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Chichen Itza Tips: Everything I wish I knew before Visiting Chichen Itza

El Castillo Great Pyramid at Chichen Itza - Chichen Itza Tips

Chichén Itzá was named as one of the new seven wonders of the world and is one of the most popular destinations in the whole of Mexico.  El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza is the most famous Mayan pyramid and one that you will no doubt have seen in photographs when doing research for your trip to Mexico.  However, due to its popularity, and relative closeness to the resorts of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, Chichen Itza can get horrendously busy!  I wanted to share my top Chichen Itza tips to help you enjoy your time there – I wish I knew all of these before visiting Chichen Itza!

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Chichen Itza Facts and Useful Information

What Is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins are what is left of a magnificent Maya city.  It was built between 750 and 900 AD, and at its peak, Chichen Itza was home to an estimated 90,000 inhabitants.  It was a thriving city and become a powerful regional capital controlling north and central Yucatán. 

The city has only partially been excavated and archaeologists continue to make exciting new discoveries that tell us more about this fascinating culture and the city of Chichen Itza.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Chichen Itza vs Tulum Mayan Ruins – Which is Best?

What Does Chichen Itza Mean?

The name Chi-ch’en Itzá in Maya translates as “The city at the mouth of the well of the Itza”, with the well referring to one of the nearby cenote water holes.  According to Wikipedia:

Itzá is the name of an ethnic-lineage group that gained political and economic dominance of the northern peninsula. One possible translation for Itza is “enchanter (or enchantment) of the water,”from its, “sorcerer,” and ha, “water.”    

A Very Hot Day at Chichen Itza Mexico - Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza
A Very Hot Day at Chichen Itza Mexico – Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza

How to Visit Chichen Itza Mexico

The majority of visitors to the Yucatan will take a tour to Chichen Itza as it is easier than going by yourself.  However, visiting independently gives you much more flexibility to take your time and enjoy the magic of the site. 

Chichen Itza Tours

You can arrange a tour to Chichen Itza from basically anywhere in the Yucatan, the most popular options being Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Cancun, Tulum, Merida and Valladolid.

Chichen Itza tours typically include transport from and back to one of the aforementioned places, entry to Chichen Itza, entry and visit to a cenote (usually Ik Kil, although some tours are offering cenote Hubiku instead), and a buffet lunch.  Check carefully if the full entry price to Chichen Itza is included, as some only include part of the fee (see below for more information on the Chichen Itza entrance fee).

As you have a lot on the itinerary, this means you don’t have very much time in each location to relax and enjoy all of the things to see in Chichen Itza, and you will probably end up following other tour groups around Chichen Itza and the cenote. 

However, if you only have one day to spare, you can cram in a lot in a short time, and they are good value as they also include transport and food too.  You should still bring water and snacks with you in case you get hungry along the way! 

These are some of the top-rated Chichen Itza tours on GetYourGuide:

 

How to Get to Chichen Itza Independently

If you prefer to visit Chichen Itza without a tour and go independently, the bus network around the Yucatan is really good.  You can take a bus from Cancun to Chichen Itza, or from Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Valladolid or Merida. 

Check the ADO bus website, as they have timetables available online.  However, you can’t buy bus tickets online without a Mexican credit card, you will need to go to one of the ADO bus stations to buy your ticket.  There are also second-class buses which go to Chichen Itza from Valladolid which are cheaper, but they take longer as they stop along the way to pick people up.

If you choose to drive to Chichen Itza, remember that there are tolls on the roads, so make sure you have pesos to cover those costs as well.  If you are planning to take a day trip to Chichen Itza by car it may work out cheaper and more convenient to take a tour instead of drive yourself; take a look at some of the options with GetYourGuide to decide which would work best for you.

I would recommend staying as close to Chichen Itza as you can so you can get there as early as possible in the morning.  Buses to Chichen Itza also stop at the nearby town of Pisté, where there are various accommodation options and restaurants, or you can also spend the night at a hotel in Chichen Itza itself. 

If you are staying in Pisté, you can easily get a taxi to the entrance of Chichen Itza, which isn’t expensive.  Ask your accommodation host for advice on where to flag them down.

The Group of The Thousand Columns at Chichen Itza
The Group of The Thousand Columns at Chichen Itza

Where to Stay at Chichen Itza

The closer you stay to Chichen Itza, the earlier you are likely to arrive and the more you can enjoy Chichen Itza in peace before the big tour groups arrive. 

Hostels at Chichen Itza

There are no hostels at Chichen Itza, although there are plenty in the closest city Valladolid, and a couple of shared dorm options advertised on Airbnb in the town of Pisté like Casa Chichen Host  or Chichen Hostel (see below for more Airbnb options).

If you stay in Valladolid, you could arrange a tour from there or take a collectivo to Chichen Itza first thing in the morning.  Buses from Valladolid to Chichen Itza won’t get you there for opening time so you could take the bus in the afternoon in preparation for the following day.  Before spending the night closer to Chichen Itza, I stayed at Hostel Candelaria in Valladolid which was fab.

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Hotels at Chichen Itza

If you prefer to stay actually at Chichen Itza, there is the Mayaland Hotel onsite, with a private entrance to Chichen Itza.  There are other hotels close by, but that is the only one where you have private access to Chichen Itza.

I’ve read reviews from other hotels where you may be able to pay to walk through Mayaland to get to Chichen Itza, but that seems to be an old practise so you may need to get a taxi or walk quite a long way if you stay in a hotel near Chichen Itza. 

Staying in a hotel in Pisté gives you more choice of evening restaurants and activities, and maybe easier to find taxis in the morning.  I stayed at the lovely Casa de las Lunas which has bright, clean rooms and a swimming pool. 

>>>Check all hotels in Chichen Itza on HotelsCombined 

>>>Check all hotels in Pisté on HotelsCombined

Airbnb at Chichen Itza

There are lots of options for Airbnbs near Chichen Itza, especially in the nearby town of Pisté.  This hotel next to Chichen Itza also advertises on Airbnb and is one of the closest hotels to the entrance. 

Most of the other Airbnbs listed are also hotels or guesthouses, but this entire home is great value if you are travelling in a group.  This bedroom in a family home seems like a more authentic place to stay, or you can check all of the options on Airbnb here

If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $52 credit to use on your first trip!  Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code or click below for your Airbnb coupon.

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Chichen Itza Entrance Fee

The Chichen Itza entrance fee is more expensive than other Mayan sites in Mexico as you have to pay for two tickets.  One is for the federal government agency that co-administers the sites (INAH) and the other is for the state agency (CULTUR). 

These tickets cost $80 pesos and $406 pesos respectively, so the total Chichen Itza ticket price is $486 pesos (as at January 2020) which is about $26 USD. 

When you arrive at the Chichen Itza ticket office, there are two separate windows next to each other, and you buy one ticket at each window.  Keep both of your tickets as they will each be stamped on the way in.  You can’t buy daytime Chichen Itza tickets in advance online, you can only buy them at the ticket office when you arrive.

Bring cash with you to buy your ticket as the card machine often doesn’t work.  There is a cash machine at Chichen Itza, but I wouldn’t rely on it working!  Also, the office won’t accept dollars, so make sure you have enough pesos with you to cover the entry fee, food and anything else you might need – including a guide if you want one.  

For professional photographers, film permits cost extra, and tripods are not allowed without a special permit arranged with INAH in advance, which is extremely difficult to get.

Feathered Serpent Carvings - Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza
Feathered Serpent Carvings – Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza

When to go to Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Opening Times

Chichen Itza is open every day from 8am to 5pm.

Don’t forget that the State of Quintana Roo including Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum are in a different time zone to Chichen Itza and the rest of Mexico.  From October to April, Quintana Roo is an hour ahead of Chichen Itza and the rest of the country.  During daylight savings time in Mexico from April to October the two zones have the same time, so if you’re travelling from Cancun to Chichen Itza from October to April, adjust your journey time accordingly.

The Best Time to Visit Chichen Itza

As Chichen Itza is such a popular thing to do in Mexico, I highly recommend going there as early in the day as you can, so you are waiting in the queue at 8am when the ticket booths open.  It gets very crowded, so early birds can get photographs of the magnificent temples without other people in the shots.

The souvenir sellers also arrive at 8am, so if you can get in early you can have some peace and quiet without being constantly hassled to buy something.

Another benefit of getting there early is that you beat the heat too, as there is very little shade around the main pyramid in Chichen Itza and the sun beats down mercilessly during the day. 

Get to Chichen Itza Early in the Morning - Chichen Itza Tips
Get to Chichen Itza Early in the Morning – Chichen Itza Tips

Instead of the early morning, you may want to visit Chichen Itza in the afternoon.  Once all the tour groups leave around 3pm it gets much quieter, although it is still hot.  The park shuts at 5pm so make sure you have enough time to see everything before it closes. 

On Sundays, Mexican nationals get free entry to Chichen Itza, so the site will be even busier than on other days of the week.   Similarly, national holidays and peak times such as Christmas and Easter will be busier too, so try to plan your visit to avoid peak times, otherwise, you will have to battle through the crowds.

The most popular days of the year to visit Chichen Itza are during the spring and autumn equinox when thousands of people gather to see the feathered snake slithering down the steps of El Castillo Pyramid.  This would be an incredible sight to behold, but it is incredibly busy, so you need to decide if you want to see this unique spectacle alongside the thousands of other visitors crammed into the site, or if you want to come another day when it is quieter.

Chichen Itza Light Show

On certain nights of the week you can buy an additional ticket to go back to Chichen Itza in the evening from 7pm for a night show.  You could also do this the evening before going during the day if you wish.  In the show, lights are projected onto the El Castillo pyramid, accompanied by music and explanations in Spanish.   Also included is a 45-minute tour around the site (with a multi-lingual audio guide), before the light show. 

You can buy your tickets in advance online for the night show, but not the regular entrance.  As at January 2020, Chichen Itza light show tickets currently cost $515 pesos per person. 

Nighttime at Chichen Itza - Credit Pixabay
Nighttime at Chichen Itza – Image by Walkerssk from Pixabay

What to Take to Chichen Itza?

There isn’t much shade around the main temples in Chichen Itza, and the sun beats down mercilessly making it very hot indeed.  Bring plenty of water with you, sunscreen, and a hat or umbrella to protect yourself from the sun.  Be sure to wear comfortable shoes too as you’ll want to walk around and explore everywhere – flip flops aren’t ideal; I’d suggest covered toe sandals are the best option.

There is a shop at the entrance where you can buy drinks and snacks, but once you are inside there is nowhere to buy refreshments during your visit, so a packed lunch might be useful, or at least some snacks to see you through till lunch. 

If you decide not to take a Chichen Itza tour, a guidebook is useful to explain more about the ruins, as there is very little signage to explain what is what.

What to See in Chichen Itza?

The main ‘attraction’ at Chichen Itza is the spectacular Kukulkán or El Castillo Pyramid.  If you arrive early, my top Chichen Itza tip is to visit this first to get photographs of the famous pyramid while it’s still quiet.  Then, take time to explore all of the other areas, including the ball court, El Caracol observatory, the Bonehouse, sacred cenote, and Temple of the Warriors.

What really makes Chichen Itza so special is the architectural design, and attention to detail.  The design of the main pyramid, El Castillo, is so perfect that on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun casts a shadow on the pyramid in such a way that a snake appears to slither up or down the huge steps.  The Mayans clearly knew a lot about astronomy and they planned every detail of Chichen Itza. 

Beneath the pyramid, an underground cenote has recently been discovered, and hidden passageways remain unexplored.  At its peak, Chichen Itza was home to an estimated 90,000 inhabitants, a thriving city that has only partially been excavated.  Take time to appreciate all this, and you will realise why Chichen Itza earned its title of one of the seven new wonders of the world.

The Very Green Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza - Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza
The Very Green Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza – Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza

Can You Climb Chichen Itza Pyramid?

No, you can’t climb Chichen Itza Pyramid.  Climbing in Chichen Itza is forbidden, in part to protect the intricate carvings at the top of the pyramid, and in part for our safety reasons, after a tourist died when they tripped and fell down the pyramid. 

Can You Swim in Chichen Itza Cenote?

You also can’t swim in the Sacred Cenote here as the water is a murky green colour, and they were used as a site for religious ceremonies and human sacrifices so I certainly wouldn’t want to dive in!  However, if you bring your swimsuit, you can make use of it at the Ik Kil cenote nearby.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Cenote Diving in Tulum 

Where Can You Buy Chichen Itza Souvenirs

Unfortunately, everywhere!  There are souvenir stalls everywhere you look along the footpaths, and it can get tiring.  Souvenir sellers are let in at 8am along with the visitors, so if you arrive early you will get a bit of peace as you explore without constant harassment. 

However, once they have set up their stalls, it is relentless.  Everyone will want to sell you something, for one dollar, practically free, the best price just for you.  And worst of all, the jaguar ‘whistles’ sound like a cross between a crying baby and a sick animal, it is the strangest and most irritating noise I have ever heard! 

Souvenir Stalls are everywhere in Chichen Itza - Chichen Itza vs Tulum Mayan Ruins in Mexico
Souvenir Stalls are everywhere in Chichen Itza – Chichen Itza vs Tulum Mayan Ruins in Mexico

My Top Chichen Itza Tips

To summarise, these are my top 10 Chichen Itza tips to help you really enjoy your visit to Chichen Itza.  I hope they help you plan your stay here and make visiting Chichen Itza a breeze!

Arrive Early

Chichen Itza opens at 8am, so plan ahead and arrive before the gates open so you can be among the first people inside.  It gets very crowded, so early birds can get photographs of the magnificent temples without other people in the shots, and you beat the heat too. 

Alternatively, arrive after 3pm when the tour groups have gone, but make sure you have enough time to see everything before the site closes at 5pm.

See the Light Show

There is a night-time light show at Chichen Itza, which allows you around 45 minutes to tour around the site (with a multi-lingual audio guide), followed by a 25-minute sound and light show projected onto the Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo) pyramid. 

Visiting at night is a totally different experience, and you get the chance to explore without the heat and hassle from the souvenir sellers.  You will need to buy your tickets in advance online, and although the audio guide is in several languages, the show is only in Spanish.

Avoid Sundays and National Holidays

On Sundays, Mexican nationals get free entry to Chichen Itza, so the site will be even busier than on other days of the week.   Similarly, national holidays and peak times such as Christmas and Easter will be busier too, so try to plan your visit to avoid peak times. 

The Detail in some of the Carvings is Extraordinary - Visiting Chichen Itza
The Detail in some of the Carvings is Extraordinary – Visiting Chichen Itza

Bring Pesos in Cash

Make sure you bring enough cash with you to buy your tickets, food and anything else you might need as the card machine often doesn’t work.  If you want to hire a guide inside that will also need to be paid in cash.

Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza: Stay Overnight

You can visit Chichen Itza on a day trip from Cancun, either with a tour group, or independently, but if you have the time, plan to spend the night at the nearby towns of Pisté or Valladolid to explore the surrounding area.  Every tour group from Cancun arrives at Chichen Itza at around 10am, visits the site, then goes to the nearby Ik Kil cenote for a swim. 

While this is a great addition to the trip, as every group is doing the same thing, there are people everywhere!  Skip the day tour and spend a night or two here to visit both sites early, avoid the rush, and visit the night light show too. 

Be Prepared for the Weather

My oh my, does it get hot!  There isn’t much shade around the main temples, and the sun beats down mercilessly.  Bring plenty of water with you as there is nowhere to buy it once you’re inside, and don’t forget to bring sunscreen and a hat or umbrella to protect yourself from the sun. 

Temples at Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins - Take Time to Explore the whole site
Temples at Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins – Take Time to Explore the whole site

Know Your Stuff

Without an organized tour, you can choose to wander freely around the site or hire a guide.  There are plenty of people offering guiding services as you come into the car park but wait until you get inside the complex for the official guides and best rates.  Alternatively, bring a good guidebook, or buy one in the gift shop before you go in, so you can understand more about the significance of the site.

Explore Everywhere

The main ‘attraction’ at Chichen Itza is the spectacular El Castillo Pyramid.  If you arrive early, visit this first to get photographs while it’s still quiet.  Then, take time to explore all of the areas at your leisure and try to imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago.  

Chichen Itza Tips: Take Your Time

It is the little details that really surprised me about Chichen Itza.  The design of the pyramid, the carvings in the stone, how the whole city was laid out.  Try not to rush around, and if you take a Chichen Itza tour try to make sure you will have free time to wander around yourself.  If you see a quiet footpath, go down it, and try to avoid the crowds.

Have Lunch in Pisté

Although there are refreshments available at the entrance to Chichen Itza, they are expensive.  Assuming you followed my advice to visit independently, drive or hop on the bus to the nearby town of Pisté where a delicious lunch is much better value.  Try Loncheria Fabiola for local specialities like cochinita pibil (roast pork) tacos, or The Mexican Chicken for huge portions of roast chicken and rice. 

What do you think of my Chichen Itza tips?  Have you been?  If there is anything I have missed please let me know in the comments below. 

You may also like these Yucatan posts:

Or click here to read all of my Mexico blog posts.

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Last updated: August 7, 2020

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