What would a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula be without a trip to Chichen Itza? It is the most known and visited Mayan ruins site on the peninsula, so a visit to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World should be on everyone’s list when traveling to the Yucatan. If you want to learn how to explore Chichen Itza on your own, read the entire article!

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Short Info about Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is an ancient Mayan city built in the middle of the jungle in the Yucatan Peninsula. While there are many debates on how and when the Chichen Itza was built, it’s pretty clear that it used to be home to a thriving civilization. The establishments served as the center of political and economic power of the Mayan culture. 

By the 9th century, the sovereigns of Chichen Itza held power over most of the central and northern Yucatan peninsula. In 2007, Chichen Itza was recognized as one of the World’s New Seven Wonders. The entire archaeological site covers more than 3.2 square kilometers. Today, Chichen Itza is a major tourist attraction in Mexico, and you should definitely not miss it!

Nowadays, having the entire site to yourself, it’s only a dream. You will see lots of buses, tours, and masses of tourists eager to take a photo of the famous pyramid. But, despite its popularity, it should be on everyone’s list traveling to Yucatan, Mexico.

Opening Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Entry fee: 533 MXN (26.2 USD). There are two fees to pay: the actual entrance fee of 80 MXN (4 USD), which is cash only, and a state fee of 453 MXN (22.2 USD), which can be paid by card. You have to pay for these at separate windows. 

 

Best Time for Exploring Chichen Itza on Your Own

No matter what time of year you plan on visiting the Yucatan Peninsula, the best thing is to go early. If possible, go when the site opens at 8 a.m. Chichen Itza is popular, especially because of its proximity to Valladolid and Merida, and many day visitors and tours come here daily.

exploring Chichen Itza

Getting to Chichen Itza on Your Own 

Due to its convenient location, discovering Chichen Itza on your own makes a perfect day trip for every tourist. Travel by car, bus, or Colectivo, and you’ll be free to roam at your leisure and stop where and when you want.

Many tourists visit Chichen Itza as a day trip arranged by Riviera Maya’s resorts, a two-hour drive away. However, the site is much easier to access if you stay in the Merida or Valladolid cities.

Rent-a-car 

Renting a car is a common way to discover the Yucatan Peninsula. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is safe and easy. The roads are in good condition, and you will always find a proper parking place. The rental prices are low compared to other places in the world, and the traffic is good. I suggest doing that if you plan to do a lot of exploring on your own.

The best site to book a rental car in Mexico is Discover Cars. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from many trusted companies, which enables them to secure the best car rental prices. This is the easiest way to rent a car in the Yucatan.

Distances:

Cancun – Chichen Itza, 200 kilometers, 2 hours and 30 minutes. The 180D Highway that connects Cancun and Chichen Itza is in excellent condition. 

Playa del Carmen – Chichen Itza, 200 kilometers. Take the new 305 Highway that connects Playa del Carmen to 180 Highway, which leads to Chichen Itza. The drive takes about 2 hours.

Tulum – Chichen Itza, 150 kilometers. The drive takes approximately 2 hours. Take the QROO 109 road towards Coba, and when you notice the sign for Chemax, turn left and stay on the 180 Highway. Pass Valladolid and keep going until you reach the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins. 

Merida – Chichen Itza, 125 kilometers. The road from Merida is excellent. Take the 180E towards Cancun, and in Kantunil, turn left to continue on the 180D. Take exit number 79 and follow the signs towards Chichen Itza. The drive takes around one hour and 30 minutes. 

Valladolid – Chichen Itza, 45 kilometers. The road is excellent, and you will reach the archaeological site in less than an hour.

If you plan to drive to Chichen Itza, you can find plenty of parking spots on the site and you’ll have to pay a small parking fee for a parking slot.

ADO Buses

Another great option to reach Chichen Itza is to travel by bus. ADO is a reputable bus company operating in Mexico. Their buses are clean and well-maintained. The Ado bus is a convenient, cost-effective way to reach many places in the Yucatan Peninsula. Book your tickets in advance, especially in high season, so you’ll be sure to reach Chichen Itza on your selected day.

Cancun. The Ado bus terminal in Cancun is at Calle Pino. The journey takes around 3 hours. Daily departures every hour start at 5 a.m. The ticket costs around 250 MXN, and you have to buy it directly at the terminal. The last bus from Chichen Itza is at 5 p.m., so plan accordingly.

Playa del Carmen. The ADO bus terminal is at the corner of Benito Juarez and Quinta Avenida. The journey takes more than three hours. It departs a few minutes after 8 a.m., and the ticket costs 428 MXN (21 USD). The last bus leaves from Chichen Itza at 4 p.m.

Tulum. The ADO bus terminal in Tulum is at Tulum Centro. The journey takes almost three hours. There is only one bus to Chichen Itza daily, at 9.20 a.m. Depending on the date, the ticket costs between 194 and 294 MXN (approximately 9 and 14 USD). There is only one daily bus from Chichen Itza to Tulum at 4.30 p.m.

Merida. Two buses depart daily at 7.15 a.m. and 12 p.m. The bus leaves Chichen Itza at 5.30 p.m., which gives you enough time to explore.

Valladolid. The Ado bus terminal is on Calle 46, just two blocks from the town’s main square. The first bus departs at 8.30 a.m. 

For prices and timetables, visit the ADO site. 

Colectivo

Another affordable option to get to Chichen Itza on your own from Merida or Valladolid is a Colectivo, the most common means of transport throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. Their name comes from “vehiculos de transporte colectivo” (vehicles for collective transport), reflecting their origin as shared taxis.  

There is no schedule; the Colectivo will leave the station as soon as it fills up. We never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a Colectivo to leave a station. It is safe, quick, and, as mentioned, affordable. 

The Colectivo station in Valladolid is on Calle 46, behind the Ado Bus Terminal. Get to the station as early as possible to catch the first departure to Chichen Itza. You’ll get to the ruins right at 8 a.m. when they open the gates.

The Colectivo station in Merida is on Calle 60

TIP. The Ado buses and Colectivo leave you near the Chichen Itza entry gate. 

Book a tour

On the other hand, traveling around Yucatan is easy when you choose organized tours, and you can get great prices when you book in advance. Exploring Chichen Itza with a guide might be suitable if you want someone else to do the job for you. Here is my selection to make it easier for you:

Spend a day full of culture, history, and cuisine on a multi-stop guided tour from Mérida to Izamal, Valladolid, Cenote Chichikan, and Chichén Itzá. Discover traditional cooking during a live demonstration and enjoy breakfast, a buffet lunch, and entry tickets. Sound good? Find out more HERE.

If you’re committed to visiting Chichen Itza as part of a group, you can book your full-day tour here. This includes exploring Chichén Itzá on a guided tour, swimming in the azure waters of the Cenote, enjoying a delicious lunch and taking a guided walking tour of Valladolid to complete your experience. Pickup will be from a meeting point in Playa de Carmen, Cancun Downtown, or Tulum. 

gorgeous Mayan figure found at one of the souvenir stalls at Chichen Itza

 

Things to Know Before Visiting Chichen Itza

Visit Chichen Itza first thing in the morning to have this place, mostly for yourself. By 11 a.m., it is already packed with tourists! 

The site requires a decent amount of walking, so wear comfortable shoes.

Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, as there is no shadow at all.

Use mosquito repellent to keep you away from the insects. Bring plenty of water because it will be hot all day.

If you want to learn more about the archaeological site, visiting with a local guide is the best option. Since there is no printed information, a guide approved by the Archaeological Park is money well spent. You will learn about the history of the Mayan people and understand more about the place. If you want to save money, ask another person/couple/family waiting in line to join your guided tour and split the bill. 

After the guided tour, you will have plenty of time to enjoy Chichen Itza on your own, take lots of photos, or buy some souvenirs. Join a certified guide on a two-tour of the world-famous Chichen Itza(entrance fee included) HERE.

For those on a budget or not into history, I recommend exploring Chichen Itza on your own. Gather some information online, and it will be perfectly fine. 

hire a local guide at Chichen Itza

Exploring Chichen Itza on Your Own

The vast archaeological site includes the famous El Castillo pyramid, different temples such as the Warriors’ temple, the Wall of Skulls or the Observatory, a ball game court, and a small cenote. While El Castillo gets most of the attention, you might be surprised to find the site has much more to offer.

El Castillo Pyramid – Temple of the Kukulkan

The El Castillo is the most important archaeological site structure and is what people refer to when they talk about the Chichen Itza.

Right after the entrance, you’ll bump into the famous El Castillo pyramid, ideally situated on a vast green area. It will strike from the beginning as it looks imposing and beautiful. While El Castillo has the wow factor, remember that it is a partly rebuilt pyramid, so it peeks polished and perfect.

This pyramid consists of square terraces with stairways on all four sides of the structure. Each front is the exact same size. Each staircase at the four fronts has 91 steps, which equals 364, and the terrace at the top makes a total of 365 steps—or 365 days in one year. Climbing the pyramid is prohibited nowadays.

Don’t miss the Equinox on March 19th, 20th, and 21st. If you visit during the spring and autumn equinoxes in the late afternoon, when the sun strikes the balustrade, you will witness an amazing phenomenon. The light from the equinox casts shades down the steps to create the fantasy of a descending serpent. 

Exploring Chichen Itza on your own

The Ball Game Court Area

Another impressive structure is the Ball Game Court Area, which can be found at almost every archaeological site in Yucatan. This one is the largest rectangular arena that was found.

Nearly every Mayan site had a ball game court, and the story is usually the same: Two teams of seven players performed a popular Mayan ball game. Players used to rebound a small rubber ball through stone rings using only their hips, knees, and elbows. The game was played for official reasons or fun, but it was always a way to interact with the gods. Most of the time, the winning captain was sacrificed to the gods.

Exploring Chichen Itza on your own

 

The Wall of Skulls Area 

There are three platforms in the Great Plaza, but the Wall of Skulls area was the only one used to display the heads of sacrificing victims. Hundreds of columns surround a massive temple structure engraved with reliefs. The skulls were the roots that would ensure the extended presence of human beings.

The Wall of Skuls

Souvenirs Path

You’ll walk along a path full of handicrafts and Mexican souvenirs. Stop and appreciate the beautiful crafts. Don’t get confused by the vendors because they can be pretty aggressive and will try to sell you everything.

souvenir display inside the Archaeological Site

 

Cenote Sagrado 

The last stop is the Cenote Sagrado, located in the archaeological site’s northern part. A round hole of natural water surrounded by high rocky walls, it is supposed that Cenote Sagrado was used for human sacrifices during the Mayan era and that human remains are still on the bottom of the cenote.

There is not much to do or see here since swimming is forbidden, but Cenote Sagrado is still a must-see while exploring Chichen Itza on your own. 

Cenote Sagrado

 

Relax at Cenote Ik’kil 

After so much sightseeing under the burning sun, it’s time to relax. Jump in your rented car or a taxi and head to the nearby town of Piste to relax at Cenote Ik’kil. The ancient Mayan culture held Cenote Ik’kil sacred and worshipped Chaac, their god of the rain.

The famous Ik’Kil is a perfectly round underground cenote with long tree roots hanging around and blue-colored water. 

If you’ve visited other cenotes before, you will notice that this one is not as natural and picturesque but rather commercial and artificial. Being so close to Chichen Itza and part of a day tour package, it will be crowded. So it is up to you if you skip this visit or not.

Entry fee: 150 MXN (7.3 USD) 

Opening Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

the famous and crowded Cenote Ik'kil 

 

Planning a Trip to Mexico?

 

Get an eSIM before the trip

Because phones have become our most important devices, it’s necessary to have a data connection as soon as you step foot in a different country. Your home data plan might only work if you paid for a much more expensive package, finding wifi connections in airports or train stations might be tricky, and seeking a local store to buy a SIM card might be exhausting. Forget all of that!

You just purchase an e-SIM, install it on your phone, and activate the plan when you’re ready to use it. Getting out of the plane and instantly connecting to data was a game changer for me. I didn’t have to waste time standing in line to get a local SIM card or finding a wifi connection to book a taxi to reach my hotel.

If you ask me, getting an e-SIM is a quintessential part of traveling. There is no physical installation and no long-term commitments. And the best part is that you can always top up or purchase a new plan through the app. Pretty convenient, right? Find the best data plan for Mexico HERE.

Secure your travel insurance

We never leave home without travel insurance designed to cover our expenses if something goes wrong. If you’re still on the lookout for travel insurance for your trip to Mexico, I highly recommend HEYMONDO, a trusted insurance provider for leisure and business trips, backpackers, long-term travelers, and digital nomads. Their travel insurance protects against theft, flight delays, injury, illness, cancellations, and much more.

Mexico related posts

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, then you might want to take a look at my other travel guides about Mexico:

SELF-GUIDED DAY TRIP TO SIAN KA’AN & MUYIL RUINS 

10 THINGS TO DO IN MERIDA, MEXICO

CELESTUN – SELF-GUIDED DAY TRIP FROM MERIDA, MEXICO

EXPLORING COBA RUINS ON YOUR OWN, MEXICO

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the famous Chichen Itza

 

 

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