Mexico has a ball court, but the Ball Court in Chichen Itza is the largest. Maya people played a sport which was a bit cruel, as usually team of losers was sacrificed. Players could not use hands or feet, but their goal was to put a small rubber ball through a ring-shaped stone hoop which was high on the wall.
El Caracol | The Observatory is a circular-shaped structure with staircases, two platforms, and only one small window. It apparently served for stargazing.
Group of 1000 Columns | The group is right next to the Temple of the Warrior, and it is a structure we hadn't known about before our visit to Chichen Itza. The columns once supported a roof, but the roof is now gone, and you can today admire about 200 columns depicting warriors in bas-relief. Of course, there are much more must-see places in Chichen Itza, but we cannot make it that easy for you.
ENTRANCE FEE TO CHICHEN ITZA
Entrance fee to Chichen Itza has doubled since 2018, and as per 2019, the ticket for foreigners costs Mx 480 (we did not know that the entrance is that expensive, and almost ran out of money since we don't carry spare cash or a credit card for safety reasons).
The ticket consists of two fees - the actual admission and a government fee.
You can pay with a credit card or cash at the counter, but please note that it is not possible to pay the government fee by credit card.
It means you need at least Mx 80 in cash. There are ATMs near the entrance in case you don't have enough cash with you.
BEST TIPS AND THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING CHICHEN ITZA
For many travelers, visiting Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins is the highlight on Mexico itinerary. Read our best tips and a couple of things you should know before visiting to know what to expect and how the best enjoy your time.
Arrive Early or Late | Crowds start to fill the site every day around 10 AM, so try to be at the entrance when Chichen Itza opens at 8 AM. The second option is to arrive later in the afternoon around 3 PM, but you won't have that much time to explore the place, plus the heat can be unbearable.
Climbing the Pyramids | Chichen Itza is the reason why people travel to Mexico, that's why rules are more strict than in other places. You cannot climb any structure within the area, so please, respect the rules.
Know the Time | From October to April, Cancun and Quintana Roo state is one hour ahead of Chichen Itza and the rest of the country. Make sure you know what time is in Chichen Itza on the day of your visit.
Bring your Water and Snack | Unless you are willing to pay outrageous prices for an average meal, bring your own refreshment.
Bring Cash | You need to pay at least a part of the entrance fee in cash.
Parking | Do not park your rental car on the side of the road, but drive to the official secured parking lot. Parking costs Mx 30, and you don't have to worry about your vehicle.
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HOW TO GET TO CHICHEN ITZA
You have three options on how to get to Chichen Itza, all of them are easy, no matter where are you traveling from - you can use a rental car, bus, colectivo or the easiest way right after traveling by car is taking a tour.
Rental Car | The most popular way how to get around Mexico is by rental car, especially if you are visiting the country for two or three weeks. You can rent a car almost anywhere on the Yucatan Peninsula, chiefly in places with a high concentration of tourists such as Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Merida or Valladolid. All those places are less than 200 kilometers from Chichen Itza, which makes it for a perfect one-day trip.
Public Transport | It's never been easier to get to Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins by bus. ADO bus service run between every tourist city or town from people often visit the ruins like Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Merida or Valladolid. You can check out the schedule online, or buy a ticket one day before your departure date on a bus station. Ticket cost differs depending on where are you traveling from, but count anything between Mx 100 to Mx 200. The closest to Chichen Itza is Valladolid it takes about an hour to get there (you can take also a cheaper second class bus for Mx 37 one way). The most expensive bus is from Playa del Carmen because it takes almost four hours to reach the site.
Colectivo | If you want to save a bit, you can take colectivo, a small van which usually leaves the city or town when full. Sometimes, you need to be a bit patient, but generally, colectivos to Chichen Itza depart regularly.
Tour | It is up to you to consider the pros and cons of traveling with organized tours (more about it later), but this way of travel is unquestionably the most comfortable if you don't have a car. You can choose from a large number of tours here.
VENDORS INSIDE CHICHEN ITZA
Uncountable times we've heard people complaining about vendors selling souvenirs inside Chichen Itza site and were a little bit worried about it.
We did not want to have spoiled memories of one of the greatest architectural feats from past times because of people trying to sell us a keychain. Thankfully, we did not find the situation that bad.
Yes, there are many vendors within Chichen Itza, and maybe over hundreds of stalls, but all of them are located near sides of the site, they don't interrupt the views and vendors won't approach you when walking around pyramids or other Mayan sights.
WHERE TO STAY BEFORE VISITING CHICHEN ITZA
Chichen Itza is the most popular site on the Yucatan Peninsula, if not in the whole of Mexico, and you can stay literally anywhere around (within driving distance), without any difficulties to visit the archeological place.
We've handpicked the best-rated hotels for a reasonable price in every location from where travelers usually visit Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza | Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows - You cannot sleep closer to Chichen Itza than in this hotel, and if you want to beat the crowds in the morning, this is the best place where you can stay. The hotel offers beautiful rooms, several outdoor swimming pools, and extensive gardens.
Valladolid | Le Muuch Hotel - Right in the city center you can find a real gem, beautiful hotel with a lovely courtyard, garden and swimming pool. You can easily reach Chichen Itza from Valladolid by bus, colectivo or with a tour.
Tulum | XscapeTulum - New rooms with a personal touch, delicious breakfast, outdoor pool, air-conditioning, and a perfect location close to the center and beaches make from this hotel a great base for visiting Chichen Itza.
Cancun | The Royal Caribbean - An All Suites Resort - Cancun is a premier resort destination, but it doesn't mean you cannot leave and explore what the Yucatan has to offer. This resort features modern and clean rooms and all-inclusive service.
Playa del Carmen | Antera Hotel & Residences - An exceptional hotel with an outstanding roof terrace is close to the city center. Playa del Carmen in another resort town from where you can visit the Mayan Ruins.
Merida | Casa Del Maya Bed & Breakfast - This hotel is a lovely place, an oasis within the city where you can enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, great breakfast, and an outdoor swimming pool.
CENOTES NEAR CHICHEN ITZA
The Yucatan Peninsula has almost 6000 cenotes - underground sinkholes with crystal clear water.
We loved in Mexico combining sightseeing and swimming in cenotes (our favorite was Coba Ruins with three cenotes nearby), and you can try it even here near Chichen Itza. The ruins have even one cenote - Sacred Cenote - inside the site, but it is not possible to swim there.
Less than 6 kilometers from Chichen Itza is a very popular cenote Ik Kil, where many people are headed after the visit, so expect crowds, because it is also one of the most popular Instagram spots in Mexico.
The entrance fee is Mx 80.
If you have more time, we actually know about even nicer and less crowded cenotes not that far from Chichen Itza (it is much closer to Valladolid) - Cenote Suytun or Cenote X’kekén and Samula.
VISITING CHICHEN ITZA INDEPENDENTLY OR WITH A TOUR
You can decide whether you prefer to visit Chichen Itza independently, with a guide or with a tour, every option has its pros and cons, but all of them are easy to arrange.
Independently | It's very easy to see Chichen Itza independently, as because of its popularity, you won't have the tiniest problem to get to the ruins from whatever city or town you decide to stay on the Yucatan Peninsula. You can walk around the grounds without a guide, take your time, and read information boards for a better understanding of why was the site built and what was the meaning of all structures. On top of that, we also downloaded a couple of longer articles about Chichen Itza, and always sat down and read more detailed information. We recommend the visit of Chichen Itza without a guide to all of you who prefer to explore places on own without being on a tight schedule, and for all travelers on a small budget.
Guide | If you prefer to know more about the history of Chichen Itza, and want to hear it from someone knowledgeable, yet you still prefer to arrive on own by bus or rental car, you can use a service of one of many guides (English or Spanish speaking) who work inside the site. Price can differ but expect to pay anything between Mx 600 to Mx 1000 for two to three hours guided tour. You don't need to make a reservation in advance, because guides stand near the entrance - always talk to your guide for a while to make sure his English is comprehensible for you.
Tour | The most convenient (but also the most expensive) way how to visit Chichen Itza is with a tour, especially for those who stay in a resort or in any place further, and don't want to worry about transport there and back. The advantage of traveling with a tour is that you don't need to worry about arranging anything, and a guide is often included. It does not matter where you stay on the Yucatan Peninsula, it is always easy, to find the right service for you. There is no shortage of tours to Chichen Itza, and you can search the one which suits you the best via this link.
WHAT TO PACK FOR CHICHEN ITZA
Chichen Itza is usually a one-day trip, so pack lightly. In case you need to bring more stuff with you, you can find lockers behind the counter. We visited Chichen Itza at the end of the dry season when it was too hot and humid, so we really appreciated having the following items.
Camera | Chichen Itza belongs among world's seven wonders, so having a camera to make perfect photos is a must.
Protection Against Sun - Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Lipbalm with Sunscreen, Hat | It is hot and sunny almost all year round in this part of Mexico, and you should never underestimate protection against sun.
Water Bottle | Staying hydrated is more than important in Chichen Itza as there is no shade on the grounds. We never had to buy a plastic bottle in Mexico water was always provided by accommodation free of charge. Try to reduce your plastic footprint when you can.
Rain Poncho | It can rain on Yucatan, especially closer you travel to the rainy season (May to October), rain poncho will come handy because there is nowhere to hide.
Swimsuit for Him & for Her | Yucatan is well-known for cenotes, and there are many of them you can visit on your one day trip to Chichen Itza. Pack swimsuit to cool off after a couple of hours walking under the scorching sun.
WHEN TO VISIT CHICHEN ITZA
Chichen Itza is all year round destination, but there are a couple of things you should consider.
Weather-wise, the best time to travel to Chichen Itza and Mexico generally is from November to late April, when the weather is more or less stable, it is hot, humid, and it rains very scarcely. May to October is the rainy season, and it can rain much more, especially later in the afternoon.
On the other hand, Chichen Itza is so popular you might want to consider visiting the ruins during the rainy season or in the shoulder season (May or October) because of fewer crowds.
When it comes to the time of the day, it is wise to enter the ruins either early in the morning (the site opens at 8 AM), or later in the afternoon (the site closes at 4:30 PM). Large tour groups start to arrive approximately at10 AM, plus it gets very hot around midday.
Also, if you have a chance, avoid Sundays. As we noticed, Mexican citizens have a free entrance to all tourist places (or at least ruins) on Sundays, and places, especially those expensive ones, are packed with Mexican families.
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