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The Most Epic Guide To Visiting Chichen Itza: Is It Really Worth It?

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As an avid Mexico traveler, I’m often asked: is Chichen Itza worth visiting? It’s no surprise this ancient Mayan city tops many Mexico bucket lists – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. But with its popularity comes crowds, vendors, and hefty admission fees. So is it really worth the hype?

Read on for my most epic guide to visiting Chichen Itza. I’ll cover the historical highlights that make it a must-see, essential tips for beating the crowds and heat, and a brutally honest take on the potential drawbacks. By the end, you’ll know if this wonder of the world deserves a spot on your Yucatan itinerary!

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The Most Epic Guide To Visiting Chichen Itza: Is It Really Worth It?

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  • Chichen Itza is a massive ancient Mayan city dating back to 600 AD with incredible ruins like the iconic El Castillo  mayan pyramid
  • For the most convenient way to visit Chichen Itza is a guided day tour.
  • It’s pricey at $613 MXN entry but you can save money by arriving early, bringing food/water, and visiting on a non-Sunday.
  • Crowds and pushy vendors are the biggest drawbacks but proper timing and mindset help
  • Allow 2-4 hours to explore, hire a guide for fascinating insights, and consider adding on cenote swimming and Valladolid.
  • It’s doable as a day trip from Cancun, Tulum, etc but an overnight in Valladolid makes for a more relaxed experience

Want more details and tips to make the most of your visit? Let’s dive in!

What Makes chichén itzá Mexico So Special? Why is Chichen Itza famous?

So what’s the big deal about Chichen Itza anyway? A few key things make this archeological site truly incredible:

  • The ruins date way back to 600 AD when it was one of the largest Mayan cities and a major economic/religious center
  • The Mayans were way ahead of their time – the famous El Castillo pyramid has 365 steps (one for each day of the year) and during equinoxes, shadows create an illusion of a serpent representing a Mayan god
  • It’s impressively massive at 5 sq km with 26 structures open to the public like the Great Ball Court, Observatory, Temple of Warriors, and Sacred Cenote
  • In 2007, it was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World (the only one in North America) cementing its status as a must-visit

Best way to see Chichen Itza: How To visit Chichen itza mexico

Best Tour to Chichen Itza 

Here’s a table of some highly-rated tours to Chichen Itza from nearby towns and cities:

Departure CityTour NameDurationPrice (USD)Inclusions
Chichen Itza from Cancun Chichen Itza, Cenote & Valladolid Small Group Tour12 hours$85Hotel pickup, transport, guide, entrance fees, lunch, water, towels
Private Tour Chichen Itza from Cancun Private Chichen Itza Tour with Cenote Swim & Tequila12 hours$220Private transport, guide, entrance fees, lunch, cenote, tequila tasting
Chichen Nitza From TulumChichen Itza, Cenote & Valladolid Small Group Tour12 hours$125Hotel pickup, transport, guide, entrance fees, lunch, water, towels
Private Chichen Nitza From TulumPrivate Chichen Itza Sunrise Tour with Lunch12 hours$470Hotel pickup, private transport/guide, entrance fees, lunch
Chichen Nitza From Playa del CarmenChichen Itza, Cenote & Valladolid Small Group Tour12 hours$79Hotel pickup, transport, guide, entrance fees, lunch, water, towels
Chichen Nitza From MeridaChichen Itza Early Access Tour with Lunch8 hours$65Hotel pickup, transport, guide, entrance fees, lunch
Chichen Nitza From ValladolidChichen Itza Sunrise Small Group Tour with Lunch5 hours$95Hotel pickup, transport, guide, entrance fees, lunch
Private Chichen Nitza From ValladolidPrivate Chichen Itza & Ek Balam Tour with Cenote Swim8 hours$185Private transport, guide, entrance fees, lunch, cenote swim, Ek Balam

All of these tours include round-trip transportation, a certified guide, entrance fees to Chichen Itza (and other sites if listed), and lunch. The biggest factors to consider are group size, duration, and inclusions like cenote swims or visits to Valladolid/Izamal.

In general, small group tours (6-12 people) offer a nice balance of affordability and intimacy, while private tours give you the most flexibility and personalized attention. Sunrise/early access is pricier but worth it to beat the crowds and heat.

Departing from Valladolid is the most budget-friendly and time-efficient option since it’s so close to Chichen Itza. But the 2-3 hour trips from Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen often include fun extras like cenote swims to break up the drive.

No matter which option you choose, booking a guided tour is the best way to make the most of your Chichen Itza experience. Having an expert lead the way and share insider knowledge brings the ancient city to life in a whole new way!

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chichen itza history

  • Chichen Itza was one of the largest and most powerful ancient Mayan cities, serving as a major economic and religious center from around 600 to 1200 AD.
  • The city’s name means “at the mouth of the well of the Itzá” in reference to the Itza people who first settled the area and the nearby Sacred Cenote.
  • Early Chichen Itza was influenced by the Puuc style of architecture seen in the Yucatan region. But later buildings like the Caracol and El Castillo show a mix of styles, perhaps from an invasion of Toltecs from central Mexico.
  • Chichen Itza declined in the 13th century for debated reasons – possibly drought, warfare with rival cities, or dwindling resources. It was largely abandoned when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.
  • In 1841, explorer John Lloyd Stephens and artist Frederick Catherwood published detailed descriptions and drawings of Chichen Itza, sparking the world’s fascination with the ancient city.
  • In 1894, the United States Consul to Yucatán, Edward Herbert Thompson purchased the Hacienda Chichén, which included Chichen Itza, and began conducting the first archaeological excavations there.

The sheer scale, fascinating history, and architectural genius make Chichen Itza a culturally rich experience you can’t find elsewhere in Mexico. And its convenient location a few hours from popular spots like Cancun, Tulum and Merida makes it an easy addition to any Yucatan itinerary.

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Visiting Chichen Itza Mx : What to Expect

Before I get into the nitty gritty planning details, here’s an overview of what it’s actually like visiting Chichen Itza:

Entrance Experience Chichen itza

  • Large parking lot and visitor center with bathrooms, gift shops, drink stands
  • Get your tickets at the booth outside (credit cards accepted but cash is best)
  • Hire a guide or get an audio guide (more on that later)
  • Scan your ticket and emerge from the forest path to see the iconic El Castillo pyramid

Touring the Site: What to see at Chichen itza

  • A typical guided tour takes 2-2.5 hours at a leisurely pace with shade breaks
  • The English-speaking guides are pros at navigating the heat and crowds
  • There are 26 structures to see spread over 5 sq km connected by dirt paths
  • Vendors sell souvenirs on-site and you can bargain but expect inflated prices

What to Bring to Chichen Itza

  • Comfortable walking shoes and sun protection (hat, sunglasses, eco-friendly sunscreen)
  • Water and snacks (on-site options are limited and pricey)
  • Enough cash to cover entrance fees, guide tips, parking, snacks, and souvenirs
  • Light backpack to carry essentials hands-free

chichen itza parking

Parking at Chichen Itza is quite straightforward – just follow the signage off the main highway to the official lot, pay the small fee in cash, and find an open spot near the entrance. Arrive early in the morning (before 10 am) or later in the afternoon (after 2 pm) for the best parking availability and less crowded experience overall.

By renting a car and driving yourself, you’ll have the flexibility to explore Chichen Itza at your own pace without the time constraints of a group tour. You can also add on easy detours to nearby Valladolid or Izamal for a full day of cultural activities. Just be sure to brush up on driving in Mexico tips like having cash for paid highways and never driving at night in rural areas.

Cost:

  • As of 2024, parking at Chichen Itza costs 80 pesos (~$4 USD) per car
  • The lot accepts cash only so be sure to have small bills or coins on hand

Location:

  • The main parking lot is located directly off Highway 180D
  • It’s just steps from the Chichen Itza visitor center and site entrance
  • GPS coordinates: 20.6829° N, 88.5686° W

Capacity:

  • The expansive parking lot can accommodate hundreds of cars, tour buses, and RVs
  • Even on busy days, there is almost always a spot available
Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Facts

Chichen Itza Location:

  • Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico
  • 120 miles/193 km east of Merida
  • 111 miles/179 km west of Cancun

Chichen Itza Size & Scale:

  • The ancient city spans 5 square miles/13 square km
  • 26 Mayan ruins are open to the public in the archaeological zone

Chichen Itza Age:

  • Settled as early as 550 AD

When was Chichen Itza built 

  • Rose to prominence around 600 AD
  • Functioned as a major city until the 1200s

Chichen Itza Cultural Importance:

  • Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988
  • Voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007
  • The only Mesoamerican site on the New 7 Wonders list

Chichen Itza El Castillo Pyramid:

  • 98 ft/30 m tall
  • Four sides each with 91 steps + 1 final step = 365 total (matches days in the year)
  • Twice a year on the equinoxes, shadows create a serpent illusion representing the Mayan snake god

Chichen Itza Great Ball Court:

  • 168 m/551 ft long and 70 m/230 ft wide
  • The largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica
  • Carvings depict the Mayan ball game where the losing team was sacrificed

Chichen Itza The Observatory (El Caracol):

  • Dome-shaped building used for astronomical observations
  • 78-ft/24-meter tall tower with small windows aligned with certain stars and planets

Chichen Itza Temple of the Warriors:

  • One of the last structures built around 1200 AD
  • Features 200 round and square columns with carvings of priests and Mayan gods
  • An impressive reclining sculpture called a Chac Mool sits atop the pyramid

Visiting Chichen Itza:

  • Open daily 8 am – 4:30 pm, 365 days a year
  • As of 2024, tickets cost 613 pesos (~$30 USD) for adults
  • Guides are 500-800 pesos and highly recommended for context
  • Best times are early morning (8-10 am) or later afternoon (3-5 pm) to avoid crowds and heat
Photo of the El Castillo in Mexico

where is chichen itza?

Chichen Itza is located in the heart of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, a region known for its lush jungles, beautiful beaches, and rich Mayan history. More specifically, the ancient city sits in the eastern part of the state of Yucatan, about halfway between the bustling beach city of Cancun and the charming colonial town of Merida.

Here are some key location details for Chichen Itza:

Chichen Itza Nearest major cities:

  • 120 miles/193 km west of Cancun (2.5-3 hour drive)
  • 111 miles/179 km east of Merida (1.5-2 hour drive)
  • 116 miles/187 km northeast of Campeche (2-2.5 hour drive)

Chichen Itza Nearby towns:

  • The small pueblo of Piste is just a mile from Chichen Itza’s entrance
  • The “magic town” of Valladolid is 40 miles/64 km east (45-minute drive)

Chichen Itza GPS coordinates:

  • 20.6829° N, 88.5686° W
  • Most navigation apps like Google Maps or Waze can easily locate Chichen Itza

Airports near Chichen Itza:

  • Cancun International Airport (CUN) is the closest major airport at 128 miles/206 km away
  • Merida International Airport (MID) is 114 miles/183 km west of the site

Chichen Itza sits on a flat limestone plain called the Peten, a landscape common across the Yucatan peninsula. The region’s topography is perfect for preserving limestone structures like pyramids and temples but also features hidden treasures like lush jungles and subterranean swimming holes called cenotes.

Though it feels worlds away from modern civilization, Chichen Itza is quite easy to access thanks to Mexico’s reliable highway system. Visitors can get to the site from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum along the 180D toll highway, also known as the Mérida-Cancún Road. Rental cars and buses frequently make the trip to from major nearby cities and towns.

One important thing to note about Chichen Itza’s location is that it sits in the state of Yucatan, which observes a different time zone than the state of Quintana Roo along the Caribbean coast. Quintana Roo (home to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum) observes Eastern Standard Time (EST) year-round, while the rest of the peninsula observes Central Standard Time (CST). Keep this one-hour difference in mind if you’re traveling across state lines to avoid missing bus departures or tour start times.

Key Tips For an best visit at Chichen Itza

I’ve visited Chichen Itza a few times and have learned some key tips for making the most of the experience:

  1. Go early or late to beat crowds and heat
  • Arrive right when it opens at 8 am or after 3 pm when day-trippers leave
  • You’ll get better photos, more breathing room, and milder temperatures
  1. Visit any day but Sunday
  • Entrance is free for Mexican nationals on Sundays so it gets insanely crowded
  • Any other day is better but weekdays are ideal
  1. Allow 2-4 hours to see it all
  • A guided tour takes 2-2.5 hours
  • Add an extra hour or two to explore solo and take photos after the tour
  1. Hire an official guide or audio guide
  • Licensed English guides in white shirts wait outside the entrance
  • Prices are ~$500-800 MXN for 2-2.5 hours (negotiate and tip extra)
  • Audio guides are ~$300 MXN if you prefer to go at your own pace
  • Guides provide invaluable historical context, navigation, and Mayan insights
  1. Manage your souvenir shopping expectations
  • Vendors inside the site sell tees, masks, calendars, etc. at inflated prices
  • Bargaining is expected but don’t expect huge discounts
  • Consider shopping at Valladolid markets after for a more local experience

Getting To Chichen Itza: How To Get To Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza’s location in the Yucatan jungle means it takes some planning to get there but you have a few good options:

Day Tours to Chichen Itza from Cancun, Tulum, and Merida

  • Cheapest and easiest option with hotel pickup, guided tour, and often cenote/Valladolid stops
  • Small group tours cap at 20 people for a more intimate experience from $130+
  • Private tours offer flexibility and priority access for a premium $500+

Driving from Cancun, Tulum, or Merida 

  • Doable in a rental car following the 180D highway and clear signage
  • Free highway but budget for ~$80 MXN parking at Chichen Itza
  • Add on cenote swimming and exploring Valladolid or Izamal

Chichen Itza Bus from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or Merida

  • ADO first-class buses are safe/comfy but limited schedule (1x morning, 1x afternoon)
  • From $300-400 MXN round-trip booked in advance on ADO or Busbud sites
  • Valladolid is a closer jumping off point with colectivos/taxis to the ruins

Stay Overnight in Valladolid to visit Chichen Itza in yucatan

  • This pueblo mágico is 40 min from Chichen Itza with charming hotels and cenotes
  • Get a jump start for early entry and spend the day exploring after
  • Hotel Posada San Juan has a pool, garden, and great location from $40/night

Is It Really Worth Visiting Chichen Itza?

So after all that, is Chichen Itza really worth it? Ultimately, I say yes but with a few caveats.

chichen itza is 100% worth it if:

  • You’re fascinated by ancient history and Mayan culture
  • Your Yucatan itinerary allows time for a day trip or overnight
  • You’re okay with battling some crowds and hawkers for a world wonder

chichen itza may not be worth it if:

  • You’re on a shoestring budget and/or short Yucatan trip
  • Crowds and tourist traps really bother you
  • You prefer off-the-beaten-path gems to famous sites

I think experiencing the marvel of Chichen Itza in person is worthwhile for most travelers to the region. No, it’s not a “hidden gem” by any means. But there’s a reason millions visit each year – the ruins really live up to the hype as an engineering marvel.

As long as you go in with the right expectations, timing, and mindset, you’re in for an unforgettable experience of Mayan magnificence. The tips above like arriving early, visiting midweek, hiring a guide, and adding on cenote/Valladolid detours will ensure you get the most out of your visit while minimizing hassle.

So lace up your sneakers, pack your sunscreen, and get ready to step way back in time at Chichen Itza. With some advance planning and appreciation for one of the ancient world’s finest cities, you’re bound to be blown away!

FAQs About Visiting Chichen Itza

What’s the best time of year to visit Chichen Itza? While Chichen Itza is open year-round, the best months to visit are November to March when it’s a bit cooler and drier. No matter when you go, arrive early or late to beat the midday heat and wear sun protection.

How much does it cost to visit Chichen Itza in mexico?

As of 2024, Chichen Itza tickets cost $613 pesos (~$30 USD) for adults, $90 pesos for kids under 12, and $272 pesos for Mexican nationals. Parking is $80 pesos and an official guide runs $500-800 pesos.

Can you still climb El Castillo chichen itza?

No, visitors have not been allowed to climb El Castillo since 2008 to preserve the structure. You’ll have to admire the impressive pyramid from below.

Are the vendors aggressive at chichen itza?

The many souvenir hawkers at Chichen Itza can be quite persistent and their initial prices are inflated. A polite “no, gracias” goes a long way but if you want to buy, be prepared to negotiate firmly.

What should I bring with me to chichen itza?

Some essentials for visiting Chichen Itza include:

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Eco-friendly sun protection (hat, sunglasses, reef-safe sunscreen)
  • Reusable water bottle and snacks
  • Cash for entrance, guides, parking, food and souvenirs
  • Light bag to go hands-free

Can I fly my drone at Chichen Itza?

No, drones are strictly forbidden above the archeological site of Chichen Itza. In fact, they will search bags for any prohibited equipment like professional cameras and tripods which require a special permit.

What Mayan ruins are better than Chichen Itza? While Chichen Itza is the most famous, there are many other incredible Mayan ruins to explore in Mexico like:

  • Tulum: Coastal ruins overlooking the sparkling Caribbean
  • Coba: Less crowded ruins where you can still climb the pyramid
  • Ek Balam: Stunning ruins near Valladolid with fascinating carvings
  • Palenque: Jungle-shrouded ruins with elegant architecture
  • Uxmal: Imposing ruins featuring unique round pyramids

So is Chichen Itza worth it?

A resounding yes in my book, as long as you manage your expectations, time your visit strategically, and revel in the wonder of one of the world’s most remarkable ancient cities. Safe travels!

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