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How to visit Chichen Itza Mexico | the ultimate guide

Chichen Itza is the most famous Mayan ruins visited in Mexico, a must-see on your trip. Chichen Itza was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998, and a Wonder of the Modern World since 2007.


The Riviera Maya and the Mexican Caribbean are the most popular destination in Mexico.

Statistics show that Chichén Itzá, Tulum, and Cobá are among the 4 most visited ruins in Mexico, with the great capital Teotihuacán near Mexico City.

This tells us about the importance of the Riviera Maya as a tourist destination.

chichen itza visitor statistics
Number of people in thousands

In this post about Chichen Itza, Mexico, we’ll share the best information so that you can enjoy the ruins of Chichen just like this iconic destination deserves.

How to get to Chichen Itza, what not to miss, history, tips for the visit, the best tourism, basically everything you need to know.👌

After reading this post you will feel you won’t need a guide anymore when you visit Chichen Itza. However, we suggest you hire one anyway to have a better understanding of this complex civilization.

And with the information we are sharing in this post you will be able to ask more questions and get deeper into the mystery of Mayan history.

chichen itza ruins
columnas chichen

SOME HISTORY OF THE CHICHÉN ITZÁ MAYAN SETTLEMENT

Can you imagine any great capital in history without influences from different cultures? We only have to think of cities like New York, London, Paris… they all have their own cultural imprint together with various foreign influences.

In every big capital, we see temples of different religions, restaurants with different foods, and people of various ethnic groups… the best melting pots are in the capital cities.

Chichen Itza experienced various influences from foreign elements. The most notable influence was from the Toltec culture, bringing a new deity, which was Kukulcán.

chichen itza ruins

Let’s quickly go through the history of Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza was established in the 9th century AD. It is believed that they were Putun or Chontal Mayans.

These Mayas created a vast domain with a unified culture whose center was Chichen Itza. Once settled, its apogee begins, with the Itzaés as a strong ethnic group.

Before the arrival of the Itzaés, the influence of the architectural style of the Puuc is noticeable.

You should know that the Mayans developed several architectural styles in their different territorial domains and the Puuc was one of them.

This style is evident in buildings such as the Grupo de las Monjas, which belong to the 600 to 800 century AD.

This part is one of the most beautiful in Chichen Itza, so don’t miss it. We will show it to you on the map, step by step because Chichen is very big. 😊

Grupo de las Monjas

Over the years we can see in Chichen the confluence of two cultural regions, the Mayan and the Toltec.

This gave rise to deep social, political, economic, and religious transformations, especially in the period from 800 to 1100 AD (Early Postclassic).

The most significant is the cult of Kukulcán, the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl. This new deity became the central figure of Chichen Itza.

We live in continuous transformation, this is the cycle of life. It is in this period that Chichen reaches its climax.

At the end of its journey, Chichén Itzá was part of the great League of Mayapán, a triumvirate between the three great lineages (the Xiu, Itzaes, and Cocomes) that dominated before the arrival of the Spaniards in the center-north of the Peninsula of Yucatan.

Here is a brief summary of the evolution of Chichen Itza

  • 435 – 600 Foundation of the city
  • 600 – 918 Puuc influence
  • 918 – 987 Increase of the Toltec population. Mayapan lineage
  • 1194-1200 Decadence of Chichén Itzá. 1250 – The city is abandoned

APOGEE: Postclassic stage 800 AD – 1100 AD

cronology of the Maya Civilization

It is easy to observe the continuous transformation in large cities, while small cities remain more isolated and homogeneous over time. Chichen Itza is a beautiful puzzle where you discover different pieces.


Did you know?

✅ Chichen Itza empire covered up to 25 km2 of territory.

✅ The religious, cultural, and administrative center covered about 6 km2, where the elite lived.

✅ The population of Chichen got to a growth that exceed 50 thousand inhabitants.

✅ Chichen Itza has an exceptional road network that communicated with other Mayan cities. These paths also tell us about the importance of Chichen Itza: better connected, and more relevant are the cities.

✅ The Sacred Cenote acquires great importance as it was a place of pilgrimage in the area.


Meaning of Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá means “At the mouth of the well of the itzáes” or “at the edge of the well of the itzáes” (in Mayan: Chi’ ch’e’en = mouth of the well its ja’ = wizards of the water

As we have previously mentioned, the Itza populated this area.

The Chichen Itza archaeological zone is famous worldwide for the game of light and shadow that occurs at each equinox on the steps of the pyramidal base known as El Castillo. (We’ll talk about it further on, in this post.)

chichen itza mexico

CHICHÉN ITZÁ EXPLORATION HISTORY

The ruins of Chichen Itza are among the most documented in the Mayan world. The most illustrious explorers of the Mayan civilization have gone through that Mayan settlement.

We are going to show you the information with photographs because we love these open windows to the past where we can observe directly what happened.

Exploration of Alfred P. Maudslay

We are fascinated by the history of exploration of the Mayan world. Old photos, documents, and books are a source of knowledge and inspiration in our incursions into that fascinating civilization.

So here below we wanted to share with you a brief chronology of the main explorations led in Chichen Itza.

► 1840: The pioneers of the explorations of the Mayan world were the American lawyer John Lloyd Stephens and the architect Frederick Catherwood, who traveled and illustrated their expeditions through these lands in two books.

Catherwood’s illustrations and Stephens’ narrations have gone down in history for all those enthusiasts of the Mayan world. Featured Book: “Incidents of Travel in Yucatan” (1843)

Castillo chichen Itza Catherwood
Catherwood illustration

► 1881 and 1894: the legendary Alfred P. Maudslay made eight explorations to Chichen in those years. He took photographs of the monuments and glyphic inscriptions and made plaster and papier-mâché molds that are collected in 400 figures that the British Museum preserves.

Maudslay Chichen itza
Alfred P. Maudslay

► 1874/1885: The photographer and writer Alice Dixon Le Plongeon together with her husband Augustus Le Plongeon spent 11 years photographing and exploring in southern Mexico and Central America.

His great legacy was the more than 2,400 photographs and discovering the famous ChacMool of Chichen Itza.

Some of his theories such as that the Mayans had been in communication with Atlantis, ancient Egypt, and Jesus has been discarded today.

chacmool chichen itza
ChacMool

► 1984 – The most controversial of the explorers is surely Edward Herbert Thompson. Fascinated by the stories of the pioneers Stephens and Catherwood, he spent 30 years in the Hacienda of Chichén Itzá, which he acquired.

His explorations to the Sacred Cenote were a historical milestone, being the first cenote diver in an exploration. He is a controversial individual because he stole several finds.

► 1923 – the archaeologist Sylvanus Morley, sponsored by the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the support of the National Geographic Society.

His most relevant discovery was the finding of the 400 columns that are part of the Group of the Thousand Columns, the reconstruction of the Temple of the Warriors, and the identification of the Caracol building.

Morley was a scholar of the Mayan glyphs, who spent the next 18 years deciphering them.

Featured Book: The Ancient Maya (1946)

Sylvanus Morley
Sylvanus Morley

► 1938 – Tatiana Proskoriakoff left her mark as an epigrapher with graphics on the Mayan world.

He also illustrated Chichen Itza as we see in the image.

chichen itza tatiana

His legacy is one of the most valued. Her feminine intuition made her discover the Mayan women in the inscriptions: where they only saw priests with robes, she saw that they were female rulers.

Here is an interesting fact about Chichén Itzá that not many know

The Kukulcán Castle was built on top of another identical structure that it keeps inside. The only difference is that it has a staircase only on the north side. Below the temple, there is a cenote. It is currently being investigated by divers trying to reach this cenote through conduits from surrounding cenotes.

HOW TO GET TO CHICHÉN ITZÁ

Chichen Itza is located almost halfway between Cancun and Merida. From Riviera Maya calculate about 2 hours and a half by road and from Mérida 2 hours.

The nearest tourist city is Valladolid, just 40 minutes away. And the closest town where you find several hotels to sleep in is Piste.

STATE: Yucatán

how to get chichen itza
Open map to get Chichen Itzá

How to get Chichén Itzá by car

Chichen Itzá ruins are located 200 km (124 miles) west of Cancun (2 hr 40 min by car) at 187 km (116 miles) west of Playa del Carmen (2 hr 30 min by car) and 150 km (93 miles) from Tulum town.

From Mérida 119 km (74 miles) (1 hour 45 minutes by car) and from Valladolid just 45 km (28 miles) (45 minutes by car).

Renting a car on the Riviera Maya is something you would want to do if you want to be free to move around and discover all the amazing sites in the region.

It’s a relatively safe place to drive, the roads are good and the sites are well-marked. Therefore traveling by car is a very good option.

However, remember, if you decide to get a car rental, make sure you include full insurance with 0 deductible so you will drive with no stress. 

When renting a car in Mexico we recommend Discover Cars because on their website you can compare different companies and their prices and you can choose between their car insurance or the ones offered by the car rental directly, or both.


How to get to Chichén Itzá by local bus

The ADO bus company offers service to Chichen Itza from different cities. This is surely the cheapest way to visit Chichen Itza on your own.

We recommend you go to the ADO website to see any possible schedule changes and buy your tickets in advance. They have interesting discounts.

🚌 From Cancun to Chichen Itza (3 hours): departure at 8:45 am and return at 4:30 pm. The bus stops in front of the site entrance and leaves from the same place.

🚌 From Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza (3h40), departure at 8h and return at 16h30

🚌 From Tulum to Chichen Itza (2h30): departures at 6:30, 7:15, 8:15, 9:15, return at 4:30 p.m.

🚌 From Mérida to Chichén Itzá (1h50): departure at 6:30 a.m. and return at 4:30 p.m.

🚌 From Valladolid to Chichen Itza (30 min): departures at 10:50 am and 11:15 am, return at 4:30 pm


How to get to Chichén Itzá by taxi

All taxi drivers must have their official price list and they should show it to you.

However, those are only one-way rates. If you want a taxi driver to take you to Chichen Itza, wait for you and take you back, you must agree first on a price for the full day as there are no official prices for this service. Obviously, the more time he has to wait the higher will be the rate.

If you are going to visit Chichén Itzá from Valladolid, we recommend a taxi driver friend who will give you excellent service and will also take you to a nice cenote in the area.

CONTACT 👉 Manuel Sánchez +52 985 112 21 43 (Tripadvisor Maya Adventure Yucatan)

HOW TO VISIT CHICHÉN ITZÁ, ON YOUR OWN OR ON A TOUR?

You only know which one is best for you depending on your travel plan, the comfort you are looking for, the budget, and other factors.

We will try to give you as much information as possible on both options so that you can decide which one is the best way to travel for you. 🙌  🌎

From Riviera Maya, Mérida, and Valladolid you have the opportunity to go on a tour, either private or in a group.

The truth is that going on your own is a long day on the road if you travel from Riviera Maya or Mérida.

Here are some approximate prices in case you are going to visit Chichen Itza on your own.

Calculate a car rental rate of around 800 pesos per day (it depends a lot on the car and the company, of course), 340 pesos for the highway fee, plus 571 pesos for the entrance fee per foreign person, 80 pesos for parking per car.

Plus, if you want to hire a guide at the entrance of the Chichen Itza site it will be an extra 800 to 1000 MXN.

This would be the minimum expense.

The tour makes everything easier and gives a lot of advantages and it’s cheaper everything considered.

In addition, the vast majority of tours offer other interesting stops along the way to complete the visit to Chichen.

There are tours of different prices and possibilities. We offer you a series of possibilities of tours to Chichen Itza, you will surely find yours.

In conclusion, if you are already on a road trip or in Valladolid, it may be more convenient to visit Chichen Itza on your own, otherwise, it’s much faster and cheaper to join a tour.

HIRE A LOCAL GUIDE IN CHICHÉN ITZÁ

If want to learn about Chichen Itza’s history and culture, we definitely recommend the service of a local guide.

In Mexico, only guides accredited by the Government of Mexico can guide in the archaeological zones.

Prices in Chichen range from 900 pesos per guide in Spanish, to 1,200 pesos for a guide in English or another language.

The groups are of a maximum of 10 people. If you are traveling alone you may be able to share the guide with another group if they are starting at the same time and they agree.

We would like to give a shout-out to Toni because he gives very good service and we have known his work for years.

Not all guides have the same knowledge and professional level. We leave you the contact in case you find it useful.

👉 Guide Toni Ojeda +52 985 106 3121 – to arrange a visit you should contact him a few days in advance.

Toni leading a group of visitors

CHICHÉN ITZÁ MAP

On the map of the Chichen Itza ruins you can see the main buildings. Many travelers only visit what would be the buildings of the central area, which we know as the “Gran Nivelacion“.

Several of the main buildings are located here, but there is much more to explore in Chichen Itza.

map chichén itzá
Chichen Itza INAH map

Normally if you hire a certified guide, they will only take you to visit these main buildings. If you want to tour the entire section with a guide, you should ask him in advance and negotiate a price, because it is not a usual itinerary.

Later we will leave you the contact of a guide who will surely give you a good service. Below we present some of the main buildings of Chichen Itza.

Of course, we recommend you visit the entire site to enjoy the full experience.

CHICHEN ITZA MAIN STRUCTURES (“GRAN NIVELACIÓN“)

THE KUKULKAN CASTLE

The Kukulkan Castle is the jewel of Chichen Itza, a monument that pays tribute to time. It measures 60 meters per side at the base and 24 meters in height.

When the guide explains this building to you, you will be in awe 😊

castillo chichen itza

THE BALL COURT

The Ball Court is the largest in all of Mesoamerica. It’s around 90 meters long, with a width of 30 meters.

On the walls are the stands. One of the rings is preserved. Temple of the Jaguars: one of the buildings that we like the most for its rich decoration and details that can be seen inside.

Be curious and watch, you will see various characters with different outfits. War scenes are also seen, it is very beautiful.

ball court chihen itza

THE SACRED CENOTE

The Sacred Cenote was the heart of religious activities, not only in the city of Chichen Itza but in the entire Mayan area.

It was a reason for worshiping the god of rain, Chaac.

Objects of gold, jade, copper, cloth, and basketry have been extracted from its muddy bottom, which was apparently thrown as ceremonial offerings.

You will be able to see another cenote, the one we know as Xtoloc. Be careful not to fall into the cenotes and be the sacrifice to the deities yourself 😉


TZOMPANTLI

The skulls of defeated rivals were placed on this platform. Even back then, fear was a great tool for power control.

TZOMPANTLI chichen itza

TEMPLE OF WARRIORS

This temple was built on top of the Chac Mool Temple. The Temple of the Warriors is decorated both with representations of the long-nosed god of rain, Chaac and by the bird-serpent-man.

Again we see this cultural symbiosis of the big cities.


PLATFORM OF VENUS

It is just north of the Castle. Venus was a great reference to the celestial vault for the ancient Mayans.


GROUP OF THE THOUSAND COLUMNS

It includes the Market, the Temple of the Sculpted Columns, and the Temple of the Small Tables. It is a beautiful building, and if you wanted to count the columns, we can already tell you that there are well under 1,000.

Chichén Itzá, Yucatán

GROUP OF STRUCTURES OUT OF THE MAIN AREA

OSARIO GROUP

Where we can see another platform of Venus, platform of the Tombs (where several burials were found), and El Osario, which is the other building that functioned as a ceremonial temple.

chichen-itza

GROUP OF COLORED BUILDING ( CASA COLORADA )

Also called Chichanchob, which was another building with a religious function (it receives this name due to the red paint on its interior) and El Caracol O Observatorio: it is named for the spiral staircase that is in its interior and because it was most likely used for astronomical observations.

chichen itza mexico
El Caracol/Observatorio

GROUP OF THE NUNS

The buildings of the church and the Annex of the Nuns have architectural characteristics of the Puuc, also of the Chenes (both are 2 of the ancient Mayan architectural styles). The ornamentation of this group is simply wonderful.


CHICHÉN VIEJO (OLD CHICHEN)

There is a group of buildings that are not open to the public, we know them as Chichen Viejo. It can be visited with special permits, we hope one day to be able to do so.

These are residential buildings where the elite lived and small temples. You can see the Temple of the Phalluses, the Temple of the Snails, the Temple of the Monkeys, and the Temple of the Initial Series, from which the group takes its name: Group of the Initial Series.

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION CHICHEN ITZA MEXICO

As usual we want to offer the most up to date information for your trip 🛺🌎

Facilities

✅ Parking lot: 80 pesos per car

✅ Toilet

✅ Lockers

✅ ATM

✅ Souvenir shops

✅ Bars

✅ Possibility to hire a Certified Guide


Chichén Itzá opening hours

Chichen Itza is open from 8 am to 5 pm every day. The last entrance is at 4 pm. From 4:30 you will be asked to leave, by 4.45 for the central plaza.


Chichén Itzá entrance fee

💲571 MXN foreigners
💲284 MXN Mexicans and foreigners with permanent residency.(you need to bring your ID)
💲85 MXN Yucatecan
💲90 MXN up to 13 yr old

In Chichén Itzá you have to pay for two entry tickets del INAH y CULTUR (this is also valid for Uxmal y Ek Balam)

✔ On Sundays, the entrance is free for Mexicans and foreigners with permanent residence. 

✔ Access to the Mayan ruins is open every day for kids up to 12 years old, students, teachers, and seniors (must show ID).

ALSO FREE ENTRANCE FOR :

Mexicans over 60 (with official ID) • Retired people with official documentation • Mexican Professors and students (with official ID) • Kids up to 12 ys • Researchers and scholars (with a special permit from the INAH) • Mexicans and foreigners with disabilities


5 Tips for visiting Chichén Itzá

✅ Use comfortable light clothing and shoes, a good hat will also help with the high temperatures. There is not much shade in Chichén

✅ Being the most visited ruins you will always find people. The best time is definitely at 8 in the morning, both to avoid the heat and the big crowds

✅ Bring a bottle of water and keep in mind that you cannot walk in with food or alcoholic drinks.

✅ Big backpacks are not permitted. There are lockers

✅ You can hire a certified guide at the entrance


How much time do you need to visit Chichén Itzá?

If you are going to visit the entire complex, consider about 3 hours.

If you hire a local guide, something that we highly recommend in order to understand and appreciate the splendor of the place, they will be with you for 1 hour and a half.

They are focusing mainly on the buildings in the central square.

You can explore the rest of the section at your leisure.

EQUINOX AND SOLSTICE IN CHICHÉN ITZÁ

In several archaeological sites, we can enjoy archaeo-astronomical phenomena.

The best known of all is the spring and autumn equinox of Chichén Itzá (March 21 and September 22).

On those dates, and keep in mind that the days before and after are equally appreciated, you will be able to observe a phenomenon for 45 minutes with unique and impressive light and shadow.

On the north staircase of the Castle, the one that faces the Sacred Cenote, you will see a light projection in the shape of a snake that gradually descends down the stairs until it exits through the mouth of the feathered serpents that is at the base of the staircase.

Simply spectacular. On these dates, thousands of people gather in the huge Chichen square to enjoy this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, we have bad news, because, despite the fact that it is visible, it is not possible to see the complete phenomenon because the archaeological zone of Chichén Itzá is closed before sunset.

Other phenomena that can be seen is at dawn on days 20, 21, and 22 June, during the summer solstices, where the light only accurately illuminates the stairs on the North and East sides of the Castle.

On the winter solstice, at sunset from December 20 to 22, you can see the shadow that falls on the North and East stairs, the inverted phenomenon.

The mathematical accuracy reveals the ancient Maya’s vast knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.

It is something very beautiful 💛 It can also be observed on the lunar equinox during the early morning of the full moon, the shadow triangles that simulate the feathered serpent.

We have yet to see this, it is not easy to get special permissions for these unique events, but we hope to have this opportunity soon.

solstice chichen itza
Hundreds of people on the esplanade of Chichen Itza waiting for the phenomenon of the solstice

CHICHEN ITZÁ SOUND AND LIGHT SHOW

We believe that the Chichen Itza sound and light show is the best show of its kind that you can see in Yucatan.

What we love the most about it is the fact of being able to contemplate the main buildings such as the Castle, the Ball Court, and the Temple of the Thousand Columns illuminated at night is a fantastic tour.

In addition to the show itself which is projected on the wall of the Castle, the walk between the buildings illuminated at night is very beautiful and unique🙌

The tour is 45 minutes and the projection lasts 25 minutes, during which you are sitting in a chair in front of the temple of Kukulcán.

Mondays are the only day that there is no show at Chichen Itza

You can buy tickets online on this website

Price: 510 pesos, on Sunday there is a discount for Mexicans: 255 pesos

Hours: 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in winter time (from the first Sunday in October to the first Saturday in April) / 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in summer time (from the first Sunday in April to the first Saturday in October).

Keep in mind that if there is a cancellation due to bad weather, the return of the money is definitely easier if the purchase is made directly at the Chichen Itza ticket office.

El Castillo lights up on show nights

INSIDER TIPS– “La Gran Nivelación” what are we talking about? Just as they did in other Mayan cities, before building the structures of the city, they built a large platform on which the buildings of Chichén Itzá are distributed that make up the great complex of the square: The Castle, Ball Court, Temple of the Warriors, El Tzompantli and the Platform of Venus. You can see part of this large leveled structure in the excavations near the Castillo de Kukulcán.

 

chichen-castillo

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE ABOUT CHICHEN ITZA MEXICO

The great controversy in Chichen Itza is the large number of vendors inside, who sometimes make the view somewhat annoying for some visitors.

We know, after so many years, several vendors, and we know that it is their livelihood and they fight tooth and nail not to be taken out of there, something that has been tried on several occasions.

The local Mayans claim their space to sell. Keep in mind that most tours take tourists to off-site stores where they receive commissions on sales.

Many agencies encourage them not to shop on the premises. It’s been a fight for years.

We try not to comment on it, just explain the reality that you are going to find.

Definitely, the atmosphere would be much more magical without vendors, though.

chichen-vendors-

WHAT WE LIKE ABOUT CHICHEN ITZA MEXICO

Chichen is simply breathtaking. Especially if the guide manages to explain the Castle or Temple of Kukulcán well, you will be able to understand that this building is the most beautiful tribute to the time made by the Mayans. Simply magnificent and precise in every stone.


THE HIGHLIGHTS OF CHICHÉN ITZÁ

Without a doubt, the highlight of Chichen Itza is the building that we know as the Castle or Temple of Kukulcán.

In addition to being a beautiful construction that shocks and impresses the visitor, when they explain the temple itself, you are fascinated.

It is of brilliant mathematical accuracy, there you can appreciate the knowledge of the ancient Maya regarding the domain of time.


WHAT YOU CAN VISIT NEARBY

➡️ Cenote Ik Kil 6 km/ 3.7 miles
➡️ Valladolid 45 km/ 28 miles
➡️ Cenote Yokdzonot 18 km/11 miles
➡️ Cenotes Dzitnup 43 km/ 26.7 miles
➡️ Cenote Oxman 42 km/ 26 miles
➡️ Cenote Selva Maya 39.5 km/ 24.5 miles

➡️Ek Balam ruins 68 km/ 42 miles

HOW TO VISIT CHICHEN ITZÁ, MEXICO FAQ

Can you bring backpacks to Chichen Itza?

You cannot enter with bags or luggage. The good thing is that they have lockers available so you can store your luggage during your visit.

Can you bring water into Chichen Itza?

Yes, you can enter with your own water, in fact, we recommend it. You could buy it inside but it’s outrageously expensive.

How long do you need in Chichen Itza?

Consider between 1 hour and a half and 3 hours depending on how curious you are and how much you want to explore.

What do I need to know about Chichen Itza?

Chichen was one of the great Mayan cities of this territory, with a population that exceeded 50 thousand inhabitants.

Why is Chichen Itza so special?

The Toltec influence (it is a culture originating from another region) made it different from other Mayan cities. The worshipping of Kukulcán, the Feathered Serpent or Quetzalcoatl was something remarkable. The Kukulcán Castle or Temple is a unique building, where the feathered serpent is the main protagonist.