Curious about how to get from Tulum to Chichen Itza? This comprehensive guide has been written by a local resident and discusses every possible way to make the journey.
The distance from Tulum to Chichen Itza is 151.5km (94 miles). The journey should take just over 2 hours by road.
If you are traveling by public transport, you should allow for a little extra time. Similarly, there is a lot of construction work going on throughout the Yucatan and the state of Quintana Roo at the moment in preparation for a new train that will run through the region in 2023 (Tren Maya).
Arguably the best way to get from Tulum to Chichen Itza depends a lot on you, your personal preferences, and your budget. There are currently four different ways that you can make the journey. Each option will be discussed here along with its pros and cons.
Visiting Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is one of the best places to visit in the Yucatan. The historical site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and in 2007, it became one of the ¨new¨ seven Wonders of the World.
More than 2 million tourists pass through the gates at Chichen Itza every year. That is tens of thousands of people a day!
Sure, the site can get crowded but that doesn’t detract from the charm of visiting. It is popular, but for good reason. Even if you have visited the Tulum ruins or other Mayan sites in Mexico, there is nowhere quite like Chichen Itza and it is well worth the effort to get to.
It pays to be a little strategic about when you visit the site. If you can be there for when the gates open at 8 (ideally queuing up outside from 7.45), you will have the site virtually all to yourself (plus a few other super keen tourists) for at least 30-45 minutes.
When the tour buses roll up en mass after 9, it detracts from the magic somewhat. Plus, your travel photos are much better when you don’t have hundreds of guidebook-wielding tourists crowding up the background!
Chichen Itza is one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico that you can visit. It is also one of the most expensive.
Entrance is $533 MXN pesos per person for adults ($26). Concessions are available for young children, Mexicans, and Yucatan residents.
The site is open from 8 am until 5 pm daily. If you want a little more information on the site, you can also hire a guide at the entrance. They charge 600 pesos ($29) for one day’s guidance and it is well worth the money for a more in-depth understanding of what you are seeing.
Things to know before you go
Chichen Itza was once a great Mayan city home to over 50,000 people. It dates back over 1500 years and is believed to have first been occupied in the 400s AD.
Two cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) in the area provided water for the settlement and gave the city its name. Chichen Itza comes from the ancient Mayan words ¨chi¨ (mouths), ¨chen¨ (wells), and ¨Itza¨ (the Maya tribe that settled there). In total then, the name of the city is ¨the mouth of the well of the Itzas¨.
The city was the ancient capital of the Yucatan for centuries, with its influence and power reaching far and wide. Eventually, though, Chichen Itza lost importance, and its residents started to relocate west to the settlement of Mayapan.
Points of interest
The site is actually much larger than you may realize and you should dedicate 3 to 4 hours to exploring it. The grand Temple of Kukulcán is one of the first things that you will see as you follow the woodland trail from the ticket office to the center of the site.
However, it is far from being the only point of interest. You should also look out for the below structures while visiting Chichen Itza.
- 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
- Venus platform – a platform dedicated to the planet Venus used for dances and ceremonies
How to get from Tulum to Chichen Itza
Take the bus
It departs from the ADO station in Tulum (Tulum Centro, 77780 Tulum,) at 9.37 am and arrives at Chichen Itza at 12.17 pm, taking approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes. Due to the current construction work in the area, the journey is likely to take slightly longer so do keep that in mind.
While the actual travel time is not bad, the frustrating thing is that opting to take this bus means that you arrive at the site right in the middle of the day and therefore you are there when it is at its most crowded and hot. The return bus from Chichen Itza to Tulum is at 16:00 pm which theoretically would give you enough time to explore the site if you don’t mind exploring with the crowds.
Purchasing ADO bus tickets
Tickets cost 304 pesos ($14.80) each way and can be purchased online in advance via the ADO app and website, or in person at the ticket office. The ADO site is in Spanish only but it is pretty self-explanatory and easy to use, even if you cannot speak Spanish.
Unfortunately, it is pretty glitchy and often does not accept foreign bank cards. If you want to secure your seat in advance and you cannot get the ADO site to function, you can also buy tickets via BusBus, though keep in mind that the site does charge you a small administrative fee.
Taking ADO buses
Mexican ADO buses are very comfortable and are a great way to get around the country on a budget. They operate on many popular routes around the country – Tulum to Chichen Itza, Cancun to Merida, Merida to Valladolid, etc.
You will probably find that they are more comfortable and reliable than American Greyhound or British National Express buses! The buses are air-conditioned, have restrooms on board, and come with reclining seats. Some also have complimentary wifi.
Opt to stay overnight
If taking the bus to Chichen Itza sounds like the most convenient option for you but you are not thrilled at the idea of arriving in the middle of the day, you could also opt to stay overnight. Take the bus at 9.37 a.m. and when you arrive at midday, grab some traditional Yucatan food at one of the traditional restaurants in nearby Piste and opt to stay in a hotel in Piste or one of the Chichen Itza hotels right at the gates of the archeological site.
If your budget permits, there are some gorgeous properties situated in the heart of the jungle right beside the archeological site. Some also have their own private entrance to the ruins, meaning that you can be the very first person into the site the next day.
Hacienda Chichen Resort is a gorgeous luxe accommodation choice set in a traditional building nestled in the jungle. Nearby, the Hotel Villa Arqueologicas is a comfortable choice with a pool and an excellent on-site restaurant.
Take an organized tour to Chichen Itza
It is possible to take an organized tour from Tulum to Chichen Itza. Doing so takes a lot of stress out of having to manage the logistics of how to get from A to B as most tours include a pick-up from your hotel.
Many reputable tour companies operate in Tulum. You may also find that your hotel/accommodation organizes its own Chichen Itza tours.
Many tours include lunch and a visit to other nearby points of interest and cenotes. A selection of reputable options is detailed below for your consideration.
If you prefer not to join a group, private tours are also available. You should reserve your place online in advance, particularly if you are planning on traveling during the high season (e.g. visiting Mexico in January).
- From Tulum: Chichen Itza, cenote and Valladolid tour
- Riviera Maya: Chichen Itza and Coba tour with cenote and lunch
- Tour of Chichen Itza, Valladolid, cenote and meal
Rent a car and drive yourself
Renting a car in Mexico is not as daunting as it may sound, especially not when you are traveling around Quintana Roo and the Yucatan state. Road rules and speed limits are enforced here just like anywhere else in the world and the road conditions in this part of Mexico are actually very good.
There are many places where you can collect a rental car in Tulum (or on arrival in the country at Cancun International Airport). Similarly, many reputable global rental companies operate here.
Use a comparison site like Discover Cars in order to compare and contrast the best rental companies and find the best deal. You should expect to pay around $20 a day for a rental car in Tulum including full-coverage insurance.
(Be mindful of deals that look super cheap. If something looks too good to be true it probably is! Similarly, you don’t want to scrimp on insurance!)
Driving between Tulum and Chichen Itza
As mentioned, the road conditions in this part of Mexico are very good. You don’t need to worry about potholes, dirt trails, or poorly maintained roads. If you are planning on staying in a hotel near the ruins the night before visiting, try to avoid driving in Mexico at night if you can.
Many rural roads are not well-lit and this can make it hard to see hazards such as wildlife or random stray dogs that may run out into the road. 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.
There are two different routes that you can follow. One is a paid toll road (autopista/carretera de cuota) and the other is the free road (carreteras libre).
The toll road offers a faster route and the road is in better condition though you should expect to pay around $17 in tolls each way so keep plenty of small notes/change on you.
Places to stop along the drive
You may be driving from Tulum to Chichen Itza as part of a wider Yucatan road trip itinerary. But even if you are only planning on driving to the ruins and then returning to Tulum later that same day or the following day, there are a lot of points of interest to add to your radar.
Ek Balam is another fascinating Ancient Mayan city in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, close to the settlement of Temozon. Its name translates to mean ¨dark jaguar¨ or ¨black jaguar¨ in Mayan.
The site was occupied for more than 1,000 years and, fascinatingly. it was not discovered until the 1980s. Although there are many Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, a highlight of visiting Ek Balam is El Torre – the 95-foot pyramid at the center of the site.
You can climb to the top of El Torre and from up here, you have a phenomenal view of the canopy over the Mayan jungle. You can see the rest of the ancient city beneath you and on a clear day, you can see Chichen Itza and Coba in the distance.
The site is just 71km (67 miles) away from Chichen Itza so you can easily visit them both in one day. You could consider getting to Chichen Itza as soon as it opens in the morning and then having a late breakfast in the town of Piste when you are done exploring the site.
From there, head towards Cenote Ik Kil before heading to Ek Balam. If you want to stay overnight, you can consider staying in one of several beautiful Yucatan haciendas in the area or at a hotel in charming Valladolid.
Take a cab or a private transfer
It is possible to organize a cab or a private transfer to take you to Chichen Itza. If there are a few of you and you don’t feel confident driving yourself, this is not a bad option.
Didi, Uber, and other ride-sharing apps do not work in Tulum and Quintana Roo (you can only use Uber in Cancun). You need to pre-book a taxi and use a reputable firm, ideally one that has been recommended to you by your hotel or a local friend.
Expect to pay around $350 USD for a transfer to Chichen Itza. You may also be able to negotiate a price with your driver if you want more flexibility (i.e. you want them to wait at the ruins while you explore and then you want to stop at Ek Balam or Coba on the way back).
You should never get into a random street cab in Tulum. Taxi drivers here are a law unto themselves. Most will not want to set out on such a long journey unless it is booked in advance and many will quote exorbitant prices for the shortest distances because they will think that as a tourist you have no idea what the correct rates should be.
The Tren Maya train to Chichen Itza
There is currently no train that operates in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. However, the construction of the Tren Maya train is something that is worth being aware of if you are planning to take a trip here after 2023.
The train is expected to be completed in December 2023 and it will run around all the most important tourist destinations in the area. From Tulum, it will connect you to Cancun, Chichen Itza, the Yucatan capital of Merida, Campeche City, and Palenque in Chiapas, to name a few places. Travel in this region will likely get a whole lot easier!
Final thoughts on traveling from Tulum to Chichen Itza
Do you have any further concerns about making the journey from Tulum to Chichen Itza? Visiting the historical site is one of the best things you can do in the Yucatan peninsula.
If you are traveling from elsewhere in the Maya Riviera/Quintana Roo, you may also find this guide on how to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza useful. You may also enjoy reading these travel tips to know before visiting Mexico for the first time.
Safe travels! Have a wonderful time in Mexico! xo