The Complete Guide to Visiting Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
Planning on visiting Chichen Itza, the great Mayan ruins during your stay in Yucatan? Keep reading for your guide to visiting the world wonder.
Visiting the ancient Maya citadel of Chichen Itza is a must on any Yucatan itinerary. Having held UNESCO world heritage status since 1988 and being one of the new seven wonders of the world you simply can’t overlook this monumental creation when in Yucatan.
This citadel was probably one of the largest and most powerful in the Mayan Kingdom and contains many temples, ball courts, platforms and civic buildings.
So why visit Chichen Itza? Visiting Chichen Itza makes for the most authentic glimpse into Mexico’s rich history. There are many ways to visit this pre-Colombian site, however, the way you choose to do so will also have an impact on your experience here.
If you’d like the place to yourself and the opportunity to contemplate almost 2,000 years of history, peacefully, keep reading.
I’ll explain everything you need to know about visiting Chichen Itza in this Chichen Itza guide- without the crowds.
*This post contains affiliate links meaning I might make a small profit if you choose to book at no extra cost to you.
Chichén Itzá Mexico can easily be reached from Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Merida and the closest option, Valladolid.
In order to be one of the first people through the door, I’d highly recommend staying in the beautiful, colonial town of Valladolid for at least one night and making your way to the ruins the next morning.
If you’re travelling in from further away you have two options. Rent a car or join a tour.
You can also take a bus but note that you probably won’t be at Chichen Itza as it opens, if this doesn’t bother you then you can search here for the best ADO bus options.
To get the best deals on car rentals, I always use Discover Cars for the best deals in Mexico without any hidden charges. Feel free to search using the form below.
If you’d like to visit these ancient ruins in peace or to take a cracker of a photo with no people in it, you’ll have to get to Chichen Itza right as it opens at 8 am.
This way you can buy your ticket with no queues, simply breeze through the entrance and into the compound to enjoy it in its early morning light.
From 8 am, you’ll have about 2 hours to explore the ruins before the headphone-clad, umbrella-waving tour groups arrive.
If getting there at 8 am doesn’t work for you, try to get there at about 3 pm- by then most of the tour groups will have disappeared and it should also be quieter.
These two photos of the famous pyramid were taken three hours apart. The first at 8 am and the other at 11.00 am, as I was leaving. I also visited in the low season.
The Best Time to Visit Chichen Itza
Generally, the best time to go to Chichen Itza and Yucatan, in general, is the dry winter period. The months of November- March are cooler and dry making it an ideal time of year to visit the Chichen Itza ruins.
The summer months of June-October are hot, humid and rainy making it a little more difficult to visit. There isn’t much shelter at the Chichen Itza site so visiting during a rainstorm isn’t ideal.
The dry season, however, is the high season so you can expect many more people at this time. During the summer months, there are much fewer crowds.
I’d recommend choosing the shoulder month of March/November to visit Chichen Itza or if you’re flexible with time, you can aim to visit on a dry day in the wet season (it doesn’t rain every day).
Visiting Chichen Itza Need-to-Knows
↠ The entrance fee is 571 pesos ( $30/£25). You also have to pay for parking if you visit in your own rental car. Parking right next to the entrance costs an additional 80 pesos.
Chichen Itza opening hours are from 8 am-5 pm.
It’s located 40km to the West of Valladolid, 200km from Cancun and 123km from Merida.
How much time to visit Chichen Itza? Allow for about 2-3 hours to see the site well.
For the latest information on rules and regulations check the Chichen Itza official website here.
There is a way to enter Chichen Itza before it officially opens at 8 am but the only way is with a tour. Check out this tour here that gives your early access to the site.
Getting to Chichen Itza Mexico
The most budget-friendly way of getting to Chichen Itza is by colectivo (shared minivan) from Valladolid. They leave when full from a little car park on Calle 39 between Calles 44 and 46.
The first one leaves at about 7 am. If you leave then, you’ll get to Chichen Itza as it opens, beating most of the souvenir sellers to their posts. The colectivo costs 35 pesos ($2) each way.
On the way back you can simply hail one down from the car park from where they dropped you off. They pass through every 20 minutes or so. Note that not all drivers work on a Sunday, therefore there is a reduced service.
Renting a car is the fastest and best way to get to Chichen Itza and this way you can fully control your arrival time.
There are many rental agencies in Tulum, Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. My personal choice is Discover Cars as they offer some of the best deals around. They are reputable and provide a great service.
If you prefer the ease of a tour to Chichen Itza, there are many that can be booked from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum.
Tours are great as you really get to know the Maya ruins through the knowledgeable Chichen Itza tour guide on hand to explain the history of the site and the Mayan way of life.
Just try to book with operators which promise the earliest arrival time.
Top Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza
↠ Wear comfortable shoes – probably my biggest Chichen Itza travel tip this goes without saying- the Chichen Itza grounds are pretty big and you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Make sure to visit Chichen Itza comfortably.
↠ You won’t be able to use your tripod. Tripods aren’t allowed at Chichen Itza even small gorilla pods. They are seen as professional equipment and you’ll need special permission to use one at the site. It’s best to leave your tripod at home. There is nothing stopping you from using a tree or a friend’s shoulder, however.
↠ Bring your own drinks and snacks but leave them in the car (or hide them deep in your bag). Food from sellers around Chichen Itza is, as you probably imagined, dreadfully expensive by Mexican standards and not all that healthy so try to bring snacks and water with you.
Chichen Itza is also full of glorious green spots around the temples where you can sit under a tree, enjoy its shade and the birdsong around you and have a small snack.
Technically you aren’t allowed any food and drink inside with you apart from water so if you’re planning to bring snacks put them at the bottom of your backpack.
↠ Bring cash. Credit cards are accepted but discouraged.
↠ Consider the services of an official Chichen Itza guide – a guide to Chichen Itza can be hired at the entrance of the site and it’s something worth considering if you’d like to learn more about the history of the Mayans and this sacred site.
Visiting Chichen Itza: What to See
So what can you see in Chichen Itza? Around the site of Chichen Itza, you’ll find many ruins of buildings that once were temples, civic squares and even sports stadiums. The most noteworthy places to visit in Chichen Itza are explained below.
There aren’t many Chichen Itza things to do as such, the main thing to do is to walk around and see the ruins while learning about the history of the Mayan kingdom here.
Also known as the Temple of Kukulcan, the Mesoamerica serpent deity, this 30-metre pyramid with the temple on top will be the first thing you see as you enter. It is now the most recognisable symbol of Chichen Itza.
During the weeks running down to the spring equinox, the pyramid casts a series of rectangular shadows on the western staircase giving the effect of a wiggly serpent descending the balustrade- a pretty marvellous way to evoke the serpent god on the temple.
The Great Ball Court
Many ball courts have been found at Chichen Itza but this one just north-west of El Castillo is the largest and most impressive in ancient Mesoamerica.
At both ends, you’ll find temples and on the sides, long platforms with high walls. Two giant rings can be found in the middle with serpent motifs engraved on them.
The most impressive feature of the ball court is the acoustics. No doubt you’ll see guides with tour groups demonstrating them- in some places sounds can carry for 4-5 echoes.
Also, look out of the bas-relief carving of a decapitated ballgame player and the many wiggling serpents representing the squirting blood from the wound.
Just behind the ball court don’t miss this impressive skull platform- a metre high platform depicting many stylised skulls.
The platform of the Eagles and Jaguars
A low structure just next to the skull platform, the impressive carvings of which are especially gruesome, depicting eagles and jaguars feasting on human hearts.
This cenote, or natural sinkhole, located to the north of the site was a Mayan pilgrimage site. During times of drought, people would make sacrifices to the gods, praying for rain.
Unlike the other beautiful cenotes in the area, the rather gruesome history and mucky green colour don’t make it an attractive place for swimming.
Make sure to leave your comments and questions below about this Chichen Itza guide, I’d love to hear from you.
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