How to Visit Chichén Itzá (Yucatan): The Definitive Guide


Chichen Itza Guide: Everything You Need to Know (2024)

Chichen Itza is the most famous Mayan site in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 7 New Wonders of the World.

It is also the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico, after Teotihuacan near Mexico City.

That’s why it’s very important to plan your day to make the most of your visit!

In this complete guide to Chichen Itza in Yucatan, I will give you all the practical information you need to organize your trip.

You’ll discover all the top attractions in and around Chichén Itzá, how to get there, my tips for visiting on your own or with a group, and my recommendations for the best guided tours!

So, are you ready to explore Chichén Itzá, find out where to stay, and see what else you can do? Let’s go!

Visiting Chichen Itza: Booking tickets

If you want to buy your tickets to visit Chichen Itza at the best price, without reading the article, (even though I suggest you read it for more insights and tips!), here is the summary table of the available tickets.

Click directly on the names of the tickets to book them:

TicketDescriptionPrice (subject to change)
Fast Track Ticket to Chichen ItzaSkip the line access to Chichen Itza60$ USD
Early Morning Tour to Chichen ItzaEarly access to Chichen Itza, pick up and lunch65$ USD
Chichen Itza + Cenote Ik KilGuided tour to Chichen Itza, pick up, Ik Kil cenote, Valladolid and lunch80$ USD
Chichen Itza + Coba in a Small GroupSmall-group tour of Chichen Itza and Coba, with pick up, cenote and lunch100$ USD
Chichen Itza + Coba + Tulum in a Small GroupSmall-group tour of Chichen Itza, Coba and Tulum, with pick-up, cenote and lunch. 290$ USD

Short History of Chichén Itzá

Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of the Itzaes” in Mayan. It was the name of the Itzaes who founded this city in the 6th century.

At the end of the 10th century, it was invaded by the Toltecs and then abandoned around 1250, for reasons that are still a mystery today.

But what we do know is that Chichén Itzá was the most powerful city in the whole Yucatán Peninsula!

It was so influential that even after its decline, it remained an important place of pilgrimage.

Chichén Itzá historia

What to see and do in Chichén Itzá

Chichen Itza is an important archaeological site where there are numerous buildings (temples, platforms, etc.), connected by sacbes, the Mayan roads.

Here are the best things to see and do in Chichen Itza:

1. The Great Plaza

The Great Plaza is the first thing you see and the ideal place to start your exploration of Chichen Itza.

Why? Because it’s the heart of the city!

That’s right, it’s where you can find the main buildings, with the impressive pyramid of Kukulcan towering in the center.

2. The Pyramid of Kukulcan

The Temple of Kukulcan, also known as El Castillo, is the most iconic pyramid of Chichen Itza and it’s in every picture!

It honors Kukulcan, a major Mayan god (the same as the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl) who took the form of a feathered serpent.

It has a 9-level pyramid with 365 steps in total… Just like the 365 days of the year!

Its symbolism and accuracy make it one of the most amazing pyramids of the Mayan world.

A few years ago, a 66 ft deep cenote was found under the pyramid and more recently two hidden structures were discovered. It probably still hides many secrets!

The spring (March 20-21) and autumn (September 22-23) equinoxes draw lots of visitors, as a stunning display of light and shadow appears on the north staircase. It is said that it is the Serpent God who comes down to earth…

The famous site of Chichen Itza in the state of Yucatan

3. The Venus Platform

There are two structures known as the Venus Platform, but the more famous and significant one is in the Great Plaza, not far from the pyramid of Kukulcan.

It is also called the Temple of Venus because it has carvings of the planet Venus, or the Tomb of Chac Mool because of a statue that was found inside.

Both Venus platforms were used as public stages for ceremonies, rituals, dances and speeches.

chichen itza plateforme venus
La plataforma de Venus Chichén Itzá

4. The Tzompantli

One of the important monuments to see in Chichen Itza is the Tzompantli, in the Great Plaza, right next to the Temple of the Jaguar and the House of the Eagles.

The “wall of skulls” was an altar where the Maya displayed the heads of enemy warriors as offerings to the gods.

This was a common practice among many Mesoamerican people!

There are no human remains, but you can see the many skulls carved in low relief (there are more than 500!).

tzompantli Chichén Itzá
tzompantli Chichén Itzá

5. The Temple of the Eagles and the Jaguars

It is the smallest temple in the complex around the Great Plaza, located between the Tzompantli and the Temple of Venus.

It is a platform that gets its name from its amazing carvings of eagles and jaguars eating human hearts.

Templo de las Águilas y los Jaguares Chichén Itzá
Temple of the Eagles and Jaguars Chichén Itzá

6. The Mayan ballcourt

The Mesoamerican ballgame – Pok Ta Pok in Mayan – was a game played for over 3000 years in Mesoamerica that had ritual and political significance and served to settle different kinds of conflicts.

How was the game played?
 The game involved hitting a ball (only with the calves, elbows and hips) to make it go through one of the rings on the court.

And it was very hard: the ball weighed almost 9 pounds, the rings were only 1 feet in diameter and were placed about 26 feet high.

The game could end in sacrifice to the gods, by burning, beheading or even removing the heart.

If you want to see how the game was played, you can watch it in the show at Xcaret Park, near Playa del Carmen! 

In Chichén Itzá there are 8 courts of this type, but the main one is considered the largest Mayan ball game court in Mesoamerica.

There are other ball courts at other archaeological sites – such as Edzná and Uxmal – but the one at Chichén Itzá is the best preserved I’ve seen!

The stone rings (where the ball had to go through), as well as the stands and players’ bench are in good condition, as are several carvings on the walls.

To the north of the court is the Temple of the Bearded Man where the elite watched the game.

7. Temple of the Warriors and the Thousand Columns

The Temple of the Warriors, surrounded by “a thousand columns” is, in my opinion, the most stunning structure in Chichen Itza!

It is a pyramid-shaped structure where you can see – only from afar – a sculpture of Chac Mool and a table where human sacrifices were performed.

As for the “thousand” columns, there are actually only 200, but the name makes it sound more impressive 😉

chichen itza Templo de los guerreros y las mil columnas
chichen itza Temple of the warriors and the thousand columns

8. The observatory

El Caracol was Chichen Itza’s astronomical observatory, named for its shape (“the Snail”).

This structure, built around the year 900, was used to watch the sky and make important decisions for the city.

This observatory allowed the Maya to observe 29 astronomical phenomena (equinoxes, eclipses, etc.)

observatorio Chichén Itzá
El Observatorio de Chichén Itzá

9. Akab Dzib

Behind the Caracol, you can find the Akab Dzib or Akabdzib, which means “The house of the mysterious writing” in Maya.

This was probably the home of the Chichén Itzá administrator Kokom Yahawal Cho’K’ak.

The structure is quite large, measuring 177 feet in length. It has a central building with two rooms at the ends and 18 other rooms attached to it.

Chichén Itzá akab dzib
Chichén Itzá akab dzib

10. The Sacred Cenote

This was a sacred place where the Maya honored Chaac, the rain god, with ceremonies and offerings.

They threw gold, jade, copper and human bones into the water, some of them from faraway lands like Central America and Colombia!

Today, this murky, green cenote (not very pretty or clean) doesn’t look like much. But despite its appearance, it was the hub of religious activities in the whole region!

Many people mix it up with the cenote Ik Kil, but they are very different.

The sacred cenote is inside the Chichen Itza site, linked by a long path to the Kukulcan pyramid, and you can’t swim in it.

Visit it if you want to see it from a historical point of view, but if you’re looking for a nice cenote to take photos, you can skip it – there are much better ones around!

11. The Ossuary

The Ossuary, also called Tomb of the High Priest, looks like a smaller version of the Pyramid of Kukulcan, but with beautiful mythological carvings, such as the god Chaac and snake heads.

At the top of the pyramid, there is a vertical opening that goes down to 10 m underground.

It leads to a natural chamber where bones, shells and sculptures have been discovered!

This chamber might be connected to the cenote under the Pyramid of Kukulcan, but the passage is still blocked, so the mystery remains unsolved…

Osario Chichén Itzá
Osario Chichén Itzá

12. The House of the Deer

The House of the Deer is located south of the Ossuary. It gets its name from a painting of a deer that used to be inside the building, but has disappeared.

Unfortunately, there is not much left of the original structure.

13. The Nunnery Complex

The Spanish conquerors called this building the Nunnery because it reminded them of a convent.

But in fact, it would not have had any religious purpose, but rather served as the residence of someone important.

It is a Puuc style building – the same elaborate style that you can admire at Uxmal and Kabah – with many stone mosaics, amazing!

Conjunto de las Monjas Chichén Itzá
Conjunto de las Monjas Chichén Itzá

14. The Red House or Chichan Chob

The Red House (Casa Colorada) gets its name from the traces of red paint found inside and Chichan Chob means “little holes” in reference to the holes in the upper part of the structure.

This small Puuc style temple is located in the Nunnery plaza, and it is one of the best preserved buildings in Chichen Itza.

It has a small ball court in the back.

Casa colorada chichén Itzá
Casa colorada chichén Itzá

15. The Noches de Kukulcan Show

Noches de Kukulcán (Nights of Kukulcan) is a night show of light and sound at the Chichen Itzá site.

The first part is an audio-guided tour (45 min) that takes you through the main illuminated structures.

Then, you sit in front of the pyramid of Kukulcan and watch the amazing projection show (25 min) that showcases the Mayan culture.

It’s a fantastic show, something you don’t want to miss in Chichen Itza!

  • At 7 pm in summer and at 8 pm in winter
  • You can buy your tickets online on the website (strongly recommended), or when you get to Chichen Itza, but you will have to wait in line.
  • Important: if you don’t have a car, there are no buses at this time, so you will need to book a tour or take a taxi.

16. Buying souvenirs in Chichen Itza

Souvenirs are more pricey here than elsewhere – they know tourists will buy them anyway!

If you really want a souvenir from Chichen Itza, try bargaining with the vendors when it’s almost closing time (around 4 pm).

souvenirs Chichén Itzá
Souvenirs at Chichén Itzá

17. Swim in the Cenote Ik Kil

Ik Kil is one of the most beautiful cenotes in the Yucatan! and it’s only 4 km from Chichen Itza.

When you get to the site, you are greeted by an amazing natural sight: a blue cenote that lies 28 yards underground, surrounded by walls covered with plants and long vines.

Unfortunately, it is also one of the most touristy cenotes, so, to be honest, it’s hard to feel connected to nature with so many people around.

But on the bright side, it has a variety of services: gift shop, lockers, changing rooms and a large parking lot.

You can reach the cenote through a stone path, and then you can choose to jump into the water from a small platform or use the stairs.

The cenote is easy to access for the whole family and there are ropes in the water that you can hold on to if you need them.

  • Entrance fee 180 pesos (with vest and locker), children 100 pesos, or with buffet lunch 400 pesos.
  • How to get to cenote Ik Kil: from the entrance of Chichén Itzá you can take a taxi or colectivo (20 pesos). From Valladolid, the trip takes 40 minutes, by bus (33 pesos) or colectivo (40 pesos) from Calle 39.

If you don’t want to worry about transportation, I suggest this tour to Chichén Itzá with pick-up from your hotel, free time at cenote Ik Kil and lunch-buffet. Book it here:

My tip
Near Chichen Itza there are also other cenotes less touristic and easy to access:

cenote ik kil
Cenote Ik Kil, near Chichen Itza

18. Explore the Balankanché caves

The Balankanché grotto, which means “throne of the jaguar” in Maya, is a few kilometers from Chichén Itzá.

This grotto was an important ritual site during the Maya-Toltec period, as it was seen as the entrance to the underworld where several gods lived.

You can go down to 10 meters deep and explore the inside through a path of more than 1 km.

There are several caves with stalactites and stalagmites, offerings (ceramics, jewelry, etc.), and a small light and sound show that tells the story of the place.

It is a nice and educational activity that I recommend during your visit to Chichén Itzá, especially if you go with kids.

But if you want more adventure, you can check out other Yucatan caves such as Loltun, Kantun-Chi, Tzabnah or Calcehtok.

  • The entrance fee is 146 pesos
  • Tours every hour: in French (10 am), Spanish (9 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm) and English (11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm).
  • Please note: inside the caves it is hot, humid and poorly ventilated, so the visit is not recommended for people with asthma or claustrophobia.
  • How to get to the Balankanché Caves: You can take a bus or colectivo (Pista-Valladolid route). The bus drops you off at the entrance of highway 180 (350 meters from the entrance).

The site is temporarily closed.
gruta balankanche
The Balankanché grotto, near Chichén Itzá

Hiring a local guide: is it worth it?

In my opinion, yes, it is totally worth it!

A guide will make your visit to Chichén Itzá more meaningful, as they can explain its historical importance.

There are many guides around, but watch out for the prices.

The official guides are inside (after the ticket booths) and they are cheaper than the ones outside.

It costs 900 pesos for a guide in Spanish or 1200 pesos for another language. The service is for up to 8 people, so you can join others to form a group.

How to get to Chichen Itza?

Visit Chichén Itzá on your own (without an agency)

My advice
Chichén Itzá is the most touristic site in Yucatán. Many buses of travelers arriving at the same time and forming long lines…Don’t waste your time waiting!

To avoid the long lines and crowds, you can book your tickets to Chichen Itza with skip-the-line access here:

Getting to Chichen Itza by bus

The cheapest way to get to Chichén Itzá is by ADO bus, the best bus company in Mexico.

Buses to Chichén Itzá depart daily from several cities in Yucatán, here are the details:

  • Cancun to Chichen Itza (3h): departure at 8h45 return at 16h30. The bus stops in front of the entrance of the site and departs from the same place.
  • From Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza (3h40), departure at 8h and return at 16h30
  • From Tulum to Chichén Itzá (2h30): departures 6h30, 7h15, 8h15, 9h15, return 16h30
  • From Merida to Chichen Itza (1h50): departures at 6h30, return at 16h30
  • From Valladolid to Chichén Itzá (30 min): departures at 10h50 and 11h15, return at 16h30

Getting to Chichén Itzá with a rental car

Chichen Itza is located between Merida and Cancun, near the village of Pisté.

  • From Highway 307, which runs along the Riviera Maya, you have to take Highway 180D.
  • The parking is 80 pesos.

Renting a car is for sure the best way to explore Yucatan and make the most of your stay!

To rent a car, personally, I always use, for a few reasons:

  • You can easily compare the rental cars prices between all the agencies: for sure the easiest way to find the best rate!
  • Cancellation is often offered free of charge: no need to worry if you change your mind
  • Rentalcars offers full insurance coverage at a lower price than the rental companies, so it’s an instant saving with no effort

Simply click on the green button to find your rental car at the best price:

2. Visiting Chichen Itza with a tour

Chichén Itzá is one of the main tourist attractions in Yucatán, so there are many agencies that offer tours to Chichén Itzá from different cities.

You have various options to choose from and to help you pick the best one, let me show you my 5 favorite tours to Chichen Itza:

  • Chichén Itzá + Cenote Ik Kil + lunch

This guided tour to Chichen Itza is a great option that includes pick-up at your hotel in the Riviera Maya.

You will start with a guided visit to Chichén Itzá, then you will go to Cenote Ik Kil, a beautiful natural pool where you can swim and refresh yourself.

After that, you will enjoy a buffet lunch with delicious local dishes and drinks.

To end the day, the tour will take you to Valladolid, a charming colonial city with colorful buildings and a cozy atmosphere.

Book the tour here:

  • Early access to Chichén Itzá (with no crowds)

Chichén Itzá is a popular destination, so it can get very crowded with tour buses during the day.

The best way to enjoy and take good pictures is to arrive as early as possible.

This morning tour is perfect for that, as it includes a transfer from the Riviera Maya to be among the first to enter and explore Chichén Itzá!

You will have a privileged visit to this amazing ancient site and learn about the Maya culture and history.

It also includes buffet lunch to regain strength before returning to the hotel in the afternoon!

Book the early access tour here:

  • Mayan tour: Chichén Itzá and Cobá

This one-day excursion will let you explore two of the most important Mayan sites in Mexico: Chichen Itza and Coba.

The tour begins with a transfer from your hotel in Cancun or Playa del Carmen in an air-conditioned van.

You will enjoy the guided tours in Chichen Itza and Coba which is hidden in the jungle.

You will also have the chance to swim in the refreshing waters of a cenote and end the tour with a buffet lunch.

Book this tour for a small group here:

  • Combo Maya Lands: Chichen Itza, Tulum and Coba

To make sure you don’t miss anything during your trip to Yucatan, here is a very complete tour that takes you to see the three most important Maya sites in Mexico: Chichen Itza, Tulum and Coba!

Th is full day tour includes pick-up at your hotel, guided tour in small group of Tulum, Coba and Chichen Itza, with swimming in a cenote and buffet lunch. Book it here:


Where to stay to visit Chichén Itzá

You have the option of sleeping near Chichén Itzá, or in Valladolid o Merida depending on your itinerary.

Sleeping in Chichén Itzá

The advantage of sleeping near the site is that you can visit it from the moment it opens.

Here is a list of my recommendations, the best hotels near Chichen Itza, for all budgets:

  • La Casa de las Lunas: located in the village of Pisté, this is a small charming hotel that offers the best value for money in its category. Spacious rooms with kingsize bed, swimming pool and small garden, from only 40 usd per night!
  • Mayan Bungalow: small Mayan style bungalows in a beautiful tropical garden, very clean, excellent welcome from Luis the owner, delicious homemade breakfast included, from 79 usd per night!
  • El Encanto Villas Ecofriendly: rooms with 360 degrees views over the surrounding nature, offering great privacy, outdoor pool, good breakfast. From 135 usd per night!

Sleep in Valladolid

  • Candelaria Hostel: The best budget option in Valladolid! A colorful hostel that is very well located in the centre, with a garden, access to the kitchen, and a bike rental. Good breakfast options are also included, from 17 $usd for a bed in a shared dorm or 38 $usd for a private room.
  • Real Haciendas: A small, charming, yet very quiet hotel with a swimming pool, clean rooms with comfortable king size bed, and a very good welcome. Starting from 57 $usd per night.
  • IMIX Hotel: A typical colonial house in the centre of Valladolid on the beautiful Calzada de los Frailes, nicely decorated with spacious rooms. Breakfast included, starting from 127 $usd per night.
  • Le Muuch Hotel: A hotel located 5 minutes away from the main park Francisco Canton Rosado. Excellent service, with indoor and outdoor swimming pools with hammocks, rooms with garden view, air conditioning, and a bar and restaurant. A la carte breakfast included, starting from 140 $usd per night.
  • Hotel Zentik Project: This is definitely one of my favorite hotels in Mexico and the best hotel in Valladolid! Beautiful Mayan-style cabanas with murals done by local and international artists. There’s a restaurant and bar, an outdoor pool with hammocks, and a saltwater pool in an underground cave. Very good breakfast included, starting from 380 $usd per night.

Sleep in Mérida

  • Nomadas: the best hostel in Merida with a very nice atmosphere, located in the center of Merida. It has a swimming pool surrounded by hammocks and plants, possibility of classes (yoga, cooking classes, etc.). Starting at only 18$usd per night!
  • El Gran Hotel: ideally located in the very center of Merida, right next to the cathedral. It is a very charming hotel, where time seems to have stopped with its colonial look and beautiful woodwork. There’s a restaurant, the rooms are spacious and the wifi works well. Good value for money, starting at only 59$usd per night!
  • Hotel Hacienda Merida VIP: this small, luxurious hotel is the ideal place to spend a few romantic days in Merida. Located in the historic center, it is an elegant hacienda-style building, illuminated by candlelight at nightfall. Here you will find a charming swimming pool, comfortable rooms, a restaurant, and a bar. Starting at 165 $usd per night
  • Hotel Boutique Mérida Santiago: this is a small, comfortable hotel with a colorful hacienda look, modern and with a traditional Mexican touch. There’s a swimming pool with sun loungers and umbrellas. With excellent homemade breakfasts and spacious rooms, it is the ideal hotel if you are looking for comfort without falling into luxury. Starting at 197 $usd per night
hotel valladolid zentik
hotel valladolid zentik

Practical information about Chichen Itzá

How much do the tickets to Chichen Itza cost?

  • For foreigners: the total price is 614 pesos (you have to pay 2 fees: one for CULTUR and one for INAH. Keep your two tickets safe because you might have to show them in case of control). The entrance fee for foreign children up to 13 years old is 90 pesos.
  • 268 pesos for nationals, free on Sundays for Mexicans with INE.
  • Locker rental 200 pesos.

There is an ATM to get money, but I suggest having the pesos ready in advance.

Which are the opening hours of Chichen Itza?

From 8 am to 5 pm, but access is closed after 4 pm.

The light and sound show is from 8 pm to 9 pm in winter, and from 7 pm to 8 pm in summer.

How long does it take to visit Chichén Itzá?

It depends on your pace and interest, but you can tour it in 2h-3h.

A guide will take 1h30-2h to show you around.

An organized tour will give you 1h-1h30 of guided tour plus 1h of free time. In total, you should plan about 6h-8h for a tour from the Riviera Maya (with transportation, visit, etc.)

When is the best time to visit Chichen Itza?

On my first visit to Chichen Itza, I made the mistake of arriving around 12 noon with all the tour buses and under a scorching heat: never again!

For a pleasant visit, I recommend going in the morning at opening time, before 10 am, or after 3 pm when it is cooler and the groups have left.

You will enjoy the site more and take better photos without the crowds. You will also avoid the sunburn and dehydration that can ruin your day. Trust me, it’s worth getting up early to see this amazing ancient site and learn about the Maya culture. 😊

My tips for visiting Chichén Itzá

  • Be careful of the heat: the temperature can go up to 86-104F. The sun is strong and there are no shady areas, so wear sunscreen, a hat, light clothes and drink water!
  • Check what is included in the tour you are interested in: always read the details of what is included (e.g.: free or guided tour, optional activities, etc.) to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • Don’t go on Sunday: it’s the free day for Mexicans and the place is packed (even more than usual!!!). If you can, better go during the week.

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visit chichen itza
visit chichen itza

I have created this blog to give you all my best tips to plan your next trip to Mexico, regardless of your budget. I share detailed itineraries, advice about places to visit as well as recommendations for transportation, hotels and restaurants. I hope I will also help you to discover amazing off the beaten path destinations in Mexico!

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