Your Complete Guide to Visiting Chichén Itzá in 2024

Visiting Chichen Itza is a highlight of any trip to the Yucatan and for a lot of people, it is their entire raison d’etre for venturing into this part of the world in the first place.

The ancient Mayan city is one of the new seven wonders of the world and has enjoyed UNESCO-protected status since 1988. At its peak, more than 50,000 people called the city their home and today, more than two million travelers pass through its gates every year. 

This comprehensive guide to visiting Chichen Itza has been written by a British Travel Writer based in the Yucatan. It will run through everything you need to know before planning your trip – how to get to the site, where to stay in the area, purchasing tickets, and important structures to look out for when exploring the ruins.

Visiting Chichén Itzá: Everything You Need to Know 

Chichén Itzá was a major city of religious, political, and commercial importance during the days of the Ancient Mayan empire. At its height, is believed that as many as 50,000 people called it their home.

Although the famous pyramid, known as ¨El Castillo¨ or ¨The Temple of Kukulkan¨ is the most photographed sight within the complex, Chichen Itza is larger than many people realize and the city occupies a surface area of around 4 square miles.  

Archeologists still debate about the exact date at which the city was founded, but the site is generally believed to date back to the early 400s A.D. It really flourished and thrived between 600 and 1200 AD before it was eventually abandoned, and its residents moved to Mayapan. 

Purchasing tickets for Chichén Itzá

The Temple of Kukulkan  Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is open every day, from Monday to Sunday from 8 am until 5 pm with the last admission at 4 pm. If you are visiting the site independently, it is possible to purchase tickets online in advance, or in person at the ticket office. 

Ticket prices may be subject to change in the future but as of January 2024, a general admission ticket is $571 pesos for foreign travelers and $253 pesos for Mexicans. Yucatecans can enjoy a discounted admission price of $85 pesos. 

Mexican citizens should prepare to show a valid ID document. 

The 571 pesos admission fee for foreigners is made up of a 486 pesos archeological site fee and an 85 pesos charge for federal tax. Concessions are available for children aged 3-12 who can enter the site for just 85 pesos. 

It is a good idea to purchase your ticket online, in advance so that you know that everything is paid for and organized before you arrive. 

Go it alone versus guided tour 

The plaza of a thousand columns, Chichen Itza
The plaza of a thousand columns, Chichen Itza

You can opt to visit Chichen Itza independently or you may wish to reserve a spot on a small group or private guided tour. The best option is arguably subjective, depending on you and your personal preferences. 

If you have access to a car and you are road-tripping around the Yucatan, it is very easy to drive to the site and visit independently. You can take buses to the ruins from most major cities across the peninsula but if you are traveling from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, or Tulum, these require a change and they don’t get you there until later in the morning when crowds have already formed. 

Opting to do a Chichen Itza tour takes a lot of the stress out of planning the logistics of your trip yourself. Tours include a pick-up and drop-off from your hotel accommodation in an air-conditioned vehicle so you don’t have to worry about getting to bus stations or taking multiple buses. 

If you visit the site independently, depending on where you are starting from, it is often worth spending a night in a hotel close to the archeological site or in nearby Valladolid. Then, you can get up very early the next morning and be one of the first people on the site. 

(That’s what we did and that’s why there are no people in these photos. We were literally the first people through the doors when we visited in May!) 

Best Chichen Itza tours and tickets for 2024

Photo of El Castillo Chichen Itza taken from the base of the pyramid with a carved serpent head visible at the foot  of the pyramid
The Temple of Kukulkan  

Many reputable travel companies operate in Mexico. Some of the best Chichen Itza tours from various starting points around the Yucatan are summarised below for your consideration.

Reserve your place online in advance to avoid disappointment!

Important sites and structures to look out for at Chichen Itza

The Mayan city of Chichen Itza is an expansive site made up of more than 20 different groups of buildings separated by 75 different roadways. Although each of the structures is special in its right, some of the most notable ones to look out for are summarized below. 

El Castillo/The Temple of Kukulkan  

El Castillo, also known as ¨The Temple of Kukulkan¨ is no doubt the most famous and most photographed structure at Chichen Itza. The grand stepped pyramid reaches a height of 95 feet and is one of the first things that you see when you enter the complex. 

It takes its name from Kukulkan – a Mayan deity that appears as a feathered serpent (similar to Quetzalcoatl in Aztec culture). The creators of the temple pay homage to this deity in the form of detailed serpent carvings that sit on either side of the structure. 

Fascinatingly, there is a spring and autumn equinox that takes place at Chichen Itza once a year, every year around March 21 and Sept. 21. During the late afternoon, the shadows of the sun create the illusion of a serpent climbing up the steps of the pyramid and thousands of locals and visitors flock here on this date especially to see it. 

(Dzilbilchaltun also has a similar equinox). You cannot enter the pyramid, however, it was built on top of a smaller, older pyramid and if you were to venture inside, you would find a grand red jaguar throne with eyes made of precious jade. 

You will note a lot of people clapping as they walk around the pyramid. When you do so, an obscure sound that almost resembles a rattlesnake is emitted from the structure.

To this day, archeologists are unsure whether that was intentional or a mere coincidence.

Tzompantli Platform

Visiting Chichen Itza: The Tzompantli platform was used to display the heads of enemies and traitors. It is a stone platform with carvings of skulls

As you make your way towards the grand temple of El Castillo, keep your eyes peeled for a small rectangular stone platform on your left-hand side. Intricately carved skulls and skeletons can be found along the sides of this platform, known as the Tzompantli

Thousands of years ago, the Mayans would stack the severed heads of any traitors or members of enemy tribes on top of this platform as a warning not to mess with them. 

El Caracol/ The Observatory

The Observatory at Chichen Itza is one of the most unique structures on the site that is quite unlike anything found in other Mayan cities in Mexico. It is affectionately nicknamed ¨El Caracol¨ (meaning the snail/the shell) because of its conch-like appearance, in particular, the spiral staircase that leads to the upper part of the building. 

The Ancient Mayans were keen astronomers. They are said to have read constellations and to have documented and analyzed every movement of the sky above them because they believed that from it, they could understand the will of the gods. 

Archeologists believe that at Chichen Itza, El Caracol was the site of a lot of this stargazing. The structure was most likely constructed between the Terminal Classic and the Early Post Classic periods. 

The Temple of the Warriors 

The Temple of the Warriors can be found in the main plaza of Chichen Itza, just north of the El Castillo pyramid. It is immediately recognizable from the rows and rows of stone pillars and columns that are lined along the lower and upper platforms. 

Although you cannot climb or enter the building, you can see a small Chac Mool sculpture at the top of the structure, even from a distance.

You will get used to seeing Chac Mool a lot if you visit one or two Mayan cities during your Yucatan itinerary. He is a reclining figure that has his knees drawn up together and his head turned to one side. 

In his hands, he holds a flat dish that was used for sacrifices. Sacrifices could be anything from human sacrifices and human blood to things like flowers, tamales, and tortillas.

Carvings of serpents and jaguars can be found along the sides and facade of the temple.  

The Sacred Cenote 

There are a couple of cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) scattered throughout the Chichen Itza complex. There are over 7,000 cenotes across the Yucatan peninsula today that were formed when the Chicxulub meteor crashed into the earth over 65 million years ago, weakening the surface of the ground in the Yucatan. 

For the Ancient Mayans, cenotes were places of spiritual importance and they were believed to connect the human world with the underworld that they referred to as Xibalba. (Xibalba literally translates to mean ¨place of fright¨ or  ¨K’iche’ Mitnal¨ in Mayan). 

Between the 5th and 16th centuries AD, people from across the Yucatan would make a pilgrimage to the sacred cenote and make offerings in the hope of being granted health and fortune by the Mayan Gods. Sacrificial rituals would take place here where people (mostly adult men and children) would be killed and thrown into the water. 

Precious stones and gems and luxurious jewels of jade, silver, and gold were also thrown into the cenote for the gods of Xibalba. The water of the cenote is 6 to 12 meters deep but you cannot enter or swim in it, it is only to be observed from a distance. 

The Great Ball Court 

The ball court at Chichen Itza is the largest of its kind in Mesoamerica. Millennia ago, the Ancient Mayans would play a game called Pok ta Pok. (If you find yourself in Merida on a Saturday evening, you can see a re-enactment of it close to the cathedral in Plaza Grande). 

The rules of the game were that players had to whack a heavy rubber ball through the stone hoops mounted high on the walls of the court using just their hips. The game was played for fun, but it was also sometimes used as a way to settle debates and disagreements. 

Occasionally, the losing team was sacrificed. The Chichen Itza ball court has a long wall on each side, and on one end of the court, you can find carvings and images depicting the sacrifices of ball players. 

The stone hoops here are interesting because they have been carved with plumed serpents. 

La Iglesia and the Nunnery 

Visiting Chichen Itza: Detailed friezes and long-nosed Chaac masks at La Iglesia
Visiting Chichen Itza: Detailed friezes and long-nosed Chaac masks at La Iglesia

La Iglesia (¨the church¨) is a small structure with only one chamber that sits in the southern part of Chichen Itza and is quite a walk away from El Castillo and the center of the site. Its facade, as well as the facades of the nearby ¨nunnery¨ building, are remarkably detailed and well-preserved. 

Along the front of the structure, there are masks of the big-nosed rain god Chaac, which is representative of the Puuc style of architecture and is quite similar to the designs that you will see at the palaces of Labna, Kabah, and Sayil along the Puuc archeological route.

The nunnery sits beside La Iglesia although the name is misleading as this building was not a convent and was most likely a home for some of the city’s nobility. Carvings of people on one side of the wall are believed to represent Pok ta Pok ball players. 

The Venus Platform

Venus platform at Chichen Itza - A small stepped pyramid platform with stone carvings of the serpent bird man/Kukulkan on either side of a staircase

Most historians believe that most buildings at Chichen Itza were once painted in bold, vibrant colors. (However, time and the elements have washed away most of the paint and so today, only the original grey color of the stones remains). 

The Venus Platform is a small platform close to El Castillo/The Temple of Kukulkan. It was likely used for dances, ceremonies, and rituals and is believed to have been painted in red, blue, green, and black. 

On one of its panels, is a carving that depicts the serpent bird man (Kukulkan or Quetzalcoatl). When the structure was excavated, archeologists found a severed human skull here which was most likely placed on the platform as an offering to the Mayan Gods.  

Sacbe/Sacbeob 

Sacbeob were white-paved roads that were built by the ancient Mayan to connect various structures and plazas in different cities together. They also ran between cities – like from Uxmal to Kabah, etc. 

There are more than 74 sacbeob at Chichen Itza. This is interesting because the Ancient Mayans started creating paved roads well before European civilizations did. 

The Temple of the Bearded Man 

The Temple of the Bearded Man is one of the best-preserved buildings close to the Great Ballcourt at Chichen Itza. It is also known as the north temple of the great ball court and the 10m long, 6m wide structure sits on top of a platform measuring 14 m long and 8 m wide. 

The temple only consists of one room, but at its rear and in its interior, you will note several detailed friezes that depict scenes of everyday life in the Ancient Yucatan, as well as various representations of Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl sitting on a jade throne. 

The Marketplace 

Ruins of El Mercado/The marketplace at Chichen Itza: stone steps and ancient columns

El Mercado/The Marketplace is a building in the southernmost part of the Chichen Itza site. It sits atop a platform 266 feet long and 49 feet wide and boasts row after row of tall pillars that alternate between rounded pillars and square pillars. 

Although the original purpose of this structure has been lost in time, a popular theory is that it had a commercial purpose and was used for trade. The site was built between 900 and 1200 AD in the Maya – Toltec style. 

Where to Stay Near Chichen Itza 

The Hacienda Chichen Resort & Yaxin Spa - yellow hacienda building surrounded by palm trees and lush tropical vegetation in the Chichen Itza hotel zone
The Hacienda Chichen Resort & Yaxin Spa

If you want to be one of the first people at the Chichen Itza site when it opens at 8 am and avoid the crowds, it is a good idea to spend the night before your visit at one of the hotels or Yucatan haciendas nearby.

There are some great hotels near Chichen Itza that are located within the archeological complex and some even have an exclusive entrance to the ruins for their guests. We stayed at the luxurious Hacienda Chichen Resort & Yaxkin Spa which meant that we were right outside the entrance to the archeological site and were literally the first people inside. 

There are also plenty of budget-friendly options in the nearby village of Piste. If you opt to stay here, you have a plethora of excellent restaurants, bars, and supermarkets right on your doorstep for everything you could possibly need. 

Valladolid isn’t a million miles away either and is home to some very affordable and comfortable accommodation options. You can often find double rooms in modest hotels here for as little as $30 a night, but keep in mind that if you stay here you need to wake up a little earlier to allow for the 40-minute journey from Valladolid to the ruins. 

Best hotels near the ruins 

An overview of some of the best accommodation options close to the archeological site is summarised below. Despite the fact that Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most famous tourist attractions, hotel rooms in the area are surprisingly reasonable and you can easily secure a comfortable room for between $60 and $100 per night, even during the high season. 

  • Hotel Ikaan – Rooms start from just $60 a night in this charming, rustic property that sits just off the Carretera Merida – Puerto Juarez close to cenote Ik Kil. All rooms have a private bathroom with complimentary toiletries, cable TV, and spacious balconies with breathtaking views over the Yucatecan jungle

  • Hacienda Chichen Resort & Yaxin Spa – Elegant rooms and suites inside this renovated, colonial-era hacienda offer an indulgent experience right within the Chichen Itza hotel zone. Guests are treated to a complimentary welcome cocktail on arrival, and the on-site restaurant serves farm-to-table Yucatecan specialties. If you really want to treat yourself, you can indulge in a spa treatment or a temezcal ceremony at the Yaxin spa.

  • Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza – You couldn’t possibly get any closer to the Chichen Itza site entrance than the Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza which is located within the Chichen Itza hotel zone. The rooms and communal areas celebrate the Yucatan’s heritage and culture and have been decorated with hand-carved wooden furnishings and indigenous artwork pieces. 

Attractions Close to Chichen Itza 

Visiting Chichen Itza and seeing El Castillo/The Temple of Kukulkan at sunrise

It is a good idea to arrive at Chichen Itza as early as you can so that you can avoid the crowds and the intensity of the midday sun during your visit. Allow 3-4 hours for exploring the archeological site, grab lunch in nearby Piste, and then spend your afternoon exploring one or more of the below attractions near the site.

  • Izamal – One of four pueblo magicos in the Yucatan state, known as ¨the yellow city¨ because all of its houses and buildings have been painted in the same bright shade of yellow. Home to one of the oldest convents in North America.

  • Ek BalamAn impressive Mayan city that was not discovered until the 1980s. Famous for its remarkably well-preserved tombs and stucco masks and the 95-foot pyramid of El Torre which you can climb in order to enjoy the views over the jungle canopy.

  • Valladolid – A charming town and pueblo magico home to centuries-old churches and convents, as well as interesting mercados and refreshing cenotes

  • Cenote Ik Kil – Gorgeous open cenote close to Chichen Itza

  • Homun cenotesA village with more than 25 cenotes that range from cavernous cenotes to cenotes out in the jungle which receive far fewer tourists than the Instagram-famous Cenote Suytan and Cenote Ik Kil. 

Getting to Chichen Itza 

Public transport links in the Yucatan are not the best in the world but with that being said, there are plenty of buses and colectivos that connect you from cities like Tulum, Cancun, Valladolid, Playa del Carmen, and Merida, with the Mayan ruins. 

With the Tren Maya train also scheduled to be up and running by December 2023, getting to the site is due to get a whole lot easier soon. If you are renting a car in Mexico, it is very easy to drive across the Yucatan peninsula as the roads are all well-paved and in excellent condition. 

If you are not nervous about the idea of driving overseas, this can be one of the best options for getting to the site as it gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility of schedule. 

The distance to Chichen Itza from various cities across the peninsula is summarised below. 

Driving to Chichen Itza 

reclining Chac Mool at the Chichen Itza site
A reclining Chac Mool at the Chichen Itza site

It is very easy to drive to Chichen Itza, whatever your starting point. Yucatan roads are excellent and have no potholes, damage, etc. There is a large parking lot at the site entrance, although you need to pay a small parking fee of around $60 pesos (circa $3 USD). 

It is easy to rent a car in Merida, Cancun, Tulum, and Playa Del Carmen and numerous reputable international rental companies operate here. Depending on the time of year that you are traveling, you can easily rent a car for prices starting from around $20 USD a night. 

I always recommend using the Discover Cars rental platform as it allows you to compare and contrast prices between different rental companies so that you can secure the best deal. 

Taking the ADO bus to Chichen Itza 

Taking public transport in the Yucatan is surprisingly convenient and comfortable. ADO and Autobuses Oriente run frequent services between Cancun, Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, Merida, and Chichen Itza. 

Some buses are more modern and luxurious than others, but all are generally clean, with spacious seats, bathrooms, air conditioning, and entertainment on board. Some even offer free wifi.

From Merida, you can take a direct bus to and from the ruins. However, from Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and Cancun, you usually have to transfer in Valladolid and the wait time between buses is often about an hour. You might find that it is worth spending at least one night in Valladolid so that you can break up the journey. 

This is particularly worth considering if you want to arrive at the site early before the tour buses arrive as, for example, the earliest bus from Cancun doesn’t get you to Chichen Itza until around 11.20, by which time the site is already heaving with sightseers.

You can buy bus tickets online via the ADO website or the ADO app (although it often glitches and won’t accept foreign cards.) Busbud is another alternative, although the site charges a small commission. 

You can also purchase your tickets in person at the ticket office. During the high season, early buses do sell out so it’s a good idea to book your seat(s) a couple of days in advance where you can. 

Amenities at Chichen Itza 

There are plenty of amenities at the Chichen Itza Visitors Center that offer everything that you could possibly need during your visit. Although it is a good idea to bring plenty of cash with you so that you can purchase any souvenirs and trinkets that you may want to buy from the artisanal vendors inside the site, there is an ATM at the Visitors Center too. 

Here, you will also find a Starbucks Cafe and a couple of local restaurants serving sandwiches, tacos, light bites, and Yucatecan delicacies. There are ample bathrooms at the site – both in the visitors center and behind El Castillo, and the toilets are clean and in good condition. 

Be sure to buy plenty of water and make use of a sunhat and sunscreen as there is little to no shade throughout the complex. Since you are going to be walking around uneven terrain for at least 3-4 hours, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. 

If you get hungry/thirsty during your visit, there are plenty of little stores and shacks selling drinks, snacks, and ice creams. 

FAQs About Visiting Chichen Itza 

Visiting Chichen Itza: photo of El Castillo pyramid at sunrise

Do you have any further questions about visiting Chichen Itza? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below. 

Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Can I visit Chichen Itza on my own?

Yes. It is possible to visit Chichen Itza independently. 

You can simply buy your entrance tickets online or at the ticket office for the site. Once inside, there are plenty of information plaques outside all of the various structures and ruins which explain their history and original purpose. 

It is not obligatory to explore the ruins with the help of a tour guide. However, once inside, if you do decide that you want a little more context to the things that you are seeing, you can hire a local guide for as little as 600 pesos for around 3 hours. 

Is Chichen Itza worth the money?

Visiting Chichen Itza is well worth the money, even if the site is easily one of the most expensive things that you can do in the Yucatan.  The Chichen Itza entrance fee is currently $571 pesos which works out to around $33 USD or £26. 

This is substantially more expensive than some of the lesser-known ruins in the Yucatan like Edzna and Xcambo which are only around 80 pesos to enter. However, when you visit Chichen Itza, you are not visiting just any old ruins, you are visiting one of the seven wonders of the world and one of the most important cities of the Mayan civilization. 

If you only visit one Mayan city during your time in the Yucatan, you should make it this one. You can easily spend half a day here and it will certainly be something that you remember for a long time. 

What is the best time of year to visit Chichen Itza?

It is possible to visit Chichen Itza all year round and there is arguably no such time as a bad time to visit. However, as someone who lives in the Yucatan, I would say that the best months are November and March/April. 

This is because the peak tourist season here runs between December and March and as crowds flock to the resorts along the Riviera Mayan, hordes of people take day trips to Chichen Itza. You have a very small window of opportunity very early in the morning (From 8 am to 8.30 am) to enjoy some rare quiet at the site before the tour groups arrive. 

From May onwards, it gets incredibly hot and humid in the Yucatan, and spending extended periods of time outside can often feel unbearable. From June to October, it is the hurricane season in this part of the world and although showers usually don’t go on all day, you can expect a lot of heavy downpours in August and September and there is no place to take cover at the site. 

How much time do you need at Chichen Itza?

You should allow at least 3-4 hours for exploring Chichen Itza as the site is vast. 

What is the least crowded day at Chichen Itza?

Since Chichen Itza is one of the most visited tourist sites in Mexico, thousands of people pass through its gates every day so it is hard to find a day when the site isn’t busy. Still, weekdays are definitely better than weekends, and Sundays are best avoided where possible. 

(Most Mexicans work Monday to Saturday and the site is free for Mexicans on Sundays which usually means it is more crowded than ever). 

What is the busiest day at Chichen Itza? 

Sundays are the busiest day at Chichen Itza as admission is free for Mexicans on this day and locals are all enjoying their day off work. Visiting the ruins on this date is best avoided if possible.

Public holidays like Benito Juarez’s birthday, Semana Santa (Easter), etc, can also be quite busy. 

Can you climb the structures at Chichén Itzá?

No. It is no longer permitted to climb the structures at Chichen Itza – both for their preservation and for your safety. 

In the past, this was allowed but decades of tourists clambering up and down the stairways of the temples and pyramids has caused the stones to wear down and become slippery. In 2006, a woman sadly slipped and fell to her death when climbing down El Castillo, and climbing the ruins has been prohibited ever since. 

Is there a limit to how many people can visit Chichen Itza each day?

No. I have seen various websites and sources online state that only 3,000 people are permitted to enter Chichen Itza each day but as someone who lives nearby and has visited the site numerous times, I can tell you that that is completely false. 

This seems to be something that people regurgitate to try and sell you tours etc that they get commission for. Please don’t worry about it as you are never going to be turned away from the site because they reached their maximum number of admissions for the day. That’s nonsense. 

Do you need a guide at Chichen Itza? 

It is not compulsory to have a guide at Chichen Itza and there is plenty of free information on the info boards throughout the site. That being said, if you have a keen interest in Mayan history, guides are very reasonably priced and it might be a worthwhile thing for you to consider. 

Final thoughts on visiting Chichen Itza

Visiting Chichen Itza is a highlight of visiting the Mexican Yucatan. Even if you have already visited countless other Mayan and Aztec ruins during your time in Latin America, nothing can compare to seeing the ancient city’s famous pyramid with your own eyes for the very first time. 

Are you traveling to Mexico for the first time? I live just a couple of hours from Chichen Itza, in the beautiful colonial city of Merida where I’ve been based for the last two years.

If you have any questions about planning a trip here, feel free to reach out to me. You might also find this guide to safety in the Yucatan, or this post on the best time to visit the Yucatan useful.

Safe travels! Buen Viaje! Melissa 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.

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