Ultimate Guide to Visiting Chichén Itzá, Mexico

by | Last updated Apr 1, 2024 | Caribbean, Mexico, Central + South America

Discover El Castillo in this ultimate guide to visiting Chichén Itzá

 

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 this post I will run you through what Chichén Itzá is, where it is in Mexico and, how to visit it on a day trip and what the best things to see at this interesting historical Mayan 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, Chichén Itzá 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 Mayan 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 dominates Chichen Itza, Mexico.

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

 

Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza, Mexico.

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 where ball games were played.

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.

 

Sacred Cenote

 

Sacred Cenote Chichen Itza, Mexico is a sink hole full of water.

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

 

Wall of Skulls at Chichen Itza, Mexico.

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

 

To help you plan your visit to Chichén Itzá here are the practicalities to consider. Planning your visit to Chichén Itzá in advance will help you make the most of your day to allow you to enjoy this historical Mayan site on the Yucatan Peninsula.

 

Chichén Itzá Opening Hours

 

Chichén Itzá is open every day from 8am to 5pm. Last entry is at 4pm. It will take you a couple of hours at least to explore, so I wouldn’t get there any later than 2pm, though some do.

 

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 (though you will have to run around to see everything as it closes 5pm). 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

 

Visiting Chichén Itzá can be done in a number of ways. There is the ADO Bus, renting a car, on a tour and the newest option, the train. All options are great but you will need to decide which option suits your budget and the time you have to spend there.

 

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 to drive yourself to Chichén Itzá, there are plenty of car rental companies to rent a car. I suggest you check out DiscoverCars 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.

 

Visit Chichén Itzá by taking the Train

 

There is a new train system being built in Mexico. The first section of Tren Maya railway’s section opened February 2024 connecting the Yucatan Peninsula with ancient sites including Chichén Itzá with the popular beaches and resorts of Cancun in a just a few hours. Great news, as there is now another option for visiting the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. At this time, there are no packages of train ticket and entrance ticket to Chichén Itzá so you will need to buy these separately. Check out details of the Mayan train routes at Tren Maya.

 

Cost to Enter Chichén Itzá if coming by ADO Bus, driving yourself by or train

 

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.

 

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

 

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Sharyn McCullum Sailing Through The Panama Canal With Storm Chasing Boat.

Sharyn McCullum – Travel Writer / Blogger, Remote On-line Worker, sometime Digital Nomad and Travel, Live and Work Abroad Expert. Is a chocoholic, coffee connoisseur and lover of ’80s music. Been travelling all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. Lived in London 4 years on a working holiday. Has holidayed in Hawaii over 15 times and currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. Is inspiring others to get the live work play travel lifestyle with this blog. Read more about Sharyn here.

16 Comments

  1. Chelsea Heidish

    Love the idea of doing this as a day trip from Cancun! Cool way to check it out while having a tropical vacation!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Absolutely. Even though I love to sit on the beach or by the pool I do like a good day trip – and Chichen Itza was a fabulous day trip. I hope you can do it one day.

      Reply
  2. Kitti

    I still can’t believe that we had to skip visiting Chichén Itzá because we got very ill. It’s still very high on my bucket list, so thank you for sharing some of the logistics on how to get there and what to see.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I hope you get to Chichen Itza – I loved the day I spent there.

      Reply
  3. Josy A

    Goodness, I would LOVE to visit all those temples and pyramids in Chichén Itzá! The carvings are stunning and it is such a cool part of Mexican history. I’d love to visit multiple cenotes too! Great post!

    Reply
  4. Jade

    You did a fantastic job! Luv this

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Thanks. I loved my day visiting Chichen Itza so it made the job easy.

      Reply
  5. Denise

    Great tips for visiting Chichén Itzá! I would have hated to go on a Sunday!

    Reply
  6. kmf

    Great guide to Chichen Itza. I’m so fascinated by the Mayan culture.

    Reply
  7. Leah

    Chicken Itza has been on my bucket list for such a long time now! Thinking about booking a trip for next year as a day trip from Cancun, thanks for all your helpful tips.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I hope you get to Chichén Itzá next year. It is a great day trip from Cancun.

      Reply
  8. Brianna

    Chichén Itzá looks amazing. I had no idea there was a cenote there as well! This looks like a the perfect day trip from Cancun.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Yes Chichén Itzá is amazing and yes, there is a cenote there. There wasn’t a walkway down to it and you cannot swim in it because it is full of human bones and is sacred. It is a great day trip from Cancun.

      Reply
  9. Lisa

    You always have such informative posts. Thanks for sharing this helpful guide to visiting Chichen Itza!

    Reply
  10. Krista

    This is a really useful guide if you’re like me and haven’t visited before. It’s high on my list for when I visit Mexico!

    Reply

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