Cancun to Chichen Itza: How to Make the Journey in 2023

Curious about how to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza during your trip to Mexico? Look no further. 

This comprehensive guide has been written by a Yucatan resident and discusses all of the different transport options available, along with their practical considerations. There is a distance of 197km (122 miles) between Cancun and Chichen Itza. 

The journey should take approximately two and a half hours by road. However, if you are relying on public transport, you should allow a little additional time. 

How to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza
How to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza

Traveling from Cancun to Chichen Itza

The wonderfully preserved Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza are one of the ¨new¨ seven wonders of the world. They are among the best Mayan ruins both in Mexico and across Latin America as a whole. 

In 1988, the ruins were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2007, their seventh Wonder of the World status was unveiled. Yes, the ruins are touristy and often crowded. But some places are popular for a reason. 

No matter how many times you have seen the site on Instagram or watched Nat Geo documentaries that take a look at the city’s history, nothing compares to traveling here in person and gazing upon the ruins with your own eyes. Even if you have already previously traveled to other Mayan cities like Ek Balam, Coba, or Edzna, there is no place quite like Chichen Itza.

How to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza
How to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza

A brief history of the site

Visiting Chichen Itza is a highlight of any Yucatan itinerary. An interesting Chichen Itza fact that few people realize is that Chichen Itza is the name of the city located here, not the name of the main pyramid that is often photographed. This temple is the Temple of Kukulcán. 

Once upon a time, 35,000 people called the city of Chichen Itza their home. The site is over 1,500  years old and is believed to have been occupied since the early 400s AD. 

The name ¨Chichen Itza¨ is Ancient Mayan, meaning ¨at the mouth of the well of the Itza” which refers to the network of rivers beneath the surface of the city which were used as a water supply. The site thrived for centuries and operated as the Yucatan’s capital.  

However, much of the city’s political and economic activity started gradually being moved to the city of Mayapan. Following the downfall of Chichen Itza, King Kukulkan II of Chichen Itza and his people moved to Mayapan. 

He ruled over the city between 1263 and 1283 AD. This was the last great Mayan capital. 

Practical information and admissions 

Over 2 million tourists travel to Chichen Itza every year. That is tens of thousands of people every day, even in the low season! 

It pays to be strategic about when you travel to the site so that you can avoid the bulk of the crowds. You should travel during the week rather than at the weekend if you can.

Sundays are generally best avoided (where possible) as admission is free for Mexicans on this day. This is usually the only day of the week that a lot of local people get off work making the site more crowded than ever.

If you can get to the site as soon as it opens at 8 a.m., you will have it almost entirely to yourself (besides a few other eager tourists) for around 30-60 minutes. This makes for better travel photos and an all-around more magical experience.

General admission to the site is $533 MXN pesos per person for adults ($26). Concessions are available for young children, Mexicans, and Yucatan residents.

Tzompantli platform of the skulls

Exploring the site

The ruins at Chichen Itza are more comprehensive than you may realize and you need at least three hours to explore them. The Temple of Kukulcán is the main focal point and it is one of the first structures that you see shortly after entering the site.

There are several other notable structures to look out for, as summarized below. If you want to hire a guide to obtain a little more information and context (it´s worth it!), you can hire one at the entrance for 600 pesos ($29.21 USD). Most speak fluent English and Spanish.

The Iglesia
The Iglesia

Notable structures within the Chichen Itza complex

  • The Tzompantli platform – a stone platform carved with skulls where the Ancient Mayans would stack the skulls of their enemies to scare off other tribes

  • The Iglesia – An old, ornate Puuc carved structure dedicated to the Mayan rain god

  • Temple of Kukulcán – a temple dedicated to the feathered serpent deity Kukulcán

  • Pok-a-Tok ballcourt – the largest Pok-a-Tok court in Mesoamerica

  • Sacred cenote – vast cenote where people were sacrificed to the gods

  • El Caracol (“the snail) – an observatory used to watch and monitor the constellations

  • The Temple of the Bearded Man – a temple with a carving of a man who looks like he is sporting facial hair

  • Temple of the Warriors – a grand colonnaded building with a Chac Mool at the top

  • Tomb of the High Priest – an ossuary with carved serpent heads containing seven tombs

How to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza in 2023

Arguably the best way to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza depends a lot on you, your budget, your personal preferences, and your travel style. There are four main ways to make the journey in 2022: you can participate in a tour (shared or private), you can rent a car, you can take the bus, or you can organize a private transfer/cab.

If you really want to travel in style, you can also organize a private flight. The introduction of the Tren Maya tourist train route from Cancun to Chichen Itza in late 2023 will make this journey even easier in the future.

Participate in a Chichen Itza tour 

One of the most stress-free ways to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza is to participate in an organized tour. Numerous local tour companies offer these excursions and often pair them with a visit to other popular places to visit in the Yucatan. E.g. Ek Balam, Valladolid, or some Yucatan cenotes.

A hotel pickup and lunch are also often included. Similarly, you will find that a lot of Cancun hotels also run their own excursions to the site.

Opting to do a tour means that you don’t have to worry about managing the logistics of public transport. Most companies try to get you to the site as early as possible to avoid the crowds but keep in mind that this then comes with a very early start.

Both small groups and private tours are available. A selection of reputable tours that depart from Cancun is detailed below. It is advisable to book your place online in advance to avoid disappointment.

Rent a car and drive from Cancun to Chichen Itza

One of the easiest ways to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza is to rent a car in Mexico and drive yourself. The journey is likely to take between 2 hours and 15 minutes and 2 hours and 40 minutes.

However, in 2022 there is a lot of construction taking place in Quintana Roo and the Yucatan state to build the tracks for the new TrenMaya train. Congestion and diversions can add to your travel time so expect the trip to take slightly longer. To be safe, allow yourself up to 3 hours.

Renting a car in Cancun

There are many places where you can rent a car in Cancun and many reputable international firms operate here. You can collect your rental car from Cancun International Airport or from within the city center/hotel zone depending on what is more convenient for you.

However, keep in mind that sometimes it costs slightly more to pick up a rental car from the airport. You should expect to pay around $30 a day for a rental car from a reputable company including full coverage insurance.

Use a comparison website like Discover Cars to search for the best rental deals and compare and contrast quotes from different providers. It is advisable to reserve your car in advance, particularly if you are traveling to Mexico in high season (i.e. December/January to March)

Driving from Cancun to Chichen Itza

The roads between Cancun and Chichen Itza are very well-paved and maintained. Since this is a very touristic part of Mexico, road conditions here are excellent. You don’t have to worry about potholes, etc.

The roads are also very safe (Cancun is safe in general). You should just be mindful of driving at night due to low visibility and the potential for hazards on the road (e.g. stray dogs and wildlife).

There are several interesting places that you could stop en route to Chichen Itza if you are embarking on a Yucatan road trip and you are open to spending a night here and there to break up the journey. For instance, you may be interested in stopping in Playa Del Carmen or in Valladolid.

If you want to stay near the ruins the night before, there are several Chichen Itza hotels right outside the site entrance. Some of them also have their own direct access trails to the Chichen Itza complex.

There are two different roads that you can take from Cancun to Chichen Itza. There is the toll road (toll roads (autopista/carretera de cuota) and there is the free road (carreteras libre).

The toll road takes you on a faster route and this road is better maintained. The toll fees are around $17 (350 pesos) each way so make sure that you have plenty of small notes/change on you. You can always take the toll road there and then the free road back.

Speed limits in Mexico are displayed in Km/h. The maximum speed limit on a Mexican highway is 110 Km/h. On main roads, the limit is up to 70 Km/h.

Gas stations

It is a good idea to fill up your tank before you start driving toward Chichen Itza. There are plenty of gas stations en route too where you can stop and fill up if necessary.

Most Mexican gas stations are full-service. In other words, someone pumps your gas for you. You should be sure to tip them. Prices are displayed in pesos per liter rather than per gallon.

Parking at Chichen Itza

The parking lot at Chichen Itza is pretty large – as it needs to be to accommodate the abundance of cars and tour buses that park up here every day. Parking costs 200 pesos ($10) for a day and needs to be paid separately from the site admission ticket.

Cancun to Chichen Itza
Cancun to Chichen Itza

Take the Oriente bus from Cancun to Chichen Itza

Public transport wise, the best way to reach Chichen Itza is to take the Oriente bus from the ADO bus station in downtown Cancun (Calle Pino, SM23, MZ56, Lt 1 y 2, Centro, 23, 7750). The buses depart every hour and tickets cost between 125 and 200 pesos.

It is better to leave as early as possible. The 5 a.m. bus should get you there before 7.30 so that you can buy your entrance tickets before the site opens.

You can usually buy Mexican bus tickets online in advance via the ADO app/website or via BusBud. Unfortunately, that is not possible for this bus and you need to purchase it in person via the ticket kiosk at the station.

Arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before your intended departure time so that you can get in line and purchase your tickets. Better yet, stop by the station the day before.

Take a cab or an Uber to Chichen Itza

Some local taxi companies may be willing to take you to Chichen Itza from Cancun. However, you can expect to pay between $300 and $350 for this service.

Never take random street cabs in Cancun as they are notorious rip-offs. If you want to take a cab, book one in advance via a reputable firm recommended to you by your hotel or accommodation provider.

Although $300 works out not that bad if there are a few of you, it is far from being the most economical option. Uber in Cancun does exist (it is the only place in Quintana Roo where the app functions).

It may be cheaper than a street taxi but you may not be able to find someone that accepts your fare due to the sheer distance. You can always try and reserve a car in advance and negotiate a price with your driver for them to wait for you at the site and then return you to Cancun. Generally, though, other means of getting to the site are just more convenient.

Tren Maya 

Ok so while there is currently no train service in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, work is well underway on building the TrenMaya network. This will be a train that runs through all of the main tourist destinations in the tri-state area – from Cancun to Chichen Iza, to the colonial city of Merida, to the city of Campeche, and all the way to the Palenque ruins in Chiapas. 

This will make the process of getting from Cancun to Chichen Itza much easier. The train network is expected to be completed by late 2023.

However, delays may happen because #Mexico. But if you are planning on a trip to Mexico in the next couple of years, likely after 2023, it is worth keeping this in mind. Traveling to the best places in the Yucatan is about to get a whole lot easier! 

Take a private flight to Chichen Itza

If you want to arrive in style, you can in fact take a private flight from Cancun to Chichen Itza. The little planes that make the journey accommodate a maximum of 5 people and depart from Cancun airport on your schedule.

The cost is for the entire aircraft, not per person as the flight is private for you and your travel companions. A one-way ride is $1374 USD and a return flight is $2750 USD.

You will be provided with food and drinks during the hour-long flight. Arguably the best part of this experience is seeing an aerial view of the ruins as you fly overhead and come to land at the site. Keep in mind that you also need to factor in the time it takes to get to and wait at the airport.

Final thoughts on traveling from Cancun to Chichen Itza

Have you visited Chichen Itza? Do you have any further questions or concerns about how to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza or get around other parts of Mexico in general?

You may also enjoy reading this list of Mexico travel tips to know before your first trip to Mexico. If this is your first time traveling to the Yucatan, you may be interested in this post on safety in the Yucatan, or this post on the best time to visit the Yucatan.

Buen Viaje! Have a wonderful time in Mexico! xo

Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Mexico Travel Secrets. She has over seven years worth of experience in working in travel media and has travelled to 57 countries, mostly solo. Throughout her career, Melissa has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.