Located just two hours away from Tulum, this ancient Mayan site attracts two million tourists every year. After visiting Chichen Itza myself, I’m sharing what first-time visitors should know before going.
Go to Chichen Itza Early
Visiting early is the most important tip for visiting Chichen Itza I could give you! It is not uncommon for visitors to be lining up for the entrance prior to the site opening at 8 am. I went at opening and waited in that line.
Having the site almost entirely to myself, without crowds of tourists, was an incredible way to experience the site. By the time I left at 10:30 am, there were already crowds surrounding El Castillo, the iconic central pyramid.
Get Gas Before Leaving
There are no gas stations on the highway from Tulum to Chichen Itza. After leaving Tulum, you won’t have options to fill up.
Tulum has a gas station on the main road in town, and a Pemex just outside of town on your way to the park. Make sure you have a full tank of gas before leaving.
Cell phone service on the road between Tulum and Chichen Itza is minimal. Getting gas requires leaving the main highway between the sites. The first option to do so is closer to the archeological site than it is to Tulum.
The first gas station on the way to Chichen Itza is roughly an hour into the drive, in Coba. I’ve ended up in some stressful situations while driving through Quintana Roo and the Yucatan due to the lack of gas stations and cell phone service (we anxiously drove on empty for 45 minutes).
Learn from my mistakes so you don’t end up in the same situation!
Above: The Great Ball Court. This is thought to be the largest Mayan ball court in existence. If you stand near the right wall midway and clap, you can hear the clap bouncing off and echoing through the walls of the stadium!
Below: Beautiful Mayan relief carvings in the Great Ball Court.
Parking at Chichen Itza
One of the biggest motivators for getting to Chichen Itza early is having a place to park! When I arrived around 7:50 am, the parking lot was completely empty. Two hours later, it was totally full.
Chichen Itza’s parking fee varies. We were not charged, however, other visitors report paying 10 to 80 pesos for parking. It’s inconsistent, though some say the time of day, day of the week, and season could play a factor in what you’ll pay.
Above: Temple of the Warriors. This temple features dozens of columns with relief carvings. It is located behind El Castillo.
Below: These beautiful relief carvings are easy to miss, but beautiful to look at. Find them across from the Temple of the Warriors, almost hidden in the trees.
Chichen Itza Time Zone: Not the Same as Tulum or Cancun
If you’re staying in Cancun or Tulum, you’re in EST. Chichen Itza is located in CST. On your way there, the time will set back an hour.
Driving to Chichen Itza from Tulum takes two hours. The park opens at 8 am. If you’re trying to reach the site at its opening time, leave Tulum around 7 am. Keep in mind that your clock will jump forward an hour on the way back—plan your day accordingly!
Did you know that only two sides of El Castillo have been fully restored? The other two allow you to see the current state of the original pyramid.
Bring Bug Spray and Sunscreen
Chichen Itza is in the jungle. It is surrounded by beautiful vegetation, however, as a result, attracts quite a few insects! Bring your bug spray, and give yourself a good spray down in the parking lot before entering. I definitely got bit a few times while there!
Much of the site is completely out in the open with little shade. Make sure to bring proper sun protection such as sunglasses and sunscreen. When in the Yucatan, always wear reef safe sunscreen to protect cenote wildlife.
During the Yucatan’s rainy season, you may also want to bring an umbrella or rain jacket.
Above: Mayan relief carvings and ruins.
Below: Sacred cenote. An important cenote in Mayan civilization for rituals and sacrifices. It is about a ten-minute walk down a path from El Castillo.
Don’t Forget Your ID
The Chichen Itza entrance fee is 497 pesos. If you are not on a tour and purchasing admission on your own, they will ask for a passport at the ticket window.
I did not have my passport with me, however, did have a driver’s permit, which they accepted as an ID. Stay on the safe side, and bring your passport!
Do I Need to Be On a Chichen Itza Tour?
Can I visit Chichen Itza on my own?
Absolutely! I chose to visit on my own, without a tour. I liked that it allowed for the flexibility to explore on my own, especially because I was also seeing a few places where tours were mandatory on this trip.
If you are an enthusiast of Mayan history or, alternatively, do not know much about Mayan civilization, I recommend opting for a tour. When booking your tour, hire a private guide so you can prioritize what you are most interested in and still explore at your own pace.
Should you choose to visit alone and change your mind, there are tour guides at Chichen Itza who speak both English and Spanish. One that approached me even spoke Dutch! These guides will approach you at the entrance and are generally affordable for a private tour.
If you prefer to book your Chichen Itza tour in advance, click here to see tour options.
Being on a tour can help you discover everything the archaeological site has to offer. Chichen Itza is SO much more than just the iconic El Castillo pyramid, which is the most photographed.
Trying to find where all of the ruins on the park’s map are can be unclear. The park doesn’t have many signs, and many of the pathways are a little hidden.
I was able to figure out where everything was by following where the merchants were. Walk towards any area where merchants seem to be lining a pathway, and you should be on your way!
If you turn directly right to the entrance and head down that way, you’ll come across an area with tons of ruins, including El Caracol, the shell-shaped observatory, and the monastery. When I wandered into the areas outside of El Castillo, there was barely anyone. Many come solely for El Castillo, and the Great Ball Court. A good tour guide will bring you into this area.
Top Left: Osario Temple, also known as the Temple of the High Priest.
Top Right: El Caracol, a Mayan observatory.
Above and Below: La Iglesia a church, monastery, and nunnery. This area had some of the coolest buildings and Mayan relief carvings. We almost missed it entirely had we not wandered towards an empty path lined with merchants! To get to La Iglesia, turn right at the entrance. Then, follow the path to the right. Go past Osario Temple and El Caracol to the furthest you can go.
Is Chichen Itza a Day Trip from Tulum or Cancun?
From Tulum, reaching Chichen Itza is a two-hour drive in each direction—not exactly a short amount of time! Chichen Itza should be done as a full-day trip from Tulum or Cancun, not a half-day trip.
Drones and tripods are banned at Chichen Itza. Climbing the El Castillo pyramid was previously allowed, however now is strictly prohibited.
Technically, you can use credit cards to purchase your Chichen Itza admission, however, card machines have been known to malfunction in the past. Bring cash to ensure your trip goes smoothly. You’ll also need cash for merchants inside the site, should you want to purchase souvenirs.
Tulum and Chichen Itza are very different archaeological sites. Tulum offers Mayan ruins with beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea, however, is much smaller than Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza is often regarded as one of the most impressive Mayan civilizations, and it is a large, expansive archaeological site with several structures. The site is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
You can prepare for Chichen Itza by packing a backpack with lots of water, sunscreen, bug spray, and sunglasses or a hat as the site is full sun. Wear comfortable clothing and good walking shoes like gym shoes. Also, make sure your rental car has a full tank of gas before leaving Tulum or Cancun.
Visiting Tulum? See my favorite places to go in and near Tulum by clicking here.
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Eva Phan is the founder of Eva Darling, a travel and style website aiming to empower women to see the world solo while sharing on-trend, luxury feminine style inspiration. Featured in publications including Forbes, Thrillist, and Yahoo News, Eva has combined her education from Parsons School of Design with her incurable case of the travel bug to create a global destination that encourages others to romanticize their everyday.