Chichén Itzá holds the title as one of the new seven wonders of the world, making it an attraction you don’t want to miss during your visit to Mexico. It is located in the central-south of the Yucatán Peninsula, with many choosing to spend a day here on their way to or from Cancun or Tulum due to the proximity.
In 1988, Chichén Itzá became a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is now the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico; with its rich history and beautiful pyramids, it is no wonder people flock here each year to visit.
Visiting Chichén Itzá
When you arrive at Chichén Itzá, you will be greeted/bombarded by tour guides offering to show you around the archaeological sites and provide a historical background to all you will see. I think this is a must otherwise you won’t learn anything nor have any context to what you are seeing; you’ll just be looking at some very old, albeit beautiful architecture.
For an English speaking guide, my friend and I paid MXN 1000 ($65 AUD) for a two-hour tour. On top of the MXN 481 ($30 AUD) entry fee just to set foot in the door.
As this can be on the pricier side if you are travelling solo or in a duo. My tip would be to find another duo/small group of people to join the tour to make the day more cost-effective.
Renting a car to get around Mexico is an easy, safe alternative while still being relatively inexpensive by Australian, USA or European standards. I flew from Mexico City to Cancun, drove to Valladolid then onto Chichén Itzá for the day before heading to Tulum.
There is the option to catch a 3-hour bus from Cancun which costs around MXN 202 ($13 AUD) through ADO Bus Service. From Valladolid, there’s a bus service every 30 minutes for MXN 26 ($2 AUD).
If you don’t want to drive or catch a bus, you can also book a day tour. There are many options you can book through Viator before you arrive, or wait and ask your hotel/hostel when you get there!
General tips for spending the day
- Try to visit as soon as the doors open, or late in the afternoon to avoid the huge tour-bus crowds.
- Chichén Itzá has a “light & sound show” that starts at 7pm in the autumn and winter or 8pm in the spring and summer. It’s included in the price of admission.
- Consider splurging on a guided tour. There are information plaques at each attraction, but nothing like the insight you’ll get from a local guide.
- Tourists can no longer climb to the top of the Kukulkan Pyramid due to UNESCO status and a few deaths over the years from falling. (Not that humans need to be walking on heritage sites anyway!)
- The sun is unrelenting. Wear a hat, apply sunscreen and take plenty of water.
- Bring cash to pay for your entry and tour guide- it is easier to haggle if you only have a certain amount of pesos on hand.
Mayans found this empty spot in 432 AD. They left around 1440 AD, and when the Spanish came in 1499 everything they had built was overgrown or in ruins. Chichén Itzá is now a 1500 year-old ceremonial centre for Mayan culture.
Chichén Itzá hosts two big cenotes which made it a suitable place to build a city and where its name was derived; chi meaning mouths and chen meaning wells, Itzá is the name of the Maya tribe that settled there.
The Mayans built 3 pyramids over 52 years to celebrate the end of a cycle and new age. Each pyramid was built on top of the old, so the famous pyramid we see today is 3 pyramids in one.
El Castillo has four sides, each with 91 stairs and facing a cardinal direction; including the step on the top platform, these combine for a total of 365 steps—the number of days in the solar year. During the spring and autumnal equinoxes, shadows cast by the setting sun give the appearance of a snake undulating down the stairways. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this but it sounds truly magical!