How To Visit Chichen Itza: Guide For First-timers

Have you ever seen pictures of Chichen Itza and wondered how to visit? This post will guide you through everything you need to know to make your first trip there a breeze! We'll cover tickets, transportation, where to stay, what to see, and more. So read on for all the info you need to plan your dream vacation to one of Mexico's most famous sites!

If you're looking for an unforgettable Mexican vacation, look no further than Chichen Itza. This ancient Mayan city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, and it's easy to see why. With its awe-inspiring architecture and rich history, Chichen Itza is a must-see for anyone visiting Mexico. But if it's your first time visiting, it can be a little daunting knowing where to start. That's why we've put together this handy guide on how to visit Chichen Itza - so you can make the most of your trip! Keep reading for everything you need to know.

How to visit Chichen Itza

How To Explore Chichen Itza

It's no question that visitors to the Yucatan Peninsula should take the time to go and see Chichen Itza. You should know that the area is massive and it is more than just the one pyramid that is typically pictured in postcards or on social media. Depending on how interested you may be in the details and how much time you will want to dedicate to roaming around, we suggest giving it at least 2 hours to make it a worthwhile visit. while it was difficult for us to tour Chichen Itza fully with a small child, it was, nevertheless, very interesting and fun to go!

  • Tickets: To enter you will need a ticket. Yes, you have to pay to see Chichen Itza! Tickets cost MXN$80 for children and MXN$533 for adults. You can buy tickets online or at the entrance to the ruins. There is also a light and sound show in the evening for a higher priced admission.
  • Transportation: The easiest way to get to Chichen Itza is by car. The drive from either Cancun or Playa Del Carmen takes about two and half hours. It takes an hour less to get there if you are driving from Merida. Other options include shared taxis or bus. Getting a private tour shuttle is the best and most hassle-free way to do it (this was our choice and we loved it!)
Chichén-Itzá sightseeing

It may take a few days to visit all of Chichen Itza's sites. And if you want to spend even longer in Mexico (which we recommend!), there are several nearby towns where you could stay or do day trips from. The "Pueblo Magico" of Valladolid is probably our favorite option because it has so much charm and character! This town makes for a great base while visiting Chichen Itza because it allows easy access without any major crowds.

Once you have your ticket, it's time to start planning what you want to see! Chichen Itza is a large site, and it's easy to spend a whole day exploring here. 

Archeological Highlights To See

If you're short on time, we recommend focusing on these three sites:

  • El Castillo (the Temple of Kukulkan) is the most iconic building at Chichen Itza, and it's hard to miss.
  • The Ball Court was used for ceremonial purposes rather than sporting events, but how cool does that sound? Our guide mentioned that there is a theory that either the winning team or the loosing team may have been sacrificed, so that part is not cool!
  • Finally, the Observatory provides an unparalleled view of the surrounding area - you really can't beat this perspective!
the Ball Court - Chichén-Itzá

In the same vicinity of the main pyramid are the Temple of the Warriors and Venus Platform so you can easily explore those without having to venture too far out. If you have a little extra time, you should also check out Sacred Cenote which is about a 15 minute walk, round-trip. 

We didn't get a chance to see it because we had to start heading back to Playa Del Carmen but hopefully will go back and check it our next time as it is one of the top things to see at Chichen Itza.

Should You Go With Or Without A Tour?

The short answer would be to go with a tour guide. Unless you are purely there to see the structures and just take photos simply because they look "cool" you may want to actually learn about what you are seeing. Some might argue that they can just learn about it online and that may work. However, it's just not the same as getting the information and connecting it to the site while actually being in it.

Mil Columnas structure at Chichén-Itzá

If you get a good tour guide, they will probably fill you in on some bonus information that may not be available easily elsewhere. For instance, our tour guide went into detail about the four cenotes (one on each side) that surround the main temple (some are at a distance and may not appear on site maps) and how the waterways from those "wells" connect to one cenote or underground lake) right under the pyramid. This is, perhaps, why the name refers to “at the mouth of the well of the Itza.”  

At the very least, it would be best to get an audio tour. This gives you both the freedom to enjoy the site on your own terms as well as giving you interesting information about this amazing World Wonder.

By the way, this was our fourth World Wonder. We have been fortunate to have see the Great Wall of China, Petra, and the Colosseum in Rome!

Interesting Historical facts to know:

  • There are 4 cenotes, one on each side of El Castillo with rivers connecting to big lake under main temple.
  • Girls around age 14/15 were sacrificed in wells during ceremonies. valuable items were also sacrificed in the cenote. Among some of the things that have been discovered are items made in place in South America like Costa Rica!
  • The main pyramid was originally painted red. As guests entered they were given a drink and hallucinogen to enhance the magnificence and splendor of this place. Other ways that visitors were rattled and intimidated were with the many skull carvings at the entrance where thy walked through. 
  • Sound carries well from the top of the pyramid. This was helpful when speeches were given to masses of people down below. Sound carrying far is also a characteristic of the Ball Court.
  • If you clap at the base of the stairs, the sound will echo and sound like the quetzal bird, which was an important symbol in Mayan culture..
the best way to visit Chichén-Itzá, Mexico
  • Two times a year, during spring and autumn equinox, a shadow of a snake will be cast on the side of the stairs as a result of the design of the pyramid. As the sun slowly sets on those days, it gives the illusion of the serpent moving down the stairs where its head is sculpted.
  • The Temple of Kukulkan and nearby monuments were built by slaves.
  • There are a total of 365 steps (No, you cannot walk up the pyramid) at The Temple of Kukulkan representing the days of a year and the four sides for each season. In a way, the monument is like a calendar they used to help determine when to plant and harvest crops. 
World Wonder of Chichén-Itzá in Mexico

Suggested Itinerary

We were coming from our visit in Playa Del Carmen, but this itinerary can also be utilized by those leaving from Cancun. We ate breakfast and packed Petra's breakfast to go in order to get out and on the road around 8:15ish am. We wanted to get there early so that temperatures would be a bit cooler and to deal with less crowds. Our goal was to stay at least 2 hours and explore whatever that time would allow us so that we could be back by 4pm.

Our tour cost $180USD per person. We used My Quest Concierge Tour for our private tour and transportation. We brought Petra's car seat to Mexico with us so that came in handy. The cost included the tolls along the highway that our driver had to pay along the way.

Mayan Pyramid - Temple of Kukulkan

For our on-the-go lunch we packed sandwiches and chips and we also packed food and water for Petra. Be aware that there is no food option on the drive to Chichen Itza until you are about 20 minutes out in Piste area where you will have some local food options as well as a Subway and convenience store for snacks. Also, there are no bathroom stops either!

The drive to Chichen Itza is pretty easy and flat with little scenery so we were ready with toys for Petra to keep her entertained a bit. The key thing that helped us is that we time the drive to overlap with her nap time, so she was asleep a good portion of the 2 hour drive.

taking a tour to Chichen Itza from Playa Del Carmen

Quick Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza

  • Plan your time - know how much you want to see. You can spend anywhere between 2 to 4 hours there realistically.
  • Get there early (but late afternoon works, too)
  • Have cash handy
  • Eat outside. Food is limited to snacks once inside so eat at nearby Piste or Valladolid.
  • Get a guide for full experience
  • Dress appropriately. You will need: sunblock, hat, water, comfortable shoes/sandals - limited shade available
  • Be prepared to walk through lots of souvenir vendors (bargain if you want to make purchases)
  • It is stroller-friendly, but if you have a small baby, a carrier is more suitable
  • Do not to touch any structures or climb them

With these tips under your belt, you should be ready to go on the adventure of a lifetime. From getting there early and wearing comfortable clothes with plenty of snacks and water, to going with an expert guide who can answer all your questions about this amazing site- Chichen itza is waiting for you! Have any other questions? Let us know in the comments below so we can help out as much as possible before you embark on one of Mexico's most popular tourist attractions.

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Taiss Nowrouzi

About the Author

Taiss Nowrouzi

Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!

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