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Chichen Itza: A Comprehensive Guide

Chichen Itza: A Comprehensive Guide

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Chichen Itza is one of those places that you’ve probably seen pictures of a million times. When I moved to Mexico last year, I knew it was high on my Mexico bucket list.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s one of the seven wonders of the world, it was one of the biggest Mayan cities, and it’s the most visited site in all of Mexico with more than 1.5 million people checking it out every year.

That also means it’s busy. Mexican citizens get in free on Sundays, so it’s best to avoid it on that day if you can (unless you have a Mexican passport, then, by all means, take advantage of the savings!).

Whether you want to explore Chichen Itza on a guided tour or you want to drive yourself, it’s a relatively easy place to get to as a day trip from either Cancun or Merida. If you are coming from elsewhere, consider staying the night close to Chichen Itza or taking a tour from your destination so you don’t have to tire yourself out driving.

chichen itza tour

How to Get to Chichen Itza On Your Own

If you want to drive yourself or take public transportation, there are a few options depending on where you are coming from.

If you are going to rent a car for your trip, check out my tips for renting a car in Mexico, especially if it’s your first time renting in Mexico. I always use Discover Cars to rent around the world. Their customer service is beyond the best. Check prices on Discover Cars here.

If you plan to drive yourself, make sure you have enough cash on hand for the toll roads. I list below the current prices (Oct 2023) for the cost of driving between Merida and Chichen Itza and Cancun and Chichen Itza. They do not accept cards nor do they accept USD, so have enough Pesos with you to last for the entire day. Read more about dealing with cash in Mexico.

From Merida: We drove our rental car from Merida along highway 180D. Simply follow the signs for Chichen Itza.  It is a toll road. It changes each year, but is currently 129 Pesos (about $7 USD). It takes just over an hour and a half to get from Merida to Chichen Itza.

If you park away from the main parking lot, you can park along the road for free. If you get there with enough time to park in the Chichen Itza lot (it fills up quickly), the fee is about 100 Pesos ($5 USD).

You can also take an ADO bus from Merida to Chichen Itza. You have to be very careful with the times because they only run three a day in each direction. It costs 145 pesos ($8 USD) each way.

From Cancun: You can drive from Cancun to Chichen Itza in just under three hours. You take highway 180D, which, like I mentioned above, is a toll road. It’s quite a bit more expensive on the road from Cancun. It costs 380 Pesos (about $18 USD).

You can take an ADO bus, but they only operate first thing in the morning (between 5am-8am) and the last one leaving Chichen Itza at 4pm. It costs 400 pesos ($22 USD) each way.

chichen itza

How Much Does Chichen Itza Cost?

Entry to the park is really reasonable for everything that you get access to.

For non-citizens, entry is 614 Pesos ($33 USD). If you are a Mexican citizen, entry is only 272 Pesos ($15 USD). If you live in Yucatan and have a Yucatan ID, you can enter for 90 Pesos ($5 USD). If you are a Mexican citizen who is also a student, a teacher, over 62, or under 13, then you get in for free.

If you want to have your tickets already with you and skip the huge line at the entrance, then you can pre-book your tickets here. You pay a little bit of a premium on the tickets, but you don’t need to wait in line and can enter straight into the park with your tickets on your phone. Prebook your tickets here

Entry includes everything there is to see in the park. Food in the park is not over the top expensive, but it is slightly more than outside the park. A liter bottle of water costs 50 Pesos pesos ($3 USD) and an ice pop from one of the snack stands costs 30 pesos ($2 USD).

There are tons of souvenir vendors in the park as well. It’s mostly things that you can find in markets all over Mexico, but it’s still nice to browse. If you do see something you like, be sure to barter the price.

We bought ourselves a wood carving and they initially quoted us 1500 pesos ($75) and we bartered it for 500 pesos ($25). They are quoting incredibly high prices in the hopes that you will simply accept the price. Even now I’m certain I overpaid for it.

There are free toilets all over the park.

What to Pack for Chichen Itza

Spending the day at Chichen Itza can be exhausting. We explored the park for almost four hours during the peak of the midday sun. I highly recommend packing a few essentials.

  • A hat: Bringing a hat definitely saved me from sunstroke. I brought one with me, but there are tons of vendors selling them outside the park for about $1 USD if you forget yours. If you have dark hair like I do, you will want to keep your head cool with a nice light-colored hat.
  • Plenty of sunscreen: We went to Chichen Itza in mid-April and it was about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). We brought a bottle of 30 SPF (these are my favorite brands) and applied it twice while we were there.
  • An umbrella: I didn’t bring an umbrella, but a lot of tours provided them for their customers. You can also buy one outside the park to bring in with you. They’re not for the rain, they’re for the sun. It really does beat down on you in the open areas of the park. Shade is a rarity and having an umbrella might just save you from sunburn and overheating.
  • Comfortable Shoes: You’re going to be on your feet for several hours walking around and sweating. I wore my trusty Rainbow flip flops, but it was so dusty there. I recommend either sneakers or some other type of comfortable walking shoe that covers your feet up from all the dirt.
  • Cash: There are snack stands and souvenir stalls all over the park. If you plan on getting a gift to take home with you or you are hoping to keep your energy levels up with snacks and water, you’ll need some cash. Some vendors will take U.S. dollars, but you’ll get the best price if you use pesos (the exchange rate they give for the USD is outrageous).
  • Water: Bring plenty of water. You can buy it inside the park, but it’s about double the price of the same bottles you can buy at a local convenience store. You will definitely want to stay hydrated in the heat.
  • Selfie-Stick: I know a lot of people loathe a selfie stick, but I kind of love mine. Most tourist sites in Mexico City have actually banned them, so I was concerned about bringing my GoPro pole with me in case they didn’t let me in with it. There were no signs that said you couldn’t bring them and even after my bag was searched I was allowed to take it in with me.
  • Cameras: I had read that if you planned on using cameras, you needed to pay extra, but I never saw where I was meant to do that. When we got our tickets they never mentioned it and when I had my bag searched just before entering the park, they didn’t say anything about needing a permit, so I just went in with my cameras. I used my DSLR, GoPro, and camera to take photos and videos and I’m so glad I was able to capture the place in so many different ways. I even saw a guy with a tripod!

chichen itza guide

Where to Eat Around Chichen Itza

If you’re going without a tour, you’ll definitely need to get yourself some food while you’re there.

There are a few restaurants along the road that lead from the highway to the main entrance. All claim to do the best Yucatan food. Some do buffets and others are sit-down restaurants. We were attracted to the local market that had a few restaurants surrounding it.

When you leave Chichen Itza, you pass through the little town of Piste. To your right, you’ll see the church and just across from the church on the left, you’ll see a row of restaurants. All of them are serving up really reasonably priced Yucatan street food.

We ate at the one on the corner called La Gran Chaya. Their cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) might just be the best I ate during my whole trip to the Yucatan. I had a cochinita torta which cost 20 pesos ($1).

On the road into the park, there is also a small taco stand well worth visiting for delicious Yucatecan tacos. It’s busy with locals and tourists and makes some seriously delicious local tacos. It’s cash only, so be sure you have enough cash on hand.

stairs that lead to Chichen Itza with blue skies behind.

While you used to be able to climb Chichen Itza, it’s not longer possible in order to preserve the ruins as much as possible.

Take a Tour of Chichen Itza

If you are coming from Merida, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or somewhere else on the Riviera Maya, then you can take a day trip from there to Chichen Itza with a tour guide.

If you are driving yourself, but you still want to meet up with a tour to get to know the history of this site in a deeper way, this is a great tour option. The tour starts at the entrance to Chichen Itza. You can opt to have the entrance ticket pre-purchased for you so that you can just meet the guide and walk right in or you can get there a little bit early and wait in line for yourself. Book that guided walking tour here

If you are based in Merida and want to visit Chichen Itza on a day tour, this is a great option.

It includes a bilingual guide who will take you around the entire park, transportation to and from Merida in an air-conditioned van, a buffet lunch, entrance to a local cenote, and time there in the afternoon to cool off. You will still need to pay for your ticket, but everything will be organized on your behalf. Book that tour here.

If you are traveling from Cancun, you have quite a few options to choose from. 

  • This full-day tour includes stops at Chichen Itza, Valladolid (a fantastic Pueblo Magico in Yucatan), lunch, and a tequila tasting. You will have a bilingual guide to take you around the ruins and plenty of time to explore Valladolid. Book that tour here.
  • This epic full-day tour offers pickups anywhere along the Riviera Maya and takes you to Chichen Itza, a secret cenote, and Valladolid before taking you back to your hotel along the Riviera Maya. Book that tour here.
  • This food and culture-focused tour includes stops at Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and a cenote as well as a food stop that will share some more of the local food culture with you. The food culture of Yucatan is rich with Mayan flavors and history and is one that is well worth learning more about. Book that tour here.

If you are based in Tulum and want to experience a private tour of your own making, this tour is a fantastic option. Tulum isn’t particularly close to the ruins, so you definitely want to do it with a tour if you are going to attempt to do it as a day trip.

This tour includes hotel pick up and drop off as well as a personal guide and driver for the entire day. They will provide water and juice as well as a few snacks to keep you going and then there will be lunch included at a local hacienda. Book this wonderful day out from Tulum here.

Visiting Chichen Itza at Night

While you may not be able to take the best photos of Chichen Itza at night, there is a light show spectacular each night at 7pm called Kukulkan Nights. The Kukulkan Pyramid is lit up in the most spectacular ways. 

There are a few reasons why visiting after dark is such a fun experience. The first is, of course, the light show that they put on against the pyramid which includes Mayan representation and stories told in colorful displays.

The second reason to come at night is because a lot of people still don’t really come at night. If you are visiting with a tour it’s pretty much impossible to do unless you book a private guide to take you here at night.

This means that it is so much quieter and there is space to walk around and enjoy the night sky and the pyramids lit by the moon and starlight without the hoards of people that are here during the day.

main pyramid in chichen itza

Chichen Itza is a beautiful place to visit and should not be missed if you’re in this region of Mexico.

Where to Stay Near Chichen Itza

If you are going to drive yourself or take the ADO bus, you may want to spend the night either before you explore so that you can be the first ones to arrive when the gates open or so that you can stick around at the end of the day at the cenotes or watch the Kukulkan Nights light show after dark.

There is actually a whole Hotel Zone in Chichen Itza now where you can find several hotels at varying price points. These will be more expensive than the options located in the nearby town of Piste, but much more convenient and generally much nicer and newer.

  • La Casa de Las Lunas is the perfect place for a budget traveler. It’s located in the town of Piste so you can walk to a few small taco spots in town. Rooms start as low as $40 USD per night for a double room. There is a small outdoor pool to cool off in. The rooms are impeccably clean and there is space to relax outside on the patio throughout the day. Check availability and book here.
  • Hotel Puerta Chichen is also located in Piste and is a little bit of a bigger hotel. The pool area is absolutely stunning and there is a good on-site restaurant. Rooms start at $75 USD. Book a stay here.
  • Hotel Doralba Inn Chichen is located on the other side of Chichen Itza next to the Ik Kil Cenote. It is another fantastic budget option with rooms as low as $59 USD per night. There is a small pool, patio area, and beautifully furnished rooms with a Mexican flare. Book a stay here.
  • Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza is a great place to stay if you want to be as close to Chichen Itza as you can possibly be. You can even walk to the entrance of the park from here if you want to. The pool is beautiful and the onsite restaurant is doing some great local Yucatecan food. Rooms start at $90 USD per night. Book a stay here.
  • Hacienda Chichen Resort and Yaxkin Spa is where to stay if you’re looking for luxury. This hotel and spa is the nicest option in the area. It’s housed in an old hacienda with a beautiful central courtyard, perfectly decorated rooms, and an enormous pool. There is a nice garden to relax in after a day of exploring the ruins and the onsite spa is exactly what you need after a day of walking around in the heat. Book a stay at the resort and spa here.

Other Ruins in the Yucatan

If you are visiting the Yucatan peninsula for several days or more and want to explore other Mayan ruins in the area, don’t miss out on exploring places like Uxmal, Calakmul, Coba, and Tulum.

Check out our full list of ruins in Yucatan state that you don’t want to miss as well. We also have a two-week Yucatan itinerary to help you plan a longer trip around the area.

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