Visiting Chichén Itzá is one of the best things to do when visiting the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Why? Because you will discover one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’, that’s why. Every year, literally millions of tourists visit this Unesco World Heritage Site. And believe me, it is worth the visit. In my post I will run you through what Chichén Itzá is, how to visit and what the best things to see at this interesting historical site are. So here’s my ultimate guide to visiting Chichén Itzá for first timers.
What is Chichén Itzá?
Chichén Itzá was a Mayan city on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It was an urban centre of the Maya from about AD750 to 1200. Today it is an archaeological site that you can visit to discover the world of the Mayans. The site is over 1,000 years old and houses extensive ruins over the 740 acres it encompasses. You will discover how the Maya lived through the structures they built and which stand at Chichén Itzá today.
Where is Chichén Itzá?
Chichén Itzá is located on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The nearest city is Valladolid. Many people who visit come on a day trip from one of the many holiday spots in the Yucatán, like Cancun. My day trip to Chichén Itzá was a day trip from Cancun, and it took about 2 hours in the bus to reach. It was an interesting drive through this part of Mexico. It was very flat, bushy with small villages.
What to See at Chichén Itzá? Chichén Itzá Ruins Guide
El Castillo Pyramid
El Castillo Pyramid dominates the Chichén Itzá skyline
Chichén Itzá is dominated by The Temple of the Kulkulkán (el Castillo Pyramid). Well you cannot miss it as it is 98 foot (29 metres) tall. Kulkulkan is a feathered snake deity in the Mayan religion and this pyramid is guarded by enormous carved serpent heads around the base of the stairs. Each side of the pyramid has a stairway which represents the four points of a compass.
Since 2008 you cannot climb the structure. I was able to since I first visited Chichén Itzá before 2008. It is extremely steep, having 365 steps, one for each day in the solar calendar, and I was warned that the steps are small and many people get scared, particularly on the way down. This was true, and like many others, I can down slowly on my bottom! But the view from the top was worth it.
Temple of the Warriors
Round and square columns of the Temple of the Warriors
The Temple of the Warriors is another impressive stone structure at Chichén Itzá. This structure is 40 feet (12 metres) high and 133 feet (40.5 metres) wide. It is believed it was built for really large gatherings and is also known as the Hall of the Thousand Columns. The temple has four platforms, flanked on the south and west sides by 200 round and square columns, which are believed to have held up the roof at one time. The square columns are carved with Toltec warriors. On its top are serpent columns and plenty of decorative features related to Maya religious ceremonies. Very impressive.
The Maya Ball Court
Inside the Maya Ball Court
The Maya Ball Court at Chichén Itzá is the largest ball court at any Mayan sit-in the world. Here, at the ball court, my guide explained the game. There were two teams. They needed to put the ball into a small stone circle perched high on a wall. Whoever won the game, received the honour of being decapitated and sacrificed to the gods in the sacred cenote! I’m not sure I would have liked to play this game! Apparently this ball game is over 3,500 years old, making it the first ever organised game in the history of sporting games.
The Sacred Cenote
What is a cenote you ask? Well a cenote is a sinkhole that form natural pools. There are many of them throughout the Yucatán in Mexico. Cenotes have deep spiritual significance to the Maya, as does this one in Chichén Itzá. The Sacred Cenote or Cenote de los Sacrificios measure roughly 200 feet (61 metres) across with sheer cliffs that drop to the water’s surface. To ensure the cenote stayed full of water, sacrificers were made to appease the rain god Chac. Numerous human skeletons have been found at the bottom of the cenote and it is believed they were sacrificed to the gods. Because this cenote is sacred, you cannot swim in this cenote. Fair enough – I thought the water didn’t look overly inviting due to its browny-green colour!
Other Cool Archaeological Structures at Chichén Itzá
Lots of cool carvings to see at Chichen Itza
The above structures I have mention will take you around 2-3 hours to discover. There are more to discover including Tzompantli meaning ‘wall of skulls’. This large platform supported states on which decapitated human heads were impaled on top of each other. You can also visit the House of the Eagles and El Caracol where you will see more carvings. Take another couple of hours to explore these other structures.
Logistics to Visiting Chichén Itzá for your First time
Chichén Itzá Opening Hours
Chichén Itzá is open every day from 8am to 5pm. Last entry is at 4pm.
Best Time to Visit Chichén Itzá
The best time to visit the Yucatán Peninsula in general is from mid-November to April. This is when the weather is warm and rainfall rare. The best time to visit Chichén Itzá is in the morning after the gates open or around 3pm after people have left for the day. These times are when you can avoid the heat of the middle of the day and the crowds are less. But you can visit Chichén Itzá any time however, I would avoid Sundays when admission is free for Mexican citizens
How to Visit Chichén Itzá
Visit Chichén Itzá by ADO Bus
You can take the local ADO buses, with a little pre-planning. These run several times a day connecting most cities such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum to Chichén Itzá. Check out ADO buses for details or Busbud to buy a ticket. From Valladolid, there’s bus service every 30 minutes for about $26 MXN and it takes about 45 minutes.
Visit Chichén Itzá by Renting a Car and Driving Yourself
If renting a car there are plenty of car rental companies to rent a car. I suggest you check out Rentalcars first for pricing and availability. If driving yourself from Cancun, take 180D highway that connects you to Chichén Itzá. It is a toll road so bring enough Mexican pesos to cover it as USD or credit cards are not accepted.
Cost to Enter Chichén Itzá if coming by ADO Bus or driving yourself
The entrance fee to Chichén Itzá is 242 MXN ($11 USD).
Parking at Chichén Itzá costs 30 MXN ($1.50 USD)
Make sure you bring Mexican pesos with you as USD and credit cards are not accepted everywhere. And if they do, there is mostly a 10% surcharge.
Visit Chichén Itzá on an Organised Day Tour
Personally I think going on a tour is the best way to visit Chichén Itzá, particularly if staying in one of the holiday resorts. My hotel in Cancun that I stayed at, the Fiesta Americana had a tour office where I booked onto my tour. The tour included hotel pick up, air conditioned bus transfer, the entrance fee, a guided tour of the notable buildings and cenote. Plus a buffet lunch was included. I found the Yucatán had some of the best Mexican dishes around.
- Skip the line Entrance Ticket at Chichén Itzá: ➜ BOOK IT HERE
- Visit Chichén Itzá on an organised tour: ➜ BOOK IT HERE
What to Pack for A Visit to Chichén Itzá?
- Wear comfortable clothing suited to the weather. More than likely it will be hot so shorts and a t-shirt will suffice. It will take anywhere from 2-5 hours to explore all the archaeological sites, depending on how into it you are, so be comfortable in your clothes and shoes.
- Wear good walking shoes and you will be doing a lot of walking around the site.
- Put on sunscreen and wear a hat.
- Bring plenty of drinking water and snacks as food and drink is expensive to buy – unless your lunch is included on the tour!
- Take a camera or use your phone to get fabulous shots. No drones allowed.
- Pack your swimmers and a towel if you plan to visit a nearby cenote such as Cenote Lk Kil. Note: you cannot swim at the cenote at Chichén Itzá as it is sacred.
- Bring Mexican pesos to cover costs as USD and credit cards are not always taken.
My Tips for Visiting Chichén Itzá
- Arrive early, or late to miss the crowds.
- Buy skip-the-line-tickets or go on a tour.
- Rent a guide at the entrance. They are full of knowledge and can tell you wonderful stories about the Maya and the ruins.
- Avoid Sundays as Mexican citizens can visit for free – and many of them take up the offer!
Have the best day on your first visit to Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Like this Post? Pin it for Later!
Visit Machu Picchu while on Central and South America working holiday visas. If you are looking for a way to spend more time in Central and South America than a few weeks holiday, well, here they are. Central and South America has a number of working holiday...
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilUpdated November 2019.Brazil is a favoured destination for visitors to South America. It conjures up images of Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, sunbathing on Inpanema Beach, attending a soccer match, exploring the...