Tulum Ruins Vs Chichen Itza – How To Pick The Best Mayan Site To Visit

Tulum Mayan Ruins vs Chichen Itza

So, you’re planning your trip to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and you’re hoping to pack a bit of history and culture into your trip.

While Mexico is a top travel destination for those looking for white sandy beaches, warm weather, and gorgeous Caribbean waters, there is a whole lot more to this beautiful country than that.

Before Spanish colonization in the early 1500s, Mexico was inhabited by the Mayan people. Despite the colonization, many of the buildings and pyramids are still standing.

What remains is a rich history showcasing the Mayan culture and way of life.

These structures remain intact and are close to the popular tourist areas of Cancun and Playa del Carmen making it easy to visit on your tropical vacation. 

In this article, we are going to explore two popular Mayan ruins: Tulum Ruins Vs Chichén Itzá. Both Tulum and Chichen Itza provide incredible experiences so let’s see which is better!

We have visited Chichen Itza on two occasions and Tulum Ruins 3 times and we love taking our visitors to both of these amazing destinations.

There are some factors that we have to consider each time we make a decision on which to visit so read on to find out how we decide between the two archeological sites!

Chichen Itza Vs. Tulum Ruins – Top Things To Know

Tulum means “enclosure or wall”. Tulum is a city that has recently gotten a lot of attention from tourists as a hub for boho and yoga inspired travelers.

This Mexican town sits nearly 2 hours south of Cancun making it a less traveled vacation destination.

The Tulum Ruins are located in this city offering both convenience and stunning views. 


Deciding Between Tulum and Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins? The factors below can significantly affect your decision for visiting: 🤔 how much time you have for a visit – typically, Tulum ruins can be seen faster. I’d set aside most of the day to really see Chichen Itza 🤔Where are you staying in Mexico? Consider the distance you want to travel – Tulum is about an hour from Playa del Carmen, and Chichen Itza is about 3 hours 🤔The scenery you prefer: Do you want to have ocean views? – Chichen Itza is huge, and there are looooots of structures to see AND even a cenote! Tulum, however, has stunning views of the Caribbean Sea 🌊 🤔Your desire to see a World Wonder – Chichen Itza is on the list! Anything I’m missing? Let us know which you’d pick or any questions you might still have 👇 @togethertowherever #worldwonder #chichenitzamexico #chichenitza #tulummayanruin #mayanarchitecture #mayan #tulummexico #mayanpyramid #mexicoadventures #yucatanpeninsula #playadelcarmenmexico #cancunmexico #visitplayadelcarmen

♬ original sound – Full Crate

Chichén Itzá on the other hand is a destination in itself. The inland location is far less convenient but its grandeur has allowed it to be named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

It takes almost 3 hours to get to Chichen Itza from Cancun. Chichén Itzá is the most famous Mayan site in Mexico and attracts more than 2.5 million visitors annually. 

We often get asked, is Chichén Itzá the same as Tulum? The answer is a resounding no! These are not the same.

Below we have gone into the details of all you can expect from the Tulum Ruins, and Chichén Itzá, and an unbiased comparison of the two.

Tulum or Chichen Itza

Tulum Mayan Ruins

The Tulum Ruins (also known as the Tulum Archaeological Zone) have archeological findings dating back as early as 564 AD.

In Mayan languages, Tulum’s original name Zamá means place of the dawning sun. 

The Tulum Ruins offer some of the best views of any of the ruins in Mexico. Take some photos of the ruins with a beautiful ocean backdrop.

These ruins play key importance in the ancient Mayan culture and way of life and were the only ruins that are on the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

The ruins have a large wall built around the site that was said to add protection from pirates who may be enticed to steal this ideal coastal location.

This site was a great port for sea trade. The Tulum ruins also hold significant religious importance. The ruins feature structures that were constructed over a long time.

The specific relevance of this site was based between the 11th and 16th centuries. The dating of structures showcases the ongoing impressive growth of the area. 

The ruins in Tulum are laid out on a cliff and feature more than 60 structures and temples – many of that have been restored to their former glory.

It’s hard to take a photo and not get the magnificent Caribbean Sea in the background. In many areas, you’ll be able to take a break from the heat on balconies that overlook the ocean.

Be sure to bring a water bottle full of ice for this sightseeing adventure, that way it’ll melt as you go through your day. When we went there was nowhere to buy water or refreshments and despite going early, the heat was intense.

Despite the coastal location, the Tulum ruins are exposed to the elements and therefore incredibly hot. This is especially true if visiting during the hotter months of April to June.

We recommend wearing light loose fitting clothing and bringing a lot of water with you. Wear sunscreen as there is limited to no shade throughout the site. 

The Tulum ancient Mayan ruins are a large site and can take between 1-2 hours to walk through.

We visited Tulum with our toddler and it was not very time consuming or strenuous, although, we wish we had brought an umbrella to shield the intense sun!

Be sure to bring your bathing suit along as you will be happy to stroll down to the beach nearby and cool off by splashing in the Caribbean Sea.

There are two beaches in the area (Playa Santa Fe and Playa Paraiso).

Tulum ruins visit

Where Are The Tulum Ruins?

We often get asked: are Tulum ruins in Chichen Itza? The answer is no. In fact, these Mayan ruins are located quite far from each other. 

The Tulum ruins are situated on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula around a 5 miles/8km drive northeast of downtown Tulum (Tulum Centro).

The coastal town of Tulum is growing in popularity amongst travelers and influencers.

The town itself is known for its lush jungle bringing a boho laid-back vibe as well as some of the best beaches in the area. 

If you are wanting to travel here from other popular areas in Mexico, you can expect a bit of a drive.

From Cancun, the ruins are about 85 miles/137km south along the coastline. The drive will take you between 1.5-2 hours each way.

Located halfway in between, Playa del Carmen is 42 miles/68km south of the ruins taking about 1 hour to drive.

Tulum ruins are further from Merida than Chichen Itza is so that is something to consider if you are visiting Merida.

You can also make it easy on yourself, like we did, and take an organized tour.

Most tours will have a guide that will explain some historic facts and details which will make seeing the structures even more interesting.

When To Visit The Tulum Mayan Ruins

The Tulum ruins are open for visitors between 8 am and 5 pm Monday to Sunday.

Sundays are the busiest day to visit this impressive historical site because the entrance is free to all Mexican citizens and foreign residents (ID is required).

The Tulum Ruins are a popular tourist destination welcoming about 2,000 visitors a day. 

Due to the exposure of the ruins, I highly recommend going as early as possible to beat the blazing heat. The lineup outside of the ruins can also get quite long and is not in shade.

Going early will help to ensure you get a good parking spot, don’t have to wait in line too long, and allow you to go before the heat gets too bad.

You will also dodge the tour groups that get there later.

Entrance Fees To Tulum Archaeological Zone

Entry to the Tulum Archaeological Zone costs 85 MXN ($4.25 USD). If you want to bring a GoPro or other cameras inside the ruins, you will have to pay an additional 45 MXN ($2.25 USD).

Cell phone cameras are exempt from this additional fee.

If you’d prefer a guided tour through the ruins, a great way to get the most information about what it is you’re seeing, the cost is 600 MXN ($30 USD). 

To get to the ruins you have a few options: bike, walk, take public transportation, or drive a vehicle.

  1. If you are coming from Tulum town, you can expect an hour long walk or 15 minute bicycle ride.
  2. Public transportation costs 50 MXN ($2.50 USD).
  3. If you choose to drive, prepare to pay 120 MXN ($6 USD) for parking and still have to do a 10-15 minute walk to the ruins. 

It is important to note that as of 2021 you are not able to bring drones to Mexico or operate drones in the country if you are not a Mexican citizen.

wall surrounding Tulum ruins

Nearby Attractions

Tulum is a popular travel destination in itself. With many 5 star all inclusive resorts lining the beaches, this is a hotspot for tourism in its own right.

If you are coming here to see the ruins, I recommend planning a good amount of your day in the area and extending it to a few days if you can.

If you aren’t looking for all inclusive resorts, Tulum town is a great area for finding hotels and hostels to stay at. 

The beaches in the area are stunning and give that tropical jungle meets white sandy beach vibe. The area is big on hippie culture and is a health food headquarters with a yogi mindset.

There are many day trips and activities in the area to accompany the Tulum Ruins. 

Cenote Car wash Tulum

Cenotes (natural underground sinkholes with water inside) are quite common in the area and will blow you away. Cenotes were highly worshiped by the Mayans as a freshwater source.

The Mayans would build their structures centered around these cenotes so they could provide clean water to the people. 

While they held significant importance in the past, they are now a great area for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.

Cenotes are essentially limestone caves that have collapsed revealing the underground river systems.

Our favorite cenotes are open cenotes that you can swim in while enjoying the warm sunshine on you.

My favorites near Tulum are Cenote Zacil Ha and Cenote Carwash. 

Tulum is in the hotspot of Mexican tourism and therefore is nearby many great attractions you will want to visit.

Adventure parks like Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Xenses, and our favorite Xplor are located not far from the ruins.

Tulum Ruins Tour We Recommend

We highly suggest you visit Tulum Archaelogical zone on a tour in order to understand more about the structures and history of this area.

You can easily get a Tulum ruins tour from one of the guides near the entrance like we did or pre-book one of the below:

Mayan temples of Tulum

Chichén Itzá – One Of The Seven Wonders Of The World

The ruins in Chichén Itzá are among the New Seven Wonders of the World. In 1988, Chichén Itzá was also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s famous for being one of the most impressive Mayan cities remaining.

The first structures in Chichén Itzá date back between 550 – 800AD and were used mostly as a ceremonial center. In 1200 AD, the site expanded to be what we see today.

The town occupies 4 square miles and had significant religious and political importance to the people. At the city’s peak, it is thought to have homed around 35,000 people. 

There are several important sites in a small area including a large cenote.

It is thought that like many other ancient towns in the area, the location was built due to its proximity to the two cenotes that brought fresh drinking water to the people.

The name “Chichén Itzá” can be broken down to “Chi” meaning mouths, “Chén” meaning wells, and Itzá the name of the people inhabiting the area. 

When visiting Chichen Itza you’ll see that there are many buildings at this site that hold significant importance. The most recognizable, main pyramid, is El Castillo “The Castle”.

This large building has 4 sides each containing 91 stairs. With the top platform, this totals 365 steps representing the solar year.

During the spring equinox, the sunlight casts shadows that make it look like snakes down the staircase which attracts thousands of tourists who visit Chichen Itza to witness this phenomenon.

Fun Fact: If you stand directly in front of El Castillo and clap your hands there will be an echo that makes the pyramid sound like a frog. You can also buy a toy frog that mimics the sound so you can show your friends what it sounds like.

Chichén Itzá is an incredibly popular site and despite being about 130 miles from the typical tourist path of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, it still welcomes over 2.5 million visitors annually. 

When you first get to Chichén Itzá, you will buy your tickets and continue into a cafeteria style area offering food and drinks for you to purchase.

After walking down a short path you will be welcomed by the main Chichen Itza pyramid.

Once entering the ruins, you will need to prepare to walk. Chichén Itzá is large in size and walking through can take a few hours.

If you drive yourself to the site, I recommend carving out a half day to fully appreciate the many structures in the area.

There is limited shade throughout Chichén Itzá and the inland location makes it swelteringly hot! You will want to ensure you are well hydrated, wearing loose fitting light clothing, and wearing a sun hat. 

As you walk through, you will be met by hundreds of vendors lined up throughout the site selling souvenirs and trinkets.

You will hear what sounds like a jaguar as you walk throughout. This is a toy made and sold by vendors that replicate a jaguar’s roar. 

Chichen Itza vs Tulum ruins

Where Is Chichén Itzá?

Chichen Itza Mayan pyramid ruins are a popular tourist destination in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

With that being said, they are situated 124 miles/200km inland, west of Cancun. The drive takes just under 3 hours each way.

Be sure to note that there are toll booths along this road so bring cash. 

If you were wanting to see the Tulum Ruins and Chichén Itzá in one day you’ll be happy to hear that this trip is doable.

Chichén Itzá is around 93 miles/151km northwest of Tulum and takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive.

If you want to have a full day in Chichén Itzá, then consider staying overnight in Valladolid. This old town has a lot of authentic Mexican charm.

This is a great area to stay if you want to ensure that you get to Chichén Itzá in the early morning to beat the heat and the crowds.

Opening Hours For Chichen Itza Ruins

Chichén Itzá is open from Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm and is only allowing 3,000 visitors per day due to the COVID pandemic.

We were there in the morning and it was quite busy so we’d definitely recommend getting here early to beat the crowd and ensure you get into the site.

Cost To Visit Chichen Itza

Chichén Itzá entrance fee for a general admission adult will cost 571 MXN ($28.41 USD) and for children from 3 to 12 cost 85 MXN ($4.25 USD).

Included in the cost of the ticket is entry into the park where you will see the Chichén Itzá Mayan Ruins including The Great Ball Court, El Caracol, and El Castillo Pyramid.

While the credit card machines were working when I visited, I highly recommend bringing cash with you as I have heard a lot of stories of the credit card machines not working.

There is ample parking at Chichén Itzá costing 30 MXN ($1.50 USD).

Like other Mexican ruins, Chichén Itzá is free to Mexican citizens and foreign residents on Sundays making this one of the busiest days to visit. 

Mayan Temples of Chichen Itza

Nearby attractions

Unlike the Tulum Ruins, Chichén Itzá does not have as many nearby attractions. The nearest large town is Valladolid and to say it’s a large town is a bit of an overstatement.

  1. Their main square features a park and a Catholic church and the streets are lined with restaurants and local shopping stores. This is a great area to stock up on souvenirs as the costs in this area are much smaller than in other areas in Mexico. 
  2. There are a few cenotes in the area. We liked Cenote Zaci which even has a restaurant overlooking the large Mexican cenote. As far as size goes, this is one of the larger open ones. It has clean fresh water – as clean as a cenote can be. Keep your eyes open for the large iguanas that live in the area. Another great underground cenote near Valladolid is Cenote Xkeken.
  3. Coba Pyramid and Mayan Ruins – if you love the ruins and are interested in getting your full of Mayan history and culture, I strongly recommend a stop at Coba. The majority of the construction at Coba dates back to 500 – 900 AD. Most hieroglyphics here date back to the 7th century.

Coba was used as a dominant trading site and an important center for the Mayans at that time.

Coba, in Mayan culture, means water stirred by the wind referring to the large nearby cenotes providing valuable fresh water.

Coba is located between Tulum and Chichen Itza so if you have a rental car and are planning to drive between the two, a stop at Coba will not disappoint.

Coba is another large Mayan ruin site that holds significant historical importance. 

Unlike the Tulum ruins and Chichen Itza, Coba is well shaded and provides a unique view of the temples in the jungle setting.

Once entering Coba, there are bicycles you can rent to ride the long pathways between structures. Bike rentals cost 40 MXN ($2 USD) for a day rental and are well worth the cost.

Bring water along with you as it still gets quite warm but you will be very happy with the relief your feet get from the bicycles. 

visit Chichen Itza or Tulum

Chichen Itza Tour We Recommend

Chichen Itza tours can be a great way to see all of the structures on this site without missing any that are further away, but having a guide explain the “secrets” and “fun facts” about the Chichen Itza ruins just makes it more fun and engaging.

We took a private tour that included transportation because we were staying in Playa del Carmen.

The experience was so convenient and way more relaxing than if we had to do it ourselves with a toddler!

Which Ruins Are Better – Tulum Or Chichen Itza?

Both the Tulum Ruins and Chichén Itzá are great archeological sites that offer a lot of rich Mayan history and cultural importance.

There are many factors that can determine whether Tulum or Chichén Itzá ruins are better including how much time you have on your Mexican vacation and what form of transportation you have access to.

Chichén Itzá is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World making it a much bigger bucket list item to see for some.

Others will enjoy the Tulum Archaeological Zone on their trip to Tulum and be happy without the extra time it would take to get to Chichén Itzá.

So, are the Tulum ruins worth seeing? Yes, yes, and another big YES! The Tulum Ruins are a great choice for those who are staying in or near Tulum.

They are also a great option if you want to dip your toes into the Mayan culture. A tour through the Tulum Ruins is a much quicker experience.

While you can spend as long as you’d like inside, you can easily see the ruins in just a few hours. 

Chichén Itzá on the other hand is located much further away and offers a much more in-depth tour through Mayan history.

If you are planning to take a tour from one of the more popular destinations such as Cancun or Playa del Carmen, you can expect a full day tour to take about 11 hours.

While this is certainly a time investment, it is certainly worth it to see one of the most significant wonders of the world.

If you take a tour to Chichén Itzá, it will often include a stop at one of the nearby cenotes to jump in and cool off after your trip to the ruins. 

Both Chichen Itza and Tulum Mayan ruins are absolutely fascinating to visit for those in Quintana Roo even if you are not a history buff.

These archaeological sites give us just a glimpse into the Mayan Empire that once occupied this area and should be on anyone’s list if they plan on this destination for their next vacation.

Chichen Itza archeological site vs Tulum

Deciding Between Chichen Itza And Tulum Mayan Sites

If you’re short on time and looking to just squeeze a bit of Mayan culture in your Mexico holiday, you may only have time for one Maya site.

The below factors can significantly affect your decision for visiting:

  1. How much time you have for a visit – typically Tulum ruins can be seen faster
  2. Where you are staying in Mexico – consider the distance you want to travel
  3. The scenery you prefer – do you want to have ocean views?
  4. Your desire to see a World Wonder – Chichen Itza is on the list!

I hope this breakdown of Chichen Itza and Tulum helped you decide which one will fit in best for your trip. If you have the time, I highly recommend a visit to both of these sites. 

So, when deciding which Mayan temple to visit while on vacation in Mexico, make sure to take into account the distance from your resort as well as what you are hoping to get out of the experience.

If you want a shorter trip with beautiful coastal views, Tulum is perfect for you.

However, if you have more time and would like to see an archaeological site that is also one of the seven wonders of the world, Chichen Itza should be at the top of your list.

Whichever temple you choose to visit, you are sure to have an amazing experience full of history and culture.

Now that you know a bit more about each of these magical places, which one will you choose to visit on your next trip to the Mayan Riviera?

Have you been to either Chichen Itza or Tulum or other sites? We’d love to hear about your experience and how you compare Chichen Itza with Tulum in the comments below.

Is Guanajuato Or San Miguel De Allende Better For Historical Exploration?

When it comes to historical exploration, Guanajuato vs. San Miguel de Allende is a tough choice.

Guanajuato offers a rich mining history and stunning colonial architecture, while San Miguel de Allende is known for its well-preserved historic center and vibrant arts scene.

Both are excellent choices for history enthusiasts.

What Are The Differences Between Tulum And Playa Del Carmen?

When it comes to choosing between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen, the attractions and activities vary greatly.

Tulum boasts ancient Mayan ruins and beautiful cenotes for snorkeling, while Playa Del Carmen offers bustling nightlife and shopping on Fifth Avenue.

It all depends on what you’re looking for in a destination.

What Are Key Points When Choosing Akumal Or Playa Del Carmen?

When deciding between Akumal and Playa Del Carmen, consider the atmosphere.

Playa Del Carmen is a bustling tourist hub with a vibrant nightlife and shopping, while Akumal is a more laid-back beach town with serene natural beauty and great snorkeling opportunities.

Choose based on your preferred ambiance.

Does Puerto Morelos Or Playa Del Carmen Offer A Better Experience?

When it comes to Puerto Morelos vs. Playa Del Carmen, the decision ultimately depends on your preferences.

Puerto Morelos is known for its tranquil vibe and unspoiled beaches, while Playa Del Carmen offers a more vibrant nightlife and a wider range of tourist attractions.

Is Playa Del Carmen More Family-Friendly Than Cancun?

When it comes to a comparison between Playa Del Carmen and Cancun in terms of family-friendliness, Playa Del Carmen may have the edge.

With its more relaxed atmosphere, smaller size, and less crowded beaches, Playa Del Carmen offers a more laid-back and intimate experience for families looking for a vacation destination.

Travel Planning Guide:

Chichen Itza Or Tulum Ruins in Mexico

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Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.
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