A first-timer’s guide to visiting Chichén Itzá in Mexico

Apr 8, 2023

Chichen Itza is one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring archaeological sites in the world. 

Once the epicenter of the Mayan civilization, Chichen Itza boasts some of the most impressive examples of Mayan architecture left in the ancient world. Its iconic “pyramids,” legendary sports courts, and royal palaces are just some of the must-sees at this Wonder of the World. It also features a haunting cenote– an underground cave filled with crystal clear water– that Mayans believed connected Earth to the underworld and was used for sacrificial offerings and dark rituals to honor their gods. 

First-time visitors to Chichen Itza can be a bit overwhelmed when they plan their visit. To help you get the most out of it, check out these FAQs to plan a perfect day at Chichen Itza!

What is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza is an ancient city located in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. It was a major center of the Mayan civilization from the 7th to 13th centuries CE. 

How do you get to Chichen Itza?

Located on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Chichen Itza is one of the most accessible Wonders of the World. It’s located within just a couple of hours drive from Tulum, Cancun, or Playa del Carmen. You can drive there, take a bus, or take a tour that includes transportation.

I was staying in Tulum and took a day trip to Chichen Itza, and the best airport to fly into for me was Cancun. I found a flight from Washington DC to Cancun for under $200 using Google Flights! Use my step by step quick guide to learn how to use Google Flights and make sure that you’re ready for a comfy flight with these long flight essentials.

Can I hire a guide at Chichen Itza?

You can pay a guide upon arrival at Chichen Itza, but I don’t recommend it. To make sure that you have a great experience, you should research and book licensed guides or tours before you get to Chichen Itza. 

I booked the best tour at Chichen Itza— a small group tour, which included transportation, with a Mayan descendent that lives in the local community. It was incredible to tour Chichen Itza with a Mayan descendent– to hear all of her stories, learn about Mayan spiritual practices, Mayan cuisine, and about life in the Mayan communities that still exist today. 

Following the tour of the site, we drove to an old colonial Spanish mansion for lunch (in the charming, colorful town of Valladolid) with authentic Mayan cuisine, then went swimming in the deep blue water of a lesser known cenote. Centoes in the Yucatan can get incredibly busy with swimmers, and were the only people at ours– another benefit of a local guide!

Why is Chichen Itza considered a Wonder of the World?

Chichen Itza is considered a Wonder of the World because of its exceptional cultural and historical significance. It is home to some of the most well-preserved and impressive examples of Mayan architecture, including the Kukulcan Pyramid, the Temple of the Warriors, the Great Ball Court, and the Sacred Cenote. These structures showcase the advanced engineering and astronomical knowledge of the Mayan people and have influenced architecture and design around the world.

What are the must-see attractions at Chichen Itza?

The most iconic attraction at Chichen Itza is the towering El Castillo (also known as the Temple of Kukulcan), which was once used as a temple and observatory. Other must-see attractions include the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors, and the Sacred Cenote. You should also take a stroll through the Market and see the various smaller structures around the site.

What is the Sacred Cenote?

The Sacred Cenote is a natural sinkhole that was used for sacrificial offerings by the Mayan people. Artifacts and human remains have been discovered in the cenote, indicating that it was a site of significant cultural and religious importance. One really interesting that I learned is that Mayan shamans often used hallucinogens and other psychoactive drugs, like morning glory, “magic” mushrooms, Lonchocarpus, tobacco, and other hallucinogens to get stoned during religious rituals and ceremonies.

When is the best time to visit Chichen Itza?

The best time to visit Chichen Itza is during the cooler, less humid months of November to February. This is also the busiest time of the year, so expect crowds. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of March to May or September to October.

What are the opening hours and entrance fee?

Chichen Itza is open to visitors from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. The entrance fee is currently 480 Mexican pesos (about $24 USD) for foreigners and 75 pesos for Mexican citizens. There is an additional fee if you want to bring in a camera or video camera.

What should I wear and bring?

The Yucatan Peninsula can be hot and humid. I recommend wearing lightweight, breathable clothing and comfortable shoes for walking. I also brought a hat, sunscreen, bug repellent, and a water bottle. 

What else is there to do around Chichen Itza?

Nearby, you can visit the stunning Cenote Ik Kil, explore the colonial city of Valladolid, or relax on the beaches of the Riviera Maya. There are also other Mayan archaeological sites to visit, like Tulum (the ruins here were SO surprising— the campus is huge and it sits atop ocean cliffs! I actually enjoyed exploring the Tulum ruins more than Chichen Itza) and Coba.

Looking for more? Be sure to check out:

Are you new here? Let’s be friends! I’m Sarah— a solo female traveler (& world’s okayest travel blogger) helping you travel the world, discover surprising destinations, & have a laugh getting off the beaten path. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to stay in touch (I promise not to spam you- just to share the best travel hacks, guides, itineraries, embarrassing stories, and unmissable experiences)!



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