How to Visit the Mythical City of Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, Kukulcán Pyramid, Mexico

Once one of the largest cities in the Mayan world and quite possibly one of the seven mythical locations of human origin, the ruins of Chichen Itza lies within a totally day-tripable 2 hour bus ride from Cancun. That proximity to cruise-ship central also makes it one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

With that in mind, we planned our visit with the intention of arriving early enough to beat the hordes. So we booked a room at the Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza; a hotel located within walking distance of the less-utilized southern entrance to the park.

We found the hacienda-style hotel quaint, comfortable and clean. The only downside is that dining options in the area are limited to the handful of similar resorts located on this side of the park. We checked out a few other options but ended up eating every meal in the hotel’s poolside courtyard where the food was adequate if not inspiring.

El Caracol observatory temple, Chichen Itza, Mexico

The “El Caracol” observatory temple as seen prior to entering the park’s southern gate.

But we didn’t come to Chichen Itza for the food. We came to explore the ruins. So the following morning we made our way to the entrance gate just before opening at 8:00 AM. At that hour we stood second in a line of about six people and waited to pay the two separate admission fees of 65 pesos (US $3.60) and 132 pesos (US $7.30) per person.

Shortly after scanning our tickets we were in the park walking past still empty checkpoints and vendors who were only just starting to set up their stalls. We were among only a handful of other tourists in the park.

And in this one instance, I’m not quite sure how much beating the crowds really mattered.

We’re always glad to have places to ourselves, and Chichen Itza is no exception. But this is a place structured in a way to absorb crowds better than most of the other popular sites we’ve visited.

Pretty much just us and the iguanas at this hour

Pretty much just us and the iguanas at this hour

First of all there is tons of open space. The field surrounding the Kukulcán Pyramid, Chichen Itza’s signature attraction, would take several thousand people to fill. Elsewhere, choke-points and bottlenecks are limited to just a couple of roads connecting separate archaeological clusters. It’s not impossible to imagine the place getting overwhelmed by crowds in the late-afternoon, but it would require tons of people visiting all at once to accomplish that feat.

Serpent head statues at Chichen Itza

Serpent heads are a recurring theme throughout Chichen Itza

The other thing that probably keeps Chichen Itza from becoming too annoying is a fairly recent development. The park no longer lets visitors climb on or through the ruins. That has the downside of giving the site a museum quality, look but don’t touch, please stand behind the velvet rope, kind of feel. But the benefit is that Chichen Itza’s monuments stay completely clear of the hordes.  Even at its most crowded, the structures still look like Mayan ruins rather than a collection hills crawling with ants.

El Caracol observatory temple Chichen Itza, Mexico

El Caracol from inside the park

Even though we took our time at the site we still only spent about two, maybe two and half, hours visiting and sometimes revisiting the ruins. So it really is a place you can do on a day trip. And even by late morning after the first of the Cancun buses started to roll in, the park wasn’t terribly crowded. 

Chichen Itza

Most of the delicate stonework that once adorned the temple facades has been lost, but some still remains to give us a glimpse of what Chichen Itza once looked like in its prime

If we were to visit Chichen Itza again we’d probably skip the overnight stay and instead daytrip in from near-by Valladolid (pronounced Bay-yah-doh-LEED). Second-class buses leave from Valladolid’s ADO bus station every hour on the quarter hour starting at 7:15 am. ADO doesn’t publish schedules for its second class service on the internet so you’ll have to go to the bus station to confirm departure times.

Las Monjas, The Nunnery, Chichen Itza, Mexico

Las Monjas, or “The Nunnery”

The ride to Chichen Itza takes about 50 minutes from Valladolid, so it’s possible to take a public bus and still get to the front gate at opening, not much later than when we arrived. Even day-tripping in, you can still have plenty of time in relative solitude at one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

Kukulcán Pyramid, Chichen Itza, Mexico

A final look at the Kukulcán Pyramid on our way out


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9 Comments on “How to Visit the Mythical City of Chichen Itza”

  1. OyiaBrown January 20, 2016 at 9:21 am #

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.


  2. mytimetotravel January 20, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    Great pix! The iguana is fab – looks like another statue.


    • Brian January 20, 2016 at 10:16 am #

      It’s true. He was so still and back-lit when we first saw him we thought he was a piece of stone.


  3. Raza January 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

    I am not an early bird so I could never wake up at 7am on vacation just so that I’m the first person there. My friends and I visited the complex in early March last year during the afternoon so technically that was peak rush and I didn’t think it was that crowded. There was ample space to walk around, eat lunch under a tree and get a good photograph of each building. Of course if you are looking to take some award-winning photographs of these ruins and don’t want to be disturbed by a single tourist then I guess the 8am time is best.

    I guess everyone has their own way of enjoying a vacation.


    • Brian January 20, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

      Yup, it’s true. Everyone has their own way of enjoying vacation . . . only we’re not on vacation. 😉


  4. Julie Cao January 20, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

    Interesting I stayed at Villas Arqueologicas in Teotihuacan, the same hacienda-style hotel as you described, for entering the ruins before 8am the next day to beat the horde, but eventually two Mexicans I met on the bus convinced me to join them that afternoon. Still, as the same with Chichen Itza, the ride from Mexico D.F to Teotihuacan takes nearly 50 minutes and there are subways going from downtown to the bus station very early morning. Look forward to reading more of your travels in my favorite country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brian January 20, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

      That’s excellent info that will come in handy when we’re in DF later this trip. Gracias!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Birmingham airport taxis November 22, 2017 at 6:15 am #

    nice article to read espically ” El Caracol” temple.. really amazing.



  1. Uxmal, Our Favorite Mayan Site Anywhere | Everywhere Once - January 25, 2016

    […] visited ancient Mayan cities from Mexico’s Chichen Itza to Guatemala’s Tikal along with a slew of others in between. And while some of those sites are […]


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