Is any trip to Mexico complete if Chichén Itzá isn’t visited? It’s a world wonder, so it makes sense to plan a trip if you’re near Cancun or Tulum. Large tour buses transport the majority of Cancun’s all-inclusive resort guests to Chichén Itzá. However, you can and should visit Chichén Itzá without taking a tour. Expat Dragon and I loved the freedom and flexibility visiting independently gave us. I’ll show you what worked for us when visiting Chichén Itzá in Mexico and what to avoid in this post.
My advice is to make a day of the area as there are a number of things to do and see so the 2 hour drive becomes worthwhile.
What is Chichen Itza?
The Maya, a group of indigenous people who lived on and around Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, created Chichen Itza, one of its biggest cities. The city, which contains pyramids, temples, and other structures, is today a tourist destination and archaeological site that is thought to have been constructed between 750 and 900 AD.
The most well-known Mayan pyramid is El Castillo in Chichen Itza, which you have probably seen in pictures when researching your trip to Mexico. One of the most visited places in Mexico is Chichen Itza, which was just named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Tip 1: Rent a car
Although you can visit Chichén Itzá from Cancun or Tulum via an organized tour, unless I absolutely have to , I prefer to travel independently. In order to make this a reality, I recommend renting a car and basing yourself in Tulum.
While Cancun is probably a wonderful place, we flew in and headed straight to Tulum via the Ado Bus. Cancun is expensive and overrun with Americans so there was no desire to stay there.
Once we arrived in Tulum, we tried to collect our rental car from Mex Rent a Car. This company’s service was subpar so I am not recommending them. What I do recommend is using rentalcars.com to explore your options and then booking a car in advance. Do NOT show up and try to book a car at the last minute, there are very few rental companies in Tulum.
Here is a useful, in depth post about renting a car in Mexico.
The most important thing to know is that only insurance purchased while in Mexico is valid. So do not purchase any extra insurance when booking.
Driving from Tulum to Chichén Itzá is extremely easy- the roads are in great condition and the route is well signposted.
Tip 2: Wake up early to beat the crowds
It goes without saying that a lot of A LOT of people are interested in this New Wonder of the World. The most popular tourist destination in Mexico is Chichen Itza! So in order to avoid the crowds, go there as soon as it opens.
Chichén Itzá is open daily between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with last access at 4 p.m. I recommend you arrive there at 8am!
Something to note is that the temperature will increase the longer you wait. At the ruins, there isn’t a lot of cover from the sun, so plan and dress accordingly. Despite all the historical sights to see, it is difficult to avoid the sellers that appear at every bend and walkway. Just be prepared.
Tip 3: Carry cash
Tourists must pay an entrance charge of 533 pesos ($26 USD) to enter Chichen Itza. This includes two entrance fees: the federal tax (80 pesos), which benefits the Mexican Institute of History and Anthropology, and the local tax (453 pesos), which benefits the Yucatan Ministry of Culture.
To pay for these, you’ll need to wait in two different lines. For one you can pay with a card (the larger amount) and for the smaller amount, they only accept cash. Be on the lookout for the two ticket windows near the entrance.
You will also need cash to visit the cenotes (more information below).
Tip 4: Pack a swimsuit for cenote ik kil
Visiting Chichen Itza independently will take you around 2 hours. After which, I recommend visiting a few of the cenotes in the area.
Seeing as how the Ik Kil Cenote is only 2.6 miles (3 kilometers) from Chichén Itzá, it is really simple and convenient to visit.
This cenote is really deep and distinct from others that I have previously swum in. With tree roots dangling from the sky, it resembles a natural well more than anything. It’s magical!
Amazingly, the parking area was still empty when we got to the Ik Kil Cenote around 10:00 AM. Due to the popularity of this particular cenote, it becomes very crowded as visitors from Chichén Itzá begin to arrive. Try to go during the week rather than the weekend if you want to see the cenote almost entirely alone. This is because it’s a favorite hangout for locals during the week.
You will get your own life jacket (mandatory to wear) and loker as part of your admission fee (150 pesos).
Tip 5: Try authentic Mayan cuisine in valladolid
There is a strong possibility that the cocina at IX CAT IK will be mentioned if you ask the locals where to get the greatest traditional Mayan food in Valladolid. There are tasty classic Mayan foods on the menu. Reservations are advised at one of Valladolid’s busiest eateries.
They use fresh ingredients purchased at the neighborhood market to support local farmers while cooking using methods and recipes passed down from their ancestors.
This was easily one of the best meals I had in Mexico.
They also gather certain vegetables from their own organic garden. We had the good fortune to take advantage of a free guided tour during which we learned about the primary ingredients utilized in their kitchen to prepare their cuisine.
Tip 6: End the day at Cenote Oxman
One of the most scenic cenotes around Valladolid is Cenote Oxman, which is located at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman. This is a great substitute for the more popular cenotes, which are sometimes overrun by tour groups.
Oxman Cenote is a limestone cave that has collapsed and an open roof with sunshine peeping through. The cave’s walls are also punctured by centuries-old tree roots. That makes the cenote even more stunningly beautiful while also adding to its eerie atmosphere. This cenote also has a rope swing which can be used by the very adventurous souls.
Note that at this cenote, you do not need to get a locker as you can take your things with you down to the cenote (however there are lockers available for a small fee). Life jackets are free.
The regular entrance fee to Cenote Oxman is 150 MXN.
Things to bring when visiting Chichén Itzá in Mexico
- Hat/cap while visiting Chichen Itza
- Swim shoes
- Waterproof case for phone or underwater camera
For those of us who aren’t able to visit Mexico often, it makes the most sense to maximize our time in the country. Visiting Chicen Itza and its surrounding cenotes and town, are a perfect day trip offering history, adventure, relaxation and tantalizing traditional food. In my personal opinion, there’s so much to do and see when visiting Chichén Itzá in Mexico; the area offers enough sites and activities to keep you busy for a week. The town is extraordinarily rich in natural features and history, and it is located deep within the Yucatan Peninsula’s rainforests. I wish I had done more than a day trip! Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to explore your surroundings when visiting Chichén Itzá in Mexico.
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Have I inspired you to consider visiting Chichén Itzá in Mexico? Or have you been already? Let me know in the comments below!