Are you planning your vacation in Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean? What an amazing decision!
Sunny days, tropical weather, white sand, turquoise sea, a unique atmosphere, Mayan ruins as well as other Mexican historical treasures await you! Do you want to know more about the archaeological sites to visit around Cancun? Alright, we have what you need!
Let's see ... let's play the riddles:
Yes, exactly! Chichen Itza!
Ok that was very easy, the answer was in the title To reward you, we will give you this article: "CHICHEN ITZA: Get ready for the best tour in Cancun! [YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE]" You do not have to thank us, we do it so that you have the best experience in your visit
So, stop the waiting and let's get straight to the point.
Chichen Itza is one of the Mayan archaeological sites in the Riviera Maya and possibly one of the most
important in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Oh, yeah, just to start introducing it!
The pre-Hispanic city of Chichen Itza was a city-state like Uxmal (Yucatán), Palenque (Chiapas) or Tikal (Guatemala). Its power was such that by itself it represented a very influential territory within the Mayan Empire.
Chichen Itza means "At the edge of the Well of the Itzáes" or "Mouth of the Well of the Itzáes". This name is explained by the presence of a large cenote, the Sacred Cenote, which in this city had different functions. In addition to being a well and source of drinking water, it was also a place for religious rituals.
The "Itzaes" were the ruling class that founded the city around year 435 ad.
The city of Chichen Itza developed between the 5th and 9th centuries. The different buildings on the site belong to two different periods. The classic period happened between 600 – 900 ad. You can see the remaining of this period in the part of the site that we call today: Old Chichen. Old Chichen’s buildings stands out mostly because of its Puuc architectural style, which is very detailed. You can find this style in buildings such as: the church, Temple of the deer (Venado), Colorful house (Casa Colorada) and the monastery (Casa de la Monjas). The post-classical period happened between 900 and 1200 ad. Chichen Itza experienced a phase of prosperity mainly because of the Toltec arrival and their influence in the region. They were the ones who introduced the cult of the Feathered Serpent in Chichen Itza.
On this period, known as the Toltec-Mayan, was when the Pyramid of Kukulkan, the Great Ball Court and the Temple of the Warriors were built. This is the most recent area of the site.
It is a common question to ask. Especially because Chichen Itza was built in the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, far from the sea and without any rivers in the vicinities. Many of the pre-Columbian cities were founded near rivers. The main reason why Chichen Itza could flourish on that area are the famous cenotes that served as natural water reservoirs for the Mayans. In addition, the limestone subsoil provided the Mayans with an inexhaustible source of building materials. Stone quarries have been discovered just 1,700 ft. from the Great Pyramid of Kukulkan.
The city of Chichen Itza had above all a religious meaning. It was a very important ceremonial site. Chichen Itza was also a trade hub. Salt, cocoa, fabrics as well as precious stones were sold there.
During the first days of their settlement, the inhabitants of Chichen Itza were Mayans. The city quickly became multicultural and, during the second period of prosperity, the Mayans and the Toltecs lived together. During its demographic peak, it is estimated that the city of Chichen Itza must have had a population of about 30,000.
The decline of the city dates back to 900 ad. However, it took a few more centuries to become a ghost town. One of the most credible hypotheses about Chichen Itza’s decayed is based on an intense drought that lasted several years, perhaps decades. This would have caused food shortages that led to famines, epidemics and riots before the total desertion of the city around 1400.
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Chichen Itza was discovered by the Spanish conquerors around 1532 ad. However, it was a deserted city and far from any maritime route, so, they quickly moved away from it. The city fell into oblivion before being rediscovered in 1841 by John Lloyd Stephen and Frederick Catherwood. It was they who carried out the first archaeological excavations of the city in 1843.
Chichen Itza is located in the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula in the municipality of Tinum. It is totally hidden in the middle of the jungle.
This ancient Mayan city can be easily reached both from Cancun (and surrounding towns) and from Mérida.
To get to Chichen Itza,
From other destinations in the Riviera Maya, the distances are as follows:
To get to Chichen Itza you can rent a car in Cancun or from some other destination in the Riviera Maya. If you don't want to take care of your transportation yourself, you can get to Chichen Itza through a tourist service from a local provider. You can also buy the ticket for a group tour if you are traveling with family or friends. In case you choose to go with a tour operator, depending on the location of your hotel, the meeting point could be there or in a more public place (city squares, parks, among others). One last option is the private tour to Chichen Itza. With this option, the pick-up will always be directly from your hotel.
Regarding the condition of the roads in the Yucatan Peninsula, you have nothing to worry about. The road network is perfectly safe and well maintained. Chichen Itza site is clearly indicated by signs.
As for parking, Chichen Itza is the most visited site in the Yucatan Peninsula, so, there are enough equipped and supervised parking lots around the site to allow you to leave your car safely.
Beware of traffic jams. Victim of its success, Chichen Itza is taken over by crowds of visitors at certain times of the year. Access to the site can be difficult due to the large number of cars, vans, and buses arriving every day.
Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
The visit to the entire site has an average duration of between two and three hours. In the case of the classic circuit offered by the guides on site, it generally takes between 1h30 and 2h. Just keep in mind that, in this case, the tour focuses on the most colorful and popular spots of the ancient city: the Kukulkan Pyramid, the Ball Court and the Sacred Cenote. This is also the average visit time for group tours. However, you can stay much longer if you wish! Once you have paid your ticket, the time of stay is unlimited until the site closes (5 p.m.).
On the other hand, in the case of a private tour to Chichen Itza, your guide will be at your entire disposal and you will be able to discover all the corners of this incredible Mayan site.
The visit to Chichen Itza is very suitable for children. The history of the Mayans is rich in stories and tales capable of capturing the attention of everyone, and especially the youngest, who will surely be fascinated by the secrets of the great Pyramid of Kukulkan. For the restless, since the site of Chichen Itza is located in the middle of the jungle, they will have more than enough space to run, walk, jump and have fun in the different buildings on the site. The local fauna and, in particular, the iguanas that dominate the place are a popular attraction for the little ones, who can watch them closely. Among other amazing facts that can entertain children, you will find the echo produced when clapping at the base of the Kukulkan pyramid and at the ball court. If you choose a tour with a private guide, the guide will be willing to adapt his explanation to the age of your children so that they participate more actively in the tour.
Please consider that children must be under the constant supervision of their parents and that climbing the ruins is strictly prohibited.
The prices to access Chichen Itza have had constant changes in recent years.
As of January 1, 2021:
Please consider that additional fees apply for professional cameras, go pro’s or selfie sticks.
Put your camera in your bag and wait until you have entered the site to take it out. It will cost you nothing.
For your information: drones are not allowed at all. If you use one, you will be fined.
Yes, you can eat at Chichen Itza. At the entrance of the site you will find a restaurant. Thee you can buy drinks, snacks and some more dishes, as well as table service. Around Chichen Itza, there are also many street food vendors. Just minutes away from Chichen Itza, the town of Piste is also a very convenient alternative for lunch away from the crowds.
Ecotourism proposal: Consider buying food from local restaurants. Don't forget about the economic benefits for communities, such as the small town of Piste. Tourism is the prefect way to support the development of this communities.
If you think you can wait long enough without “starving”, we recommend that you go for lunch to Valladolid, which is 30 miles (approximately 40 minutes) from Chichen Itza. An excellent stopover to relax after a morning walk in the beautiful Mayan city.
DO NOT FORGET! Getting ready for your visit to Chichen Itza also means thinking of some small things that will enhance your experience.
A visit to Chichen Itza cannot be improvised! To be well prepared to discover this amazing archaeological site, here we tell you about the different alternatives. So, you can find the one that best suits your needs!
We do this adding the pros and cons of each alternative.
If you have a car, the idea of a group tour appeals only moderately and you don't want to hire the services of a guide, then a self-guided tour is the most suitable for you. Getting to Chichen Itza is quite easy, all you need to do is buy your tickets directly at the box office, and voila!
Do not miss the explanations and support the local economy by hiring a local guide.
It is the cheapest alternative for those who wants to visit Chichen Itza with the services of a tour guide.
You can book this tour with a wide variety of companies and join a group (the service includes transportation services and a guided tour). The other option is to look directly at the entrance of the site for other people who wish to benefit from a guided tour (the service only includes the guided tour on site).
For those who do not wish to share a Chichen Itza tour with another group of visitors, the private guided tour remains the most adequte option.
For those who want a quality service, entirely dedicated to their group, this is the best option.
The private tour includes transportation, a guide who will accompany you throughout the visit and beyond according to your needs.
For a full day tour, we recommend that you book a mixed visit that includes Chichen Itza and other site(s). This tour alternative is generally group-focused, but is also available as a private tour.
If you want a different experience in Chichen Itza, we recommend that you choose a tour outside the rush hours, especially those that are offered early in the morning (Sunrise in Chichen Itza).
Chichen Itza and, especially, the Great Pyramid of Kukulkan are planned and built in relation to the sun and its movement. Therefore, the tours that take place at sunrise give a very special atmosphere to this Mayan site.
This is THE DATE in the Mayan calendar that you should not miss in Chichen Itza. The spring equinox is between March 19th - 23rd.
During this very short period, around 4 p.m., the architecture of the great pyramid acquires all its symbolism, revealing the genius of the Mayan builders. The shadow cast from the stairs simulates the silhouette of the feathered serpent god, Kukulkan, climbing up the side of the pyramid as if he were descending to earth.
If you want to discover Chichen Itza and at the same time enjoy a colorful show, go after dark to attend the Kukulkan Nights. This service includes, in addition to the guided visit to the site, a sound and light show on the façade of the great pyramid of Kukulkan. It is a perfect show for your family. This shows is an audiovisual representation of the Mayan history in the glorious days of Chichen Itza. Its duration is 30 minutes.
Tickets available from 3 p.m. The show starts at 7 p.m. Prices: $600 MXN.
It is true that, with its 740 acres, Chichen Itza is really big. You can get easily lost in its different corners. There are about thirty building blocks scattered around the site’s area. Things to do and see in Chichen Itza? Here is a short tour along with a short description of the main buildings. Once you have gone through Chichen Itza’s main access, you will only have to travel a few hundred feet before coming face to face with the most emblematic monument of Chichen Itza:
How tall is Chichen Itza's pyramid?
The Kukulkan pyramid is about 90 ft. high. One of its peculiarities is that it was built in two parts. The first pyramid has been covered by the second.
Can the Chichen Itza pyramid be climbed?
Unfortunately, climbing the Kukulkan pyramid is no longer allowed due to its dangerousness. In fact, the very steep steps of the pyramid claimed the lives of several visitors, who died after a fatal fall long time ago.
Can tourists go inside the pyramid of Chichen Itza?
Neither climb nor enter it! No, it is not possible to go inside Kukulkan's pyramid, you will have to content yourself with admiring it from the distance.
Once your sight has embraced the main facade of the Castle, we advise you to continue your way to the left towards another wonder of the site of Chichen Itza:
This name allows it to be differentiated from the rest of the ball court found in Chichen Itza. Other courts that were used for this activity have been identified in the outskirts of the city.
This is not only the largest ball court in Chichen Itza, "The Great Ball Court" is also the largest court in all of Mesoamerica. It is a rectangular area delimited by two immense walls that are thought to have functioned as grandstands for the audience. At both ends of the field, the temples confirm the symbolic and religious role of this sport, which also had a ritual function.
You must not miss it!
Be sure to see the bas-relief frescoes on the court’s walls, depictions of sacrificed losers. Their heads were cut off and blood can be seen gushing from their bodies.
Temple of the Jaguars: Located on the eastern side of the great Ball Court, the Temple of the Jaguars is a two story structure with two faces. Inside the temple is a jaguar throne and hence the temple name.
As you leave the ball court, another fascinating and macabre discovery awaits you:
Surprisingly well preserved, this T-shaped structure has a large frieze of skulls in profile in a repeated pattern in several rows. It's hard not to shudder when we learn that this platform served as a promontory to display the severed heads of the victims. Very close to the wall of skulls are the platforms of the Eagles and the Jaguars. These two animals are seen grasping human hearts with their claws. To the left of this group, a white path called “sacbé” leads to one of the most important places in the town of Chichen Itza (about 1200 ft. walk).
This is the place that most probably was the reason to name the city as Chichen Itza:
Chichen Itza means “The Wells of the Itzáe” or “At the edge of the Mouth of the ‘Itzá’ Sourcerers”. This name certainly evokes this impressive cenote with a 180 ft. diameter and located 110 ft. deep.
Places of ceremonies and worship, the cenotes are considered by the Mayans as highly sacred places and linked to the world of the dead. In Mayan mythology, these bodies of water were a connection between the two realms through an intermediate dimension called the underworld.
Scientists believe that this cenote is the main reason of the location of Chichen Itza. In a region with no visible rivers, the cenotes were the only source of drinking water for the Mayans.
The sacred cenote of Chichen Itza holds a dark secret. During the dives in the sacred cenote, archaeologists have discovered numerous offerings done to calm the rain god Chac: ceramics, jewelry... and also hundreds of skeletons of children and young virgins.
Once you have finished watching the cenote, go back to the “sacbé”, retrace your steps and then continue to the left. You will find a line of several buildings. The most notable is majestically framed by several rows of columns.
This beautiful building, located behind the Castle, stands out for its size and grandiose appearance. A monumental staircase leads to the upper terrace of the building. Its massive appearance imposes the power that goes hand in hand with its warlike function.
It is also known as the Temple of Chac-Mool. We can see on the high platform of the temple the famous sculpture of the god in his semi-recumbent position. By posture, this sculpture is often considered an altar or a sacrificial table.
The temple of the warriors: It is a spectacular structure comprised of a series of impressive columns, spacious patios and halls.
The Temple of the Warriors also has a rich decoration made of sculptures of animal deities.
For your information: It is not allowed to climb this temple.
Continue your visit along the Temple of the Warriors and you will arrive in front of a group of columns forming a space closed on one side at a right angle:
This impressive alignment of columns surrounds the left flank of the Temple of the Warriors and continues to form a courtyard that worked as a market when Chichen Itza was still a populated city. This type of construction is a clear influence by the Toltecs to the architectural style of Chichen Itza. If you watch them slowly, you will see that these columns are engraved. We see richly dressed warriors. Archaeologists assume that these columns were covered with wooden roofs and palm leaves of which nothing remains.
The group known as the Thousand Columns actually only has 360. In front of the large number of columns, the archaeologists named it like that without thinking of counting them. We must admit that 'the 360 column group' is less attractive!
At this point, you will have finished the tour of the most famous buildings on this site. This tour lasts around two hours with a guide. If you are short on time, your visit may end at this point.
Extend your walk by taking the white path 'sacbé' that is on your left. It will take you to the base of the Ossuary, a ruined temple distinguished by the monumental heads of serpents that lie at its feet. If you continue a little further along the path you will reach the other jewel of Chichen Itza:
“El Caracol” is actually Chichen Itza’s Observatory. It was named as “Caracol” for its staircase, a true technical feat for the time. But that is nothing compared to the architectural design of this observatory, whose construction is entirely based on astronomy. Due to its orientation, the position of its windows and different openings, the Chichen Itza Observatory records more than twenty astral movements linked to the moon, planets (Venus being the most important), stars and even comet stars.
This building is a life-size manifesto of the deep Mayan knowledge in astronomy and mathematics.
To reach Chichen Itza’s Observatory, the visit will take about two and a half hours.
Old Chichen! Don’t miss it! Like Rome, Chichen Itza wasn't built in a day! The city was built in two very different periods that explain the different architectural styles.
After visiting the main square with the great Pyramid of Kukulkan, do not hesitate to go to the back of the site to discover: Old Chichen. The oldest part of the city will surprise you with its magnificent Puuc-style buildings, richly decorated and very well preserved. A part of the visit that many visitors overlook and yet is worth doing. In Chichen Itza, you visit two ancient cities for the price of one!5. Things to do after visiting Chichen Itza
As we discussed earlier, Chichen Itza is located in the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, which means that it is usually a long trip to get there and back. A one way trip from Cancun is about 2h30 - 3h. Por lo tanto, es prudente aprovechar esta excursión al corazón de la península para extender la visita a otro lugar de interés en los alrededores de Chichen Itza.
Our recommendation: try to visit Chichen Itza in the morning to fully enjoy the site without the crowds. Save the other tours for the second part of the day.
Things to do around Chichen Itza? It all depends on your interests! If Mexican history is appealing to you, go to Valladolid.
This beautiful colonial city with well-preserved architecture is one of the most typical cities in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is distinguished by a rich past, an old-fashioned charming city center and a very pleasant tree-lined central square that offers an perfect place to take a refreshing break looking at the city's cathedral.
The place is perfect for having lunch and strolling through the streets after visiting Chichen Itza. Lovers of cultural tourism, don't miss the San Bernardino de Siena Convent. Another place of interest to see in Valladolid: the Suytun cenote. How to get to Valladolid from Chichen Itza? Take Carretera Costera del Golfo (Highway 180) towards Valladolid. Approximately a 40-minute drive.
Among the activities around Chichen Itza, there are nature activities such as visiting cenotes.
If you feel like going for a swim after your visit to Chichen Itza, head to the Ik Kil cenote located very close to the archaeological site.
This cenote, very picturesque with its hanging lianas and green rock walls, has a 180 ft diameter and is 120 ft. deep.
Jumping from an 80 ft. high platform is allowed. The Ik Kil cenote also hosts diving competitions.
The place is ideal to cool off in the water and relax after a long walk among the buildings of Chichen Itza.
Hours: 08:00 - 17:00 Rates: $70 MXN for adults, $35 MXN for children
Cenote Ik-Kil - Cenotes of Mexico
How to get to the Ik Kil cenote from Chichen Itza?
Take the Costera del Golfo highway (highway 180), towards Valladolid. Approximately an 8-minute drive.
What could be more inspiring after visiting Chichen Itza? How about going to meet the Mayans of today? Although Chichen Itza is an archaeological site, the Mayan culture is far from having disappeared. On the contrary, it is a living culture that maintains its language, traditions and gastronomy. If you want to learn more about this ancient culture and how the Mayans live today, then meet the people who are descendants of the Chichen Itza inhabitants. Did you know? Mayan communities offer family gatherings during lunch and with the preparation of typical dishes with visitors.
If you are a fan of archeology and are not afraid to continue with a visit to another pre-Columbian site, then among the things to see around Chichen Itza, we recommend the archaeological site of Coba!
Completely different from Chichen Itza, the ancient commercial city of Cobá will perfectly complement your knowledge of the Mayan civilization. Keep in mind that the ascent to the Coda pyramid is currently allowed. However, the ascent to the pyramid is not easy due to the unevenness in the steps. The ascent is not recommended for children and the elderly.
On the site you can find bicycles for a self-guided tour.
For nature lovers, discover in the heart of the peninsula, on the border between the State of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, this ecological reserve belongs to a Mayan community.
Did you like this preliminary visit to Chichen Itza?
Do you already know everything about things to do and see in Chichen Itza? Are you ready to experience this incredible Modern Wonder of the World with your own eyes?
Don't forget this guide when you go there!
Discover all our ideas for excursions, visits and private tours: here.
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