If you are using Merida as your base during your time in the Yucatan, you are probably curious about how to get from Merida to Chichen Itza. Afterall, this spectacular Mayan site is one of the seven wonders of the world, and it is the entire raison d’être that a lot of people plan their trips to southeastern Mexico in the first place. (And yes, it is worth the hype).
There is a distance of around 120km/75 miles between the two destinations and the journey should take between 1.5 and 2 hours by road. (Although public transport can be slightly slower because of all the stops).
There are essentially five different ways that you can make the journey. You can rent a car and drive independently, you can take the bus, participate in an organised tour, take a cab/private driver or take the Maya Train. (Although the Maya Train wont be officially up and running until the 15th December 2023).
You are in good hands here because I am a British Travel Writer that has been living in Merida for the last few years and I have made this journey myself several times. (Everyone that comes to visit wants to see Chichen Itza, naturally!)
In this post, we will look at the best ways to make the journey from Merida to Chichen Itza, their costs and their journey times. That way, you can figure out which option is the best for you.
How to Get from Merida to Chichen Itza in 2023
With several options available to you, I would say that the best and most comfortable way to get from Mérida to Chichén Itzá would be to rent a car in Merida and drive independently.
Even with buses and the new train, public transport in the Yucatan leaves a lot to be desired and if you like getting off the beaten path, you will find it tough to get to remote beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, hidden cenotes, lesser-known archeological sites and Yucatan pueblo magicos if you don’t have a vehicle.
If you are not comfortable driving for whatever reason, the public buses that run to Chichén Itzá are affordable and reliable. However, the earliest bus (which departs ADO Merida each morning at 7:15 am) usually sells out so you need to book it in advance.
The earliest bus gets you to Chichen Itza at 09:10am by which point, the ruins are already crowded! If you want to get some great photos, beat the crowds and have the site all to yourself for at least 30-40 minutes, you should travel down the night before and stay in a hotel near Chichén Itzá. (I did this and it is worth it, in my opinion).
Tours take a lot of stress out of getting from A to B, but a lot of tour buses all rock up to the ruins at the same time meaning that you will be wandering around amongst tons and tons of tour groups. (Arguably not the end of the world if you are not particular about seeing an uncrowded Chichen Itza as soon as the doors open).
Rent a car and drive to Chichen Itza
Renting a car in Mexico is not as daunting as it may sound. Opting to do so gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility over your schedule and rentals here are pretty affordable.
From a total cost perspective, you are looking at an average daily rate of around $30-$40 for a rental including full coverage car insurance. It is important to do your research beforehand, read the small print of the rental agreement, and opt to go with a reputable company.
Generally speaking, your best option is to rent a car from a well-known international rental company like Avis, Europcar or Budget as opposed to a small independent company. Unfortunately, rental scams do happen in Mexico occasionally.
I tend to use Discover Cars, which is a rental comparison website that allows you to compare and contrast prices between different companies. (You can read my Discover Cars Mexico review here.)
Driving from Merida to Chichén Itzá
The drive from Merida to Chichen Itza should take about an hour and 25 minutes each way. You want to get there early in the morning to avoid the crowds so that means setting out from Merida at about 6 or 6.30 am.
(Ouch! At least there are very few cars on the road at this time).
The roads in the Yucatan are very well maintained and you may find that driving here is not all that different from driving in the US or Canada. The best route is generally to drive along Carretera Federal 180 but keep in mind that you will need to pay a toll of 120 pesos when travelling in each direction. (Circa $7 USD).
However, with a vehicle, there are plenty of great places nearby that you could drive to after visiting the world wonder. From here, you could visit some nearby cenotes or continue onwards to a pueblo magico such as Valladolid or Izamal.
Take the Bus
One of the most popular and low-cost options for getting from Merida to Chichen Itza is to take the bus. ADO buses depart three times a day from Merida Noreste station.
They depart at 07.15 am, 09.30 am, and 12.00 pm respectively and the journey takes approximately an hour and 45 minutes.
Tickets cost 175 pesos (circa $8 SD) in each direction. However, the return ADO bus schedule is very limited and the return bus departs twice daily at 11.35 am and then again at 17.20 pm.
If you want to leave before 17.20, you can take a return bus with the Oriente bus company, although this means having to change buses in Valladolid.
Purchasing your bus ticket from Merida to Chichen Itza
It is pretty easy to purchase your ADO bus ticket from Merida to Chichen Itza and you can do so online via the ADO bus website and app, via third party booking platforms like BusBud, or in person from the ticket office at Merida Noreste station.
I would advise you to purchase your ticket online in advance, especially if you are travelling during the peak season (November to March) and especially if you want to get the 7.15am bus as that one often sells out.
The ADO website and app are all in Spanish but they are pretty self explanatory. However, they do often glitch and there is sometimes an issue with foreign bank cards, so it is also worth having BusBud on your radar.
Busbud do charge a small admin fee (its usually only like a dollar or two) but I often use it if the ADO app is playing up and I dont want to risk trying to get a ticket right before travelling.
There are several bus stations scattered around Merida but the one you need to go to for the bus to Chichen Itza is Merida Noreste station which sits at Calle 67 x 50 y 52 # 531 Colonia Centro.
It is just a 10-15 minute walk away from the city centre, not too far from the San Benito market. Try to arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before your bus is scheduled to depart.
The bus journey from Merida to Chichen Itza
In the peak season, the ADO buses to Chichen Itza can be pretty crowded but they are always pretty comfortable and the good thing is that they usually run on time.
The buses are air-conditioned with reclining seats and most of them have USB charging points beneath the seat in front of you. When you depart from Merida station, the bus usually stops just on the outskirts of the city to pick up a few more passengers.
There is no clear bus stop at the Chichen Itza site. The driver will drop you off at the side of the road close to the car park.
You need to return to the same place for your return bus back to Merida. It can be a bit alarming to wait at the side of the road for a bus where there is no clear signage. However, this is commonplace in Mexico and the buses will always stop for you.
Returning from Chichen Itza to Merida
ADO buses only offer two departure times from Chichen Itza – at 11.35am and at 17.20 pm. This can make your day out quite long, especially if you visit the site on the first bus of the day and even if you kill some time swimming in the nearby cenotes.
Fortunately, there is another bus company that operates in the area – Oriente Buses. Frustratingly, there is no published bus schedule available online and if you ask bus station staff what time this Chichén Itzá bus operates, you will probably hear a different thing each time!
The Chichen Itza to Merida Oriente bus departs approximately every hour from outside the ruin. It will depart from the same place as the ADO bus.
When you arrive at the site, it is worth checking with a Chichen Itza employee to see exactly what time the departures are. Then, try and wait on the road at least 15 minutes before.
Sometimes the exact arrival/departure time varies a lot depending on what the traffic is like in the area and what time the driver passed through the previous stops. The Oriente bus is a “second class” bus – slightly less swanky than the ADO bus but still very comfortable and pleasant.
The journey via the Oriente bus is likely to take a little longer – perhaps 2 hours or so. This bus makes more stops along the way to Merida and some services do change in Valladolid so double check before boarding.
Visit Chichen Itza on a guided tour
Several excellent Yucatan tour companies offer guided tours and excursions from Merida to Chichen Itza. This can be a nice way to visit the site and omit some of the stress of figuring out the logistics of getting there.
A lot of Chichen Itza tours include an English-speaking guide, admission fees, pickup and drop-off from your hotel, and a visit to other points of interest in the area.
A selection of highly-rated options that you may want to consider is detailed below. Book your place online in advance to save disappointment!
- From Merida: Chichen Itza, Yokdzonot Cenote, and cooking class
- From Merida: Chichen Itza & Cenote Tsukan guided tour
- Chichen Itza with a private guide and transportation from Merida
- Chichen Itza and outdoor sports in Cenote spring from Merida
Take the Maya Train
After much anticipation and years of construction, the Maya Tren will be launching in the Yucatan on the 15th December 2023. The train extends across a whopping 1,554km and connects tourists to over 29 Mayan ruins across the Yucatan peninsula, including Chichen Itza.
Since the high speed train can get you from Merida to Cancun and back in just 2 hours, the travel time to Chichen Itza is likely to be less than an hour. The full train route will not be up and running until February 2024, but the Cancun to Merida and Campeche portion of it will be running from mid December 2023.
This is great if you are travelling to Mexico this winter as you can be one of the first people to ride it. While tickets will be available for purchase online, the official Maya Tren customer website is not yet live, so I will update here once it is.
The Merida station is just east of the city in Teya, so if you are staying in central or northern Merida, you will most likely need to take an Uber or a cab there first.
Final thoughts on travelling from Merida to Chichen Itza
Whatever transport method you choose for visiting Chichen Itza, the journey from Merida to Chichen Itza is a pleasant one and really isnt too long or painful. (It is a lot faster than trying to get to the site from the Riviera Maya).
Despite being one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico, Chichen Itza certainly lives up to expectations and is worth visiting. (I say that as someone who has visited dozens of Mayan cities in the Yucatan peninsula and still considers this one as one of her favourites!)
Do you have any additional questions about how to get from Merida to Chichen Itza or about planning a Yucatan itinerary or visiting Mexican Mayan ruins in general? Feel free to reach out to me if you do and I will do my best to get back to you ASAP.
As I mentioned, I have been living in Merida for the last couple of years. I have explored the Yucatan extensively, so I am always happy to chat about travelling here.
I hope that you have a wonderful time exploring the Yucatan. Safe travels! Melissa xo