A trip to the beautiful Yucatán Peninsula would not be complete without a visit to the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Chichén Itzá was the primary cultural and ceremonial center of the Mayan civilization and has become one of Mexico’s most-visited archaeological site, drawing over 2.6 million visitors every year.
The ruins of Chichén Itzá are just a 2-hour drive (200 km) from the popular resort destination of Cancún, making it an easy day trip and a fantastic opportunity for a first-hand look into what life was like during the peak of this magnificent Mayan empire in the 10th century.
Learn more about the history of Chichén Itzá on Wikipedia.
If you’re planning a trip to Chichén Itzá, this guide will provide you with what you need to know for your first visit there.
The entrance fee to Chichén Itzá will vary depending if you’re a visitor to Mexico and your age. As of 2020, the Chichén Itzá entrance fee for adults is $481 pesos for foreigners and $202 pesos for local residents.
This is the combined total of the two tickets needed to get into the ruins (one payable to the Yucatán State Government and the second to INAH).
You must present both tickets to enter Chichén Itzá and make sure you keep them on you at all times.
Access to the ruins is free every day for children under 13. Entrance is also free for Mexicans and local residents every Sunday.
Tickets to Chichén Itzá can only be purchased in Mexican Pesos. There is an ATM on site but there’s a good chance the machine won’t be working so make sure you have some of the local currency on hand.
Point & shoot cameras, DSLRs and phone cameras are fine – you won’t have to pay any extra fees.
There’s an additional fee you need to pay if you are using professional equipment on-site (video camera, GoPro or tripod). Depending on the device, this fee usually ranges between $10 USD to $25 USD.
If you’re taking a rental car, there is a paid parking lot (about 80 pesos) right in front of the entrance to Chichén Itzá.
The lot fills up quickly – you might find some free spots along the side of the road but it’s very narrow and you can easily damage your car.
Being one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it’s no surprise that Chichén Itzá gets very crowded mid-day. Under the sweltering heat, it could make for a less than pleasant experience.
Tour buses full of visitors generally arrive around 11 AM. To beat the crowds and local vendors, arrive as early as possible (close to opening time) and head straight to El Castillo. The pyramid is the most recognized structure at Chichén Itzá so get in a few snaps while it’s still quiet! You’ll notice the further you wander from El Castillo, the less crowded it will be.
Another option would be to arrive after the tour bus groups have gone, around 3 PM. However, the site closes shortly after that so you might not have enough time to fully explore the ruins.
One final tip: On Sundays, entry is free for Mexican nationals so it is best to avoid visiting Chichén Itzá during this day.
Since 2006, the ruins are protected by rope barriers and you’re no longer permitted to climb the infamous pyramid at Chichén Itzá or any of the structures.
You cannot swim in the cenote at Chichén Itzá either. Fun fact: Cenote Sagrado was used for ceremonial purposes and also a site for human sacrifices!
Entrance inside Chichén Itzá isn’t permitted.
During the spring and autumn equinoxes (around March 21 and September 22), a shadow casts across El Castillo in the shape of a feathered serpent. Watch Kukulkan slither its way down the temple’s 365 steps to meet with the serpent’s head at the base of the staircase.
Unsurprisingly, Chichén Itzá is incredibly packed at these times so try to visit a few days before or after the equinox — it’ll be less crowded and the serpent illusion is just as good!
The Quintana Roo region (ie. Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum) does not observe daylight savings, which means that during the winter months (November to March), Quintana Roo is in a different time zone than Chichén Itzá.
So if you’re visiting in December, Cancun will be an hour ahead.
For the rest of the year (April to October), Quintana Roo and the rest of Mexico will have matching timezones.
At the ruins, there aren’t many places to hide from the blazing sun and walking around in the heat can be challenging! It’s important to pack a few essentials and make sure you’re prepared for a day trip to Chichén Itzá.
Make sure you stay hydrated and bring plenty of water. You can buy it in the park but expect to pay double the cost compared to a local convenience store.
There are tons of souvenir stands here – bring some pesos if you plan to shop around.
You’ll also need cash if you want to buy food or refreshments. There’s a shop at the entrance but once you go inside, you won’t be able to buy anything to snack on. Tip: pack a small lunch and eat it inside while you roam around the ruins!
Most of the ruins are out in the sun and pretty spread out so you’ll be spending a lot of time walking around under the harmful UV rays.
Wear breathable clothes and comfortable shoes – the grounds are uneven and rocky so flip flops are not recommended. Bring a sun hat or an umbrella to shield you from the sun. You can find vendors selling hats and umbrellas outside the park if you forget to bring yours.
Remember to bring your sunscreen! If you’re taking a dip in the nearby cenote after, bring your swimsuit, towel, and make sure your sunscreen is biodegradable.
The famous pyramid is the main attraction of Chichén Itzá but most travelers don’t realize how vast the complex is, consisting over a dozen structures you can visit.
If you’re not joining a tour, it’s a good idea to bring a small guidebook to learn about this magnificent Mayan site.
During your visit to Chichén Itzá, make sure you see the following notable structures:
El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan, is the most famous structure at Chichén Itzá. This pyramid was designed with architectural precision, bearing a total of 365 stone steps, the same number of days in a year. If you get there early, visit El Castillo first to beat the crowds.
The ball court at Chichén Itzá is the largest known court found in Mesoamerica, measuring 166 meters long and 68 meters wide with walls scaling 8 meters high.
This impressive ball court was once used for the ancient Mayan ball game of Pok-Ta-Pok which resulted in the decapitation of the winning team captain. This was seen as a sacrifice to the gods and an honorable act.
The large observatory-style structure, El Caracol, is possibly the 2nd most recognized structure in the complex. The Mayans were outstanding astronomers and designed the observatory to calculate celestial events and to track the path of Venus.
The Temple of the Warriors (Templo de los Guerreros) is another step pyramid, consisting of four platforms and surrounded by hundreds of elaborately carved columns depicting Mayan warriors.
The Temple of the Warriors is one of the largest structures in the complex and is most definitely worthy of a visit.
Also known as El Osario, the Tomb of the High Priest is a smaller step pyramid that resembled the famous El Castillo. This structure served as a burial chamber and seven tombs were discovered during an excavation.
Cenote Sagrado is the largest cenote in Chichén Itzá, measuring 60 meters in diameter and 22 meters high. It was believed this sacred cenote was used by the Mayans for ceremonial rituals and offerings to Chaac, the rain god.
Multiple excavations conducted during the early 1900s uncovered sacrificial precious objects, including jewelry and human remains.
Chichén Itzá is located 197 km west of Cancun near the quaint town of Pisté, and there are four main ways you can get to the ruins:
Driving from Cancun to Chichén Itzá is fairly easy, the roads are in good shape and has good signage. If you’re up for a mini road trip and sightseeing in Mexico, renting a car to Chichén Itzá can be a great option. The advantage is that you’ll be on your own schedule and can make multiple stops – there are many cenotes along the way!
There are two routes you can take. If you’re on a budget and you’re not tight on time, avoid the main toll road and drive up the 307. The drive will take slightly longer, just under three hours. There’s still a toll on this road (about 75 pesos each way) but it’s significantly cheaper than the other route.
The 180 toll road will cost you 254 pesos each way and will cut the drive down to 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Remember to fill up your tank! There aren’t a lot of gas stations along the way.
Once you’re at Chichén Itzá, you can opt to hire someone at the entrance for a guided tour of the ruins (the entrance fee doesn’t include a guide). It’s the perfect way to learn about the history and significance of Chichén Itzá. Alternatively, bring a guidebook and explore the site at your own pace!
If planning isn’t your thing, the easiest way to get from Cancun to Chichén Itzá would be to join a group tour. A vehicle will pick you up early in the morning and will take you to the ruins, often picking up other people along the way. You’ll get a guided tour of Chichén Itzá and most packages include a visit to the nearby Cenote Ik Kil, where you can take a quick dip.
The downside to these tours is that you’ll be arriving at the archaeological site at the busiest and hottest time of day. But for the price, convenience and all things considered, it’s a pretty great deal. There’s really not much you need to do except show up at your hotel lobby at the scheduled time!
You can find these tours offered all across town or even at your hotel lobby, but booking ahead of time gets you the best rates.
The most wallet-friendly option would be to take the ADO bus from Cancun to Chichén Itzá. The bus ride takes just over 3 hours, departing daily at 8:45 AM from downtown Cancun and returns at 4:30 PM.
One-way ADO bus tickets will cost you 258 pesos and can be purchased through the ADO website or at any ADO bus station in person. It’s highly recommended to book your return ticket in advance.
Keep in mind that the buses arrive at the site during peak hours which isn’t ideal if you’re looking for a quiet afternoon at the ruins.
Hiring a private guide to Chichén Itzá is the most expensive option but is well worth the extra money if you want a comfortable trip and plan to make multiple stops.
You’ll be able to set your own itinerary and timetable — arrange to arrive at the ruins before the crowds to experience your own private tour of the site.
For over 1500 years, the Ancient Maya built a great civilization that flourished on southern Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
Today, the ancient city of Chichén Itzá is a must-see experience for any tourist visiting Mexico. Full of history and awe-inspiring architecture these ruins are a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.
Which area of this world wonder is your favorite?
We hope this ultimate guide helps you plan ahead and have a more enriching experience.