How to visit Chichen Itza+ My tips
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and elected among the 7 new wonders of the world , Chichen Itza is the most famous Mayan site in the world .
It is the 2nd most visited archaeological site in Mexico after Teotihuacan.
It is therefore particularly important to plan your visit to make the most of it!
Here is my complete guide to Chichen Itza in Yucatan, in which I have gathered all the practical information you will need to organize your stay.
You will find all the must-see attractions in Chichen Itza and the surrounding area, the means to get there, my advice for visiting alone or in a group, as well as my recommendations for the best organized excursions!
So what to do and see in Chichen Itza?
The history of Chichen Itza in brief
Chichen Itza means “at the edge of the well of the Itzas”, in Maya.
The name refers to the Itza people who founded the city in the 6th century.
It was invaded towards the end of the 10th century by the Toltecs then abandoned around 1250, for reasons that remain unknown today.
But what we do know is that at its peak Chichen Itza was the most important city in the entire Yucatan Peninsula!
It was so powerful that long after its decline it continued to be an important place of pilgrimage.
What to do and see in Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is a large archaeological site which contains many buildings (temples, platforms, etc.), connected by sacbés , the Mayan paths.
Here are the best things to do and see in Chichen Itza:
1. The Gran Plaza
The Main Square is the first place you come to upon entering the site and is the perfect starting point for visiting Chichen Itza.
For what? Because it is the heart of the city!
Indeed, here were built the main buildings of Chichen Itza, including the pyramid of Kukulcan which sits in its center.
2. The Pyramid of Kukulcan
It’s the big must-see of Chichen Itza and the building you see in all the photos!
The Kukulcan Temple, also called El Castillo, is the main pyramid of Chichen Itza.
It is dedicated to Kukulcan, an important Maya deity (the equivalent of Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs) represented by a feathered serpent.
It is a 9-storey pyramid with a total of 365 steps…like the 365 days of the year!
Precisely, it is partly thanks to all its symbolism and its precision that it is considered one of the most important pyramids of the Mayan world.
A few years ago a 20m deep cenote was discovered under the pyramid and more recently two hidden structures.
It’s a safe bet that she still hides many secrets!
The spring (March 20-21) and autumn (September 22-23) equinoxes attract crowds because you can observe a surprising play of light and shadow on the north staircase .
It is said that it is the Serpent God who descends to earth by taking the steps of the great pyramid.
3. The Venus Platform
In reality there are two structures with the name Platform of Venus, the best known and most important of which is in the Gran Plaza, 100m from the Pyramid of Kukulcan.
To distinguish it, it is also called the Temple of Venus. It owes its name to the bas-reliefs representing the planet Venus found on its facade.
It is also known as the Tomb of Chac Mool because of a statue that was found inside.
The two platforms of Venus were designed as public stages for ceremonies, rituals, dances and great speeches.
4. The Tzompantli
Among the important monuments to see in Chichen Itza is the Tzompantli, located in the Great Square next to the Temple of the Jaguar and the House of the Eagles.
The “wall of skulls” was an altar where the Maya impaled the heads of enemy warriors to sacrifice them to the gods.
It was a common practice among several peoples of Mesoamerica!
There are no human remains, but you can admire the many skulls in high relief (there are more than 500!).
5. The Temple of Eagles and Jaguars
Located between the Tzompantli and the Temple of Venus, it is the smallest temple of the complex around the Grand Place.
It is a platform that owes its name to its magnificent bas reliefs representing eagles and jaguars devouring human hearts.
6. The Mayan Ball Court
The ball game – Pok Ta Pok in Maya – was a ceremonial game that was practiced for over 3000 years in Mesoamerica.
It had a mainly ritual and political role, and was used, among other things, to settle various conflicts.
The game consisted of hitting a ball (only with the calves, elbows and hips) in order to pass it through one of the rings of the field.
And it was far from easy : the ball weighed 4kg, the rings measured only 30cm in diameter and were about 8m high!
The whole thing could end in sacrifice to the gods, by immolation, decapitation and even the excision of the heart.
There are 8 playing courts at Chichen Itza, but the main court (166m x 68m) is considered the largest Mayan ball court in Mesoamerica.
Playgrounds can be found at other archaeological sites as well – such as Edzna and Uxmal – but the one at Chichen Itza is the best preserved I’ve seen!
The stone rings (where the ball was to pass), as well as the bleachers for the spectators and the players’ bench are in good condition, as are several bas reliefs on the walls.
To the north of the pitch is the Temple of the Bearded Man from where the elite watched the game.
If you want to see how the game was played, here it is in the show at Xcaret Park, near Playa del Carmen.
7. Temple of the Warriors and the Thousand Columns
The Temple of the Warriors, surrounded by “a thousand columns” is, in my opinion, the most beautiful building in Chichen Itza!
It is a pyramidal structure where you can see – from a distance only – a sculpture of Chac Mool and a platform where human sacrifices took place.
As for the “thousand” columns, there are actually 200, but the name imposes 😉
8. The Observatory
” El Caracol ” (the snail in Spanish, because of its shape) was the astronomical observatory of Chichen Itza.
Built around the year 900, it was used to observe the sky and make important decisions for the city.
Thanks to him, it is estimated that the Mayans managed to study 29 astronomical events (equinoxes, eclipses, etc.).
9. Akab Dzib
Behind the Caracol is the Akab Dzib or Akabdzib, which means “The House of Mysterious Writing” in Maya.
Its previous name would rather have meant “the flat house with a large number of rooms” and was the residence of the administrator of Chichen Itza : Kokom Yahawal Cho’K’ak.
And indeed, it is a rather large structure of 54m in length, composed of a central building with 2 rooms at the ends, as well as 18 rooms which have been annexed to it.
In some rooms were found red handprints, probably in connection with Kabul, the deity of the celestial vault.
10. The Sacred Cenote
It was a sacred place where important ceremonies dedicated to Chaac, the god of rain, took place .
Many gold, jade and copper offerings as well as human remains were found at the bottom of the water.
Some objects came from as far away as Central America and Colombia!
Today, when we find ourselves facing this opaque cenote of an intense green (neither particularly pretty, nor well maintained), it is a little difficult to imagine that it was so important for the Mayans.
But nevertheless, it was the center of the religious activities of all the area!
Before going there, many visitors confuse it with the Ik Kil cenote, but they have nothing in common.
Unlike Ik Kil, the sacred cenote is on the site of Chichen Itza, connected by a long path to the pyramid of Kukulcan, and it is impossible to swim there.
Go there if you’re curious to see it from a historical perspective, but if you’re looking for a nice cenote to take pictures in, skip it. There is much better elsewhere!
11. The Ossuary
The Ossuary or Tomb of the High Priest looks like a small version of the Pyramid of Kukulcan, but with beautiful mythological reliefs – of the god Chaac and serpent heads, for example.
At the top of the pyramid is a vertical slot that goes up to 10m underground.
It is connected to a natural cavity where bones, shell objects and sculptures have been found!
It is possible that this cavity is connected to the cenote found under the Pyramid of Kukulcan, but the corridor is still blocked, so the suspense remains…
12. Casa del Venado
Located south of the Ossuary, the Maison du Cerf owes its name to a painting representing a stag, found inside and which no longer exists today.
Unfortunately, not much remains of the original structure.
13. The Nuns Quadrangle
It is the name given by the Spanish conquistadors because the structure reminded them of the structure of a convent.
In reality it would not have had a religious function, but would rather have served as the residence of an important person.
It is a Puuc -style building – the same busy style that can be seen in Uxmal and Kabah – which features many stone mosaics. Impressive!
14. The Colored House or Chichan Chob
It is called Casa Colorada because of the traces of red paint that were found inside and Chichan Chob “small holes” because of the many cracks on the upper part.
A small Puuc -style temple located in Nuns Square, it is one of the best-preserved buildings in Chichen Itza.
There is a small pelota playground behind it.
15. Attend the Noches de Kukulcan show
Noches de Kukulcan is a nocturnal sound and light event at the Chichen Itza site.
It all starts with a route with audio guide (45min) through the main illuminated structures.
Then, we sit in front of the Kukulcan pyramid to attend the magnificent projection show (25 min) which presents the Mayan culture.
It’s an absolutely magical sight, a must do in Chichen Itza!
- At 7 p.m. in summer and 8 p.m. in winter
- Ticket 673 pesos. You can make the purchase online on the website (recommended) or once there, but you will have to queue.
- Important : if you don’t have a car, at that time there are no more buses, so I recommend going there on an organized excursion or taking a taxi.
16. Shop for souvenirs at Chichen Itza
There are plenty of souvenirs to buy there, but I noticed they were more expensive than elsewhere.
You will find the same and cheaper easily. With so many tourists, they know they’ll get a good deal anyway!
If you really want to bring back a souvenir from Chichen Itza, vendors tend to want to negotiate lower more easily when closing time approaches (around 4 p.m.).
17. Diving in Cenote Ik Kil
Located just 4km from Chichen Itza, Ik Kil is one of the most beautiful cenotes in Yucatan!
As soon as you arrive on the site, you are treated to an incredible natural spectacle: a bird’s eye view of a blue cenote, hidden 26m underground between walls covered with vegetation and long vines.
But it’s also one of the most touristic cenotes so, let’s be honest, you can hardly feel a connection with nature there.
On the other hand, the great advantage is that you can find all the facilities there: souvenir shop, lockers, changing rooms and a large parking lot.
The cenote is accessed by descending through a stone corridor. Once down, you can jump from a small promontory into the water or use the ladder.
In the water, there are even ropes to hold on to if you get tired, so it’s really accessible to the whole family!
- Entrance 150 pesos (life jacket and locker included), children 100 pesos, buffet lunch 350 pesos
- Getting to the cenote Il Kil: from the entrance to Chichen Itza you can get there by taxi ($180 mxn round trip) or by colectivo (20 pesos). From Valladolid, the trip takes 40 min, by bus ($33mxn) or by colectivo (40 pesos) from Calle 39.
There are also several other cenotes that are much less touristy and easy to combine with Chichen Itza.
To be decided according to your itinerary:
- Near Chichen Itza : Cenote Tsukan, Cenote Yokdzonot, Cenote Lol-Ha, Cenote Xcajum
- In Valladolid : cenotes Dzitnup, Suytun, Zaci, San Lorenzo Oxman.
- In Cuzama (towards Mérida) : cenotes Chelentun, Bolonchoojol, Chacsinicche, Tzapakal
18. Explore the Balankanche Caves
A few kilometers from Chichen Itza are the caves of Balancanché, “throne of the jaguar” in Maya.
These caves were an important place of ritual in the Maya-Toltec period because they were considered the entrance to the underworld where several deities lived.
We can now go down to 10m deep and visit the interior on a path of more than 1km.
There are several cavities with stalactites and stalagmites, various offerings (ceramics, jewelry, etc.), as well as a small sound and light show that presents the history of the place.
This is a friendly and accessible activity that I recommend when visiting Chichen Itza, especially with children.
But if you are looking for a dose of adventure, it is better to explore other caves in Yucatan like Loltun, Kantun-Chi, Tzabnah or Calcehtok, for example.
- Entry 146 pesos
- Visit every hour: in French (10 a.m.), in Spanish (9 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m.) and in English (11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.)
- Warning: it is hot, humid and there is little ventilation inside, not recommended for people who have asthma or suffer from claustrophobia
- Getting to the caves of Balankanché: by colectivo or by bus which makes the Piste-Valladolid route and which drops you off at the entrance to highway 180 (350m from
The cave is temporarily closed
Take a guide on site: good or bad idea?
Personally, I believe that the guided tour is to be done in Chichen Itza because it is necessary to understand its historical importance.
It is a great site where there is a lot to discover, especially since the guides of Chichen Itza offer a very good service.
There are guides everywhere, but be careful because the rates are different! Official guides are inside (after the turnstiles) and are cheaper than those outside.
The price of a guide is 900 pesos in Spanish or 1200 pesos for another language (including French). As the service is for a group of maximum 8 people, it is quite possible to join other people!
How to get to Chichen Itza?
1. Visit Chichen Itza alone (without an agency)
Chichen Itzá is the most touristic site in the Yucatan. It receives many buses of travelers arriving at the same time and forming long queues.
Don’t waste your time! 😉
Getting to Chichen Itza by bus:
The cheapest way to get to Chichen Itza is by ADO bus, the best bus company in Mexico.
Trips to Chichen Itza operate daily from several cities in Yucatan, here are the details:
- Cancun to Chichen Itza (3h): departure 8:45 am return 4:30 pm. The bus stops in front of the entrance to the site and leaves from the same place.
- Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza (3h40), departs 8am and returns 4:30pm
- Tulum to Chichen Itza (2h30): departures 6:30am, 7:15am, 8:15am, 9:15am, return 4:30pm
- Mérida to Chichen Itza (1h50): departure 7:15 am return 4:30 pm
- Valladolid to Chichen Itza (30 min): departures 10:50 am and 11:15 am, return 4:30 pm
2. Visit Chichen Itza with an organized excursion
As Chichen Itza is one of the major attractions of Yucatan, many agencies offer tours of Chichen Itza departing from several cities.
There are a lot of different services and to help you make the best choice, I have grouped here the 5 best excursions to Chichen Itza :
Chichen Itza + Cenote Ik Kil + lunch
I first recommend this guided excursion to Chichen Itza that includes pickup from your Riviera Maya hotel.
The tour begins with the guided visit of Chichen Itza, then you will go to refresh yourself at the cenote Ik Kil.
Then you will be treated to a buffet lunch before taking a short self-guided tour of the pretty colonial town of Valladolid to end the day.
Chichen Itza morning tour away from the crowds
The problem with Chichen Itza is that all the tourist buses arrive at the same time!
The best way to make the most of it and to succeed in taking good photos is to arrive as early as possible.
This morning tour begins with pickup from the Riviera Maya. You can be among the first to arrive on the site and take a privileged visit to Chichen Itza!
Book the excursion by clicking here, which also includes lunch.
Where to stay to visit Chichen Itza
You will have the choice of sleeping near Chichen Itza, or in Valladolid or Mérida, depending on your itinerary.
Accommodation in Chichen Itza
The advantage of sleeping around the site is of course being able to go as soon as it opens.
Here are my recommendations of the best hotels near Chichen Itza, for all budgets:
- La Casa de las Lunas : located in the village of Piste, this is a charming little hotel that offers the best value for money in its category. Spacious rooms with king size bed, swimming pool and small garden, from only €36 per night!
- Bungalow Maya : small Mayan-style cabins in a magnificent tropical garden, very clean, excellent welcome from Luis the owner, delicious homemade breakfast included. From €69 per night!
- El Encanto Villas Ecofriendly : rooms with a 360C view of the surrounding nature, which offer great privacy, outdoor swimming pool, good breakfast. From €120 per night
Accommodation in Valladolid
- Hostal Candelaria : the best cheap option in Valladolid. Colorful hostel very well located in the center, with garden, access to kitchen, bike rental. Good breakfast included, from 13 euros for a bed in a dorm or 30 euros for a private room!
- Real Haciendas : small, charming and very quiet hotel with swimming pool, clean rooms with comfortable king size bed, very warm welcome. From €57 per night
- IMIX Hotel : typical colonial house in the center of Valladolid on the pretty Calzada de los Frailes, very nice decoration and spacious rooms. Breakfast included, from 117 euros per night
- The Muuch Hotel Boutique : an intimate hotel 5 minutes from the main park Francisco Cantón Rosado. Excellent service, indoor pool and outdoor pool with hammock, garden view room, air conditioning, bar and restaurant. A la carte breakfast included, from €180 per night
- Hotel Zentik Project : this is the best hotel in Valladolid and one of my favorites in Mexico! Beautiful Mayan-style cabanas, murals by local and international artists, restaurant and bar, outdoor pool with hammocks and saltwater pool in an underground cave! Very good breakfast included, from 346€ per night
Accommodation in Merida
- El Gran Hotel : perfectly located in the center of Mérida, right next to the cathedral, this is a hotel with a certain charm, where time seems to have stood still with its colonial look and its pretty woodwork. There is a restaurant on site, the rooms are spacious and the wifi works well. Good value for money at just €35 a night!
- Koox Casona de las 3 Marías Boutique Hotel : my favorite hotel in Mérida! Behind a traditional building on a quiet little street near the center hides a modern, cutting-edge chic interior with superb wooden floors and a patio that houses a small swimming pool. The bedrooms are comfortable and the bathrooms are surprisingly large. From 57 €
- Hotel Boutique Mérida Santiago : This is a small, cozy hotel with a colorful hacienda look, both modern and with a traditional Mexican touch. Swimming pool with deckchairs and parasols, a very good homemade breakfast, spacious rooms, this is the ideal hotel if you are looking for good comfort without falling into luxury. From €108 per night
Practical information about Chichen Itza
How much is the entrance to Chichen Itza?
For foreigners, the total price is 614 pesos (2 prices to pay: 486 pesos for CULTUR and 85 pesos for INAH. Keep the two small tickets, you will have to show them in case of control).
Also to be provided: locker 200 pesos
There is a counter on site, but I recommend preparing the pesos in advance instead.
What are the opening hours of Chichen Itza?
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but access is closed from 4 p.m.
The sound and light show is held between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. in winter, and between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. in summer.
How long to visit Chichen Itza?
It all depends on your pace and your interest, but we can do the tour in 2h-3h
If you take a guide on site, the visit lasts 1h30-2h
If you come on an organized excursion, the guided tour will last 1h-1h30 + 1h of free visit. It is necessary to plan in all about 6h-8h for a tour from the Riviera Maya (with transport, visit, etc.).
When is the best time to visit Chichen Itza?
During my first visit to Chichen Itza, I made the mistake of arriving around 12 noon, with all the tourist buses and unbearable heat: never again!
For the visit to be pleasant, I recommend going there in the morning when it opens, before 10 a.m., or after 3 p.m. when it is cooler and the groups have left.
My tips for visiting Chichen Itza
- Beware of the heat : the temperature can rise to 30-40C. There is a lot of sun and in addition there is no shaded area on the site. Put on sunscreen, a hat, light clothing and stay hydrated!
- Check the inclusions in the prices: it is very important to always check what is included in the price of the excursions (eg the entrance ticket to Chichen Itza) so as not to have any unpleasant surprises once there.
- Avoid Sunday : it’s free day for Mexicans and the site is full (even more than usual!). If you have the choice, it is better to go during the week.
- Remember that if you are doing the visit alone (without an excursion), it is better to buy these tickets with fast access to Chichen Itza, you will save time and energy!
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