8 Things to Know Before Visiting Chichen Itza

January 23, 2021

Chichen Itza is the perfect day trip from Tulum or Cancun. Pair it with Coba, and Cenote Suytun, or Cenote Ik Kil for a full day of exploring! 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.

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GO TO CHICHEN ITZA EARLY

This 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 8am. I waited in that line and went at opening. Having the site almost entirely to myself, without crowds of tourists, was an incredible way to experience it. By the time I left at 10:30 am, there were already crowds surrounding El Castillo, the iconic central pyramid.

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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.

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GET GAS BEFORE LEAVING

Once you leave Tulum, there are no gas stations on the road to Chichen Itza. There are is a gas station on the main road in town, or Pemex just outside of the city proper on your way to the park. Make sure you have a full tank of gas before leaving. The cell phone service on the road between Tulum and Chichen Itza is minimal, and getting gas would require leaving the main road into a town. The first gas station on the way there 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 as a result of the lack of gas stations and cell phone service. Learn from my mistakes so you don’t end up in the same situation!

Above: The Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza. 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 seen in the Great Ball Court.

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PARKING

One of the biggest motivators to getting to Chichen Itza early is just 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! The parking fee seems to vary. We were not charged, however other visitors report paying 10 to 80 pesos for parking.

Above: Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza. 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.

MIND THE TIME ZONE

If you’re staying in Cancun or Tulum, you’re in EST. Chichen Itza is located in CST, meaning that on your way there, the time will set back an hour. The drive from Tulum is two hours, and the park opens at 8am. If you’re trying to reach the site at its opening time, leave Tulum around 7am. Keep in mind that your clock will jump forward an hour on the way back, so plan your day accordingly!

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BRING BUG SPRAY AND SUNCREEN

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 Chichen Itza is completely out in the open with little shade. Make sure to bring proper sun protection such as sunglasses and sunscreen as well.

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 with a Chichen Itza 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!

CHICHEN ITZA TOURS – SEE MORE THAN EL CASTILLO, GO PAST THE MERCHANTS

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 visiting 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 do recommend opting for a tour. Keep in mind that this will take a bit more time. If you are booking a tour, I recommend hiring 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 would rather book your Chichen Itza tour in advance, click here to see tour options.

Chichen Itza is SO much more than just the iconic El Castillo pyramid, which is the most photographed. How to find some of the ruins on the map was a bit unclear. There aren’t many signs, and many of the pathways are a bit hidden. A good rule of thumb to find all that Chichen Itza has to offer, is to always follow where the merchants are. 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 at all. 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, the Mayan observatory of Chichen Itza.

Above and Below: La Iglesia, the church, monastery, and nunery at Chichen Itza. 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 where to enter Chichen Itza, and follow the path to the right. Go past Osario Temple and El Caracol to the furthest you can go.

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DO A FULL DAY TRIP FROM TULUM OR CANCUN

From Tulum, reaching Chichen Itza is a two hour drive each direction. Make a day out of it by visiting other attractions in the area! I recommend pairing the site with Coba, and either Cenote Ik Kil or Cenote Suytun. For a full day itinerary to Chichen Itza {complete with how long you should spend at each attraction} click here!

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Visiting Tulum? See my favorite places to go in and near Tulum by clicking here.

xx,
E

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8 things first time visitors should know before going to chichen itza tulum day trip yucatan peninsula things to do mayan ruins el castillo pyramid temple of kukulkan solo female traveler destination rebecca minkoff julian backpack lululemon define jacket meshki basics cami
8 things first time visitors should know before going to chichen itza tulum day trip yucatan peninsula things to do mayan ruins el castillo pyramid temple of kukulkan
how to visit chichen itza mayan ruins yucatan mexico el castillo temple of kukulkan la iglesia nunery monastery great ball court mayan soccer game osario temple temple of the high priest mayan relief carving
8 things first time visitors should know before going to chichen itza tulum day trip yucatan peninsula things to do mayan ruins el castillo pyramid temple of kukulkan
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Eva Phan of Eva Darling little havana miami florida instagrammable hibiscus floral staircase where to go miami travel guide calle ocho

Hi, I'm Eva! I'm best described as an aspiring Blair Waldorf with a case of the travel blog that can't be cured. I'm a lover of witty words, pink peonies, and slight sarcasm. Originally from the Minneapple {Minneapolis, Minnesota}, and now living in the Big Apple, you can probably find me most often on a plane, running down Park Avenue stressed out in 4" heels, or planning my next getaway. Click on the photo to learn more.

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