Holding the title as one of the new seven wonders of the world, it’s no surprise the Chichén Itzá ruins are one of Mexico’s top attractions. It’s believed the former Maya city dates back to as early as 550 AD, and once operated as the ceremonial centre of the ancient civilization.
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As the towering El Castillo (also known as the Temple of Kukulcan) gets most of the attention, some travellers are surprised to find the site has much more to offer: think sacred cenotes, sprawling temples adorned with intricate stone carvings, and forests leading to crumbling ruins.
Here are nine tips you need to know before visiting Chichén Itzá, Mexico.
1) Parking at Chichen Itza is easy
Unless you’re visiting as part of a guided Chichén Itzá tour from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, chances are you’ll travel by car. Some tourists choose to park for free along the side of the road just before entering the site, but keep in mind your vehicle could be at greater risk of dents and dings since the road is narrow.
To minimize the chance of damaging the rental car, pay to access the shaded lot right in front of the entrance which is only 30 pesos (about $2 USD)—a small price to pay for peace of mind.
RELATED: 5 tips for renting a car and driving in Mexico
2) Time your trip to Chichen Itza
Timing is everything, particularly when it comes to seeing of the world’s most popular tourist attractions. With millions of people visiting Chichén Itzá each year, to say it can get busy is an understatement—particularly when the tour groups arrive.
The best time to go to Chichén Itzá is first thing in the morning when the gates open, or around 3 p.m. when sunlight bathes the pyramid’s main staircase and the crowds usually start to clear out.
It typically takes about two to three hours to tour the complex. Click here to book
3) Pack your pesos when visiting Chichen Itza
The Chichén Itzá entrance fee is 232 pesos for adults (about $13 USD), and in true Mexican fashion there’s a good chance the credit card machine won’t be working…oh, and they only accept pesos.
Ensure you have some of the currency handy, or seek out one of the vendors stationed near the entrance who can convert your USD to pesos—for a small fee, of course. There’s also an ATM on site.
4) Get a guide to explore the Chichen Itza mayan ruins
That entrance fee won’t get you anything more than the privilege of walking through the site, so if you’re hoping to have any semblance of an idea about what you’re looking at you’ll want to hire a Chichén Itzá guide.
While it’s possible to go it alone as there are plaques in front of some of the points of interest, there’s very little information is available about the actual history or significance of the sites. Your guide will be able to explain the astronomical theories behind the design of El Castillo, and why you’ll want to clap when standing under it (hint: listen for the echo). Tours can be booked at the entrance.
Click below to book a Chichen Itza tour:
5) It’s more than a pyramid
One thing most travellers don’t realize is how huge Chichén Itzá is. Sure, you could simply snap a selfie in front of El Castillo and call it a day, but then you’d be missing spots like the enormous Great Ballcourt where Mayan sportsmen used to compete. Or the intricate Temple of the Warriors. Or The Observatory.
The list goes on and on. Ensure you give yourself enough time to properly explore the complex—it is a wonder of the world, after all!
RELATED: Belize to Tikal tour: A day trip to Guatemala’s ancient Mayan ruins
6) Dress for success at the Chichen Itza ruins
Keeping in mind how sprawling Chichén Itzá is, proper footwear is crucial (read: no flip flops). The uneven pathways aren’t paved, and you’ll have to keep an eye out for errant rocks and sticks.
It can also be extremely hot, especially around El Castillo and the Great Ballcourt where there isn’t any shade. Be sure to have lots of water on hand, along with a hat, sunscreen and maybe even an umbrella to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
7) Don’t pack a swimsuit for the Chichén Itzá cenote
One thing you won’t need to bring along? A swimsuit…despite the promise of not one but two cenotes on site.
As soon as you see what colour they are, you’ll understand why they’re not exactly popular for swimming in.
8) Brace yourself for the salespeople when visiting Chichen Itza
It often seems like everyone in Mexico is trying to sell you something, and it’s no different when you pass through the gates for your Chichén Itzá excursion, despite it being a protected site. There are souvenir stands absolutely everywhere, selling the likes of t-shirts, wood carvings, shot glasses and figurines.
Brace yourself for the constant barrage of what sounds like a dying cat—it’s actually vendors blowing through a jaguar whistle. Yes, that’s actually a thing, and it is literally the worst.
9) Eat offsite
After a long, hot day wandering around one of the greatest wonders of the world, it feels so good to sit back with a cold cerveza, si? There are plenty of spots to do so at the entrance/exit of the site, but here’s a tip: head just down the road to Pisté instead.
The colourful village may be just outside Chichén Itzá, but it’s inexplicably escaped the throngs of tourists and might just be one of the most authentically Mexican spots in the entire Yucatan. Best of all, there’s a fantastic family-run restaurant just off the main road called The Mexican Chicken, which serves up an entire spit-fire roasted chicken, rice and salad for only about $9 USD- a large enough serving to feed at least two people.
Considering a hot dog at Chichén Itzá costs about $4, it’s a no-brainer to head outside the gates and eat in Pisté.
Chichen Itza hotels
There are some great hotels near Chichen Itza, and booking a spot in the heart of the action means you can be the first one through the gates in the morning and avoid the crowds. Top ranked picks include:
- Hotel & Bungalows Mayaland: This beautiful property boasts outdoor pools, large rooms with private balconies and jacuzzis, and even has a private entrance to the ruins. Click here to book
- The Lodge at Chichen Itza: This bungalow-style lodge is steps away from the ruins and astronomical observatory, and guests love the included breakfast, surrounding gardens and pools. Click here to book
- Hotel Oka’an: This budget option is in the heart of the jungle, and its remote location gives a sense of serenity that guests love after a long day of exploring. Click here to book
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I’ve been here several times and would advocate for staying overnight. Last time my friends and I stayed at the Hacienda Chichen and hired a private guide. It wasn’t too expensive and we got in there well before the tour buses showed up
Sounds like a great idea!
Where did you hire your guide? We are staying nearby and want to hire a guide, but all the tours start from Cancun or Merida with transportation and we don’t need that.
There are actually guides right at the front entrance, so you can just show up and hire someone there. Enjoy!
No, you couldn’t even pay me to get in that green water! And good tip about just wandering down the road a bit. It can be really tempting to just collapse at the nearest place any time you visit sites like this because it’s exhausting, but usually worth it to drag yourself on just a little more for better and less expensive food and drink.
Having just visited Egypt last year, Chichen Itza is clearly on my list to visit next! One needs more pyramids in his life.
Great tips for a nice trip to Chichen Itza! Cheers.
That cenote does look a bit dodgy.
Wow, I’d love to go to Egypt- now that’s on my bucket list!
I visited Chichen Itza a few years back and wholeheartedly agree with your recommendations. Most importantly, arriving early or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and the bus loads of tourist that arrive mid-morning.
As you pointed out, there’s a lot more to the site to explore aside from El Castillo. I loved wandering around the cenotes and other sites!
It’s a great site- I could spend hours there if it weren’t so darn hot! 🙂
Wow!! Pretty magnificent. Would love to see the pyramids. Completely agree with you, it helps to have a guide who can help you understand what you are looking at. The green pools…yep, no swimsuit needed:)
Great tips! Never been to Chichén Itzá but it must be an amazing place. To see those pyramids and all the history behind them must be incredible. Loved your tip to head outside and eat in Pisté. The Mexican Chicken sounds like a great place.
It was delicious!
Considering I’ve never heard of this place, your article with these great tips will come in very handy. Looks totally amazing though and with these recommendations, you’re sure to have a great visit.
Some great tips here. We visited Chichen Itza in late summer and the heat was nearly unbearable during the day. No matter shade or lots of water. Hiring a guide was definitely a help as was staying at Hotel Chichen, just steps from the entry to the UNESCO site.
Great to hear you enjoyed it Elaine!
These tips are going to be very useful. I’m glad to know to have cash on hand in advance, and that I won’t need to bother lugging swimwear along. That water – EW.
Two brilliant pieces of advice for all touristy places: Timing is everything and eat off site. I think these are 2 options you can use anywhere. Brilliant tips for this beautiful place, thanks.
Chichén Itzá is on my bucket list for a while now and I definitely needed tips like these, Tamara!
These are great tips! We just got done making our own list.
We highly recommend visiting another Mayan ruin first, if possible, to get some of the basics out of the way before you arrive. We “splurged” on the guide ($55 USD in English with a tip) and were able to ask much better questions due to some context we received at Uxmal and other sites ahead of time.
That’s awesome! Yes you definitely get more out of the experience with a guide, no question!
Where did you find your guide?
Years ago the Cenotes were not gross & you could swim in them. We were encouraged by our guide to jump in. I sat on the edge, dangled my feet in the water & watched others swim & play. I had bright red almost fluorescent toe nail polish on & the water was so clear you could see many feet down into the water. As I played in the water with my feet I noticed small fish swimming. Enjoying the view & glancing down in the water occasionally, I noticed there were bigger fish swimming around. The next time I looked down in the crystal clear water the fish were HUGE! I jumped up, my husband had to catch me & those fish were enormous! It made us wonder just how many feet down in the water a person could see that the fish appeared so small when I first noticed them. A small child noticed the fish & screamed & all the tourist scrambled out of the Cenote. We were also allowed to climb on all the structures back then. It is a great historical place.
Great story! Sounds like the site has changed quite a bit over the years.
It has. I went a couple of times around 20 year ago. You could climb el castillo, swim in the cenotes and they accepted us currebcy. I took a guided tour from cancun the first time. No where near enough time. The 2nd time, rented a car and wandered for hours. Would never go during summer months. Jan. Feb is the best and its still hot.
Visiting mayan ruins urged me to get my masters degree in maya anthropology and archeology.
You say not to wear flip-flops, but you’re wearing them in your picture. Did you regret wearing sandals or was it not that big of a deal? I have some sturdy sandals I’m debating wearing…
Hi Cece, I definitely regretted wearing them because they didn’t have great support. It sounds like the sturdy sandals you mentioned would be a great option!
Can you climb the tall pyramid?
You used to be able to, but not anymore. In Tikal, Guatemala you can!
We went many years ago and climbed it. Going up was relatively easy. Hard work but doable. Coming down was a whole ‘nother thing! That pyramid is steep! We ended up desxending on our rears, as did most others, trying to descend standing caused vertigo.
So while it might seem that something has been lost with the restriction against climbing, you really are better off. Quite a few people froze when confronted with the steep descent!
I went to Tikal, Guatemala where they have very similar Mayan ruins that you can still climb, and I agree it’s definitely a workout!!
Just wanted to say THANK YOU for your article. It was so helpful. I was not sure how to go about with the trip to Chichen Itza but now with your recommendations. Wow, great advise!
THANK YOU AGAIN! :0)
That’s so great to hear, thanks for the feedback! Enjoy your trip!
One kind request. I was looking for that Mexican Chicken place, but can`t seem to find it using Google Maps POV view. Understand it`s on the main road, but walking that Google man icon :), I haven’t managed to find it.
Do you remember aprox where it was, close to what, etc? Tks in advance
Hi Christian, here it is! https://goo.gl/maps/YuoYdx8mTJr 🙂
Hi! I know there are restrictions on video and trips, but is there an issue with bringing in cameras? I’d like to bring in a dslr and get some great shots (early am for sure) I’d love to know their camera and backpack policy. Thanks for the article!
Hi Tamea, you can definitely bring your big DSLR in, and I don’t recall any restrictions on backpacks.
How does one enter the site at dawn without what seems to be the requisite guide? Is there something called a “special entry?” Thanks!
Why are you surprised they only take pesos? Try to get into any US attraction with any other currency than dollars? Typical American entitlement
Self-righteous much? Take a chill pill, dude.
Who said anything about being surprised? Oh…and I’m Canadian.
I know this article is only a year old but my family just went and all the prices were doubled 😞 The Jaguar, “Dying cat” sounds 😂 really could go.
So great you are for giving such wonderful information about visiting Chichen Itza in Cancun. I think these are very necessary tips for new travelers who are totally ignorant about Chichen Itza place in Cancun & want to visit more places in Cancun. But I know very well, this Chichen Itza place has a plenty look with full of beautiful scenery & most important is the climate is so good to visit.
Are selfie-sticks allowed into ChichenItza? Are visitors allowed to bring in snacks? I’m taking my 80 year old mom with me to visit, do you think they’ll allow a foldable lawn chair to be brought in for if she wants to rest?
I visited in the fall of 1982. Boy was I lucky, no crowds, you could go where you wanted and we got to climb the Castillo. Lol, couldn’t do the climb now! We walked to parts that were still covered in jungle. And seeing the cenote in person was just like being in the National Geographic article I read as a kid. Definitely a Bucket List journey.
Wow that sounds like an amazing experience! Definitely a bit different now!
I just wanted to ask was there a state tax you had to pay also from the entrance fee?
So this is part of my all inclusive vacation in mid August and according to the website I am booking with, it seems
it’s a 12 hour trip. Starts at 8am. But now that I am reading this and after seeing on google images how massive the crowds can get, I’m worried it’s going to be way too crowded by the time we get there in the morning. I guess our time of arrival depends on how long the ride from hotel to the site is. I hope my pictures can be as clear of people as yours are lol. Great tips!!!
Yeah it’s definitely a long day if you’re coming from the Playa del Carmen area, but worth it! Enjoy!
Thanks for the tips…I really don’t want to do a 12 hour tour.
This is what my husband and I want to do:
Arrive at 3pm and explore for 2 hrs. Once it is closed, we want to go have dinner and then return for the light/laser show.
You think we could hire a private driver/tourguide for this?
Anyone here has experience the laser show?
Love this plan- did it work? Would love to hear how it went
The entrance price has now doubled.
What is the entry fee for adult/child? Thanks in advance.
Er, this is a strange comment: “the most authentically Mexican spots in the entire Yucatan”. What on Earth is authentically Mexican to you? I’ve just visited numerous villages and towns in the Yucatan, and they all seem pretty ‘authentic’ to me. Try not to be the great Western tourist and show some sensitivity to the people who’s home this is. Other than that, thanks for the tips.
Hi Jordan, the sentence is “ONE of the most…” meaning the village is one of many in the Yucatan worth exploring away from the Americanized resorts. Not sure how that’s being insensitive- it’s actually a compliment as the village a great place to meet locals and try real Mexican food, as opposed to eating at a resort or at a generic cafe inside Chichen Itza. Thanks for reading!
You come off as such an entitled tourist! Gringos- “theyre the worst”
Hi Gabi, as there were no specifics mentioned in your comment I’m not totally clear on how sharing factual details about a Mayan site makes me come off as entitled; however, welcome your feedback should like to provide more details. Thanks for reading!
You da best! Thanks for sharing the information. Also, if one were vegetarian which is the best place to eat a good vegetarian food ( like no eggs , no meat, no fish no animals at all ) in Chichen Itza. If i am to get it right we can use the same entrance ticket to re-enter that very day ? Conclusively, a 5-6 hours of trip, well planned looks good enough for exploring. (Definitely not swimming in the Cenotes ) Also, what places would the guide take ? And what are the Dont’s with the guide? I
Visited late last year. Loved being able to go at our own pace and mix some shopping and lunch in. The weather was fantastic when we did it, but you definitely need to dress according and wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for the conditions.
Strongly recommend visiting on your own and give the crowds a skip. We used one of the self-guided audio tours from Viator. Will leave the link below.
Will I be able to take my camera with me or are there restrictions on photography? I’m going tomorrow..
Hi Tamara, thanks for the lovely tips. Quick question, would you recommend renting a car and driving to Chichen-Itza, paying the entrance fee directly and hiring a guide at the gate as opposed to taking a pick up tour? I think the family (hubby and 2 kids below 11) and I would just like to go to the ruins and not really the cenote. And if we have the car then a stop at Valladolid could be worked in too. Will it still take 10 to 12 hours? We are staying at Grand Palladium and upon checking the maps the non-toll road through Tullum is closer. Thank you and hello from Canada!
Definitely! I did it on my own as well (after the tour we paid for didn’t show up, grrr) and enjoyed the freedom of seeing it at our own pace. The drive is easy, really well paved roads along the toll route. I also have some tips on driving in Mexico here: https://www.globeguide.ca/tips-renting-car-driving-mexico/
those jaguar whistles- as you described as dying cat sounds- are actually a big part of Mexican culture. please try and educate yourself before bringing your western ideologies in a place thats not yours.
Thank you for these wonderful tips! We are planning a trip in August 2023. Your article and the comments were very helpful. (And ignore the haters – you rock! )
Haha thanks so much Deb, glad you found it helpful! I went in August too 🙂