This post is part of the series Mexico
Other posts in this series:
- Is Cancún Worth a Visit or It Is an Extremely Overrated Tourist Trap?
- Things to Know Before You Visit Chichen Itza in Mexico (Current)
- The Best Cenotes Near Valladolid You Can’t Miss ~ Mexico
Holding the title as one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichen Itza is the most well-known and frequently visited Mayan ruins site in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico. The pre-Hispanic city in Yucatan and UNESCO World Heritage Site has a challenging 1000-year-old history. The most famous attraction of Chichen Itza is the Temple and Pyramid of Kukulcan, known also as El Castillo.
Although I generally tend to prefer exploring lesser-visited places that are situated a little further off the main tourist path, Chichen Itza is a magnificent place and it is definitely a site worth visiting when travelling to Mexico.
Chichen Itza has a very central location in the Yucatan Penninsula. The Mayan ruins are extensive and cover 300 hectares but many sections have still never been excavated. Due to its location, you can visit the historical place form many cities in Yucatan like Cancun, Merida or Playa del Carmen but the best option is staying in the colonial city of Valladolid (less than an hour drive away)!
We visited Chichen Itza on 24th of December which was the most exciting thing I have ever done on this day! The weather was perfect and there were not many people (at least till 9:30 a.m.). We stayed in Valladolid for 3 days from where we travelled to Chichen Itza in the early morning on the first day of our stay. Despite its popularity, Chichen Itza is one of those must-see places where everybody should visit at least once in a lifetime!
This post is part of the series Mexico Other posts in this series: Is Cancún…
A Very Brief History Of Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is the largest and most visited archaeological ruin built by the Mayans in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula around 400 AD. Chichen Itza flourished during the period of classic Mayan civilization which is the period from 250 BC to 850 AD.
Chichen Itza was a major focal point of Mayans’ life between 800-1200 AD and the largest city in those times. Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Nowadays you can visit some of the remained structures: El Castillo (the main pyramid of the city), The Temple of the Warriors, Caracol and the very famous Great Ball Court. Each structure was designed and constructed with techniques far beyond their time.
Chichen Itza means “mouth of the well of Itza” in the local Maya language. One of the many possible translations of Itza is “enchanted water.” The Yucatan is covered in cenotes. Cenotes are distinctive limestone sinkholes that form natural pools. The natural pools had not only a deep spiritual significance for the Maya people but also were the focal point of living – they provided people with fresh water.
What you actually see inside Chichen Itza
El Castillo is the big main pyramid of Chichen Itza which is also known as the pyramid of Kukulkan. Kukulkan is a feathered snake deity in the Mayan religion.
The pyramid is 30 m tall, which makes it not as large as the pyramids of Giza, but is still very impressive! At 8 a.m. after entering into the ruins site, Kukulkan Temple was the first building we saw. There were almost no people there and I had some great time making some good photos of the pyramid.
The structure of Kukulkan is impressive – it has a perfect pyramid shape, with each side having the same size. Each staircase along the four sides has 91 steps. All 4 sides of the pyramid (364 steps) plus the platform at the top of the pyramid make a total of 365 steps which is the number of days in one year! There are also nine terraces which probably symbolize the Maya belief in the nine-level heaven.
The Ballcourt in Chichen Itza (Juego de Pelota) is the largest ballcourt not only in Mesoamerica but also in the whole world. You can find the Great Ballcourt on the left side of the main pyramid.
Maya played a ball game where the rubber ball (represented the sun) had to be put into a small stone circle perched very high on a wall, without using your hands or feet. The Mayan game is more than 3.500 years old, which makes it the very first organized game in the history of sports. This ball game ended in the sacrifice of one of the teams, but it is still not sure if the winning or the losing team was the sacrificed team.
Temple of the Warriors
The Temple of Warriors (Los Guerreros) in Chichen Itza is also known as the Hall of the Thousand Columns. There are more than 1000 columns around the big temple. Some researchers believe the columns have been supporting a roof and that this area was used as a meeting hall or an indoor market. Nowadays a lot of vendors try to sell their overpriced souvenirs here.
Cenote De Los Sacrificios
The Cenote de los Sacrificios is also known as the Sacred Cenote is the place where Mayan worshippers tried to soothe Chac – the God of Rain – by sacrificing special items, animals and people. During the years, researchers have found thousands of artefacts made of gold, jade and copper as well as numerous human skeletons.
Things to Know Before You Go
When to visit Chichen Itza weather-wise: The best months of the year to visit Chichen Itza are the months between November and March. It is cooler than during the summer months, it is raining less but you will probably find more crowds. We went on the 24th of December, the temperature was about 27° and it was firstly crowded at 10 a.m.
When to visit Chichen Itza: The best time of the day to visit Chichen Itza is in the early morning or in the late afternoon. We arrived at 7:30 and waited till 8:00. During the first hour, there were almost no people there and the temperature was about 22°. It was absolutely lovely having almost the entire ruins site to ourselves! The only way to avoid the crowds and beat the vendors is to arrive at the ruins as early as possible and close to their opening time of 8 am. Many of the tour buses make their way from places like Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen in the morning and arrive at Chichen Itza around 10 a.m. The busiest and the hottest time to visit Chichen Itza is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Getting to Chichen Itza: Chichen Itza is located in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula and is situated 45 km west of Valladolid (45 minute drive), 119 km east of Merida (1.5 hour drive), 197 km west of Cancun ( 2.5 hour drive), 181 km west of Playa del Carmen (2 hours drive).
Opening Hours: Chichen Itza is open from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. On Sunday all Mexicans can visit the historical place for free so it can get more crowded.
Entrance Fee: The government of Mexico has doubled the ticket prices for visiting Chichen Itza for foreigners. The price is now at 480 MXN which is about 22.50 € (instead of $242 MXN).
Light & sound show: The show starts at 7 p.m. in the autumn and winter, and at 8 p.m. in the spring and summer. It’s included in the price of admission.
It is no more allowed for tourists to climb to the top of the Kukulkan Pyramid.
Food: Take your own food, have a good breakfast before visiting Chichen Itza or a good lunch afterwards – the on-site food is expensive and not good.
Souvenirs: All souvenirs sold inside the park of Chichen Itza are much more expensive than anywhere else in Yucatan. You can find the same handicrafts and typical Mexican souvenirs anywhere you go, so it is better to save your money for something else! The vendors are, let say – arduous. If you have no intention of purchasing anything, it is best to simply ignore the vendors and keep walking.
Where to stay when visiting Chichen Itza: For me, the best place to stay when you want to visit Chichen Itza, to explore the best cenotes in Yucatan and visit other interesting ruins is Valladolid! Valladolid is a colourful and peaceful colonial city with a relaxed atmosphere. The journey by car is only 40 minutes, so you don’t have to wake up at 4 a.m. in order to get as early as possible at Chichen Itza.
Swimming in cenotes Nearby: You cannot swim in the Cenote de los Sacrificios at Chichen Itza, where numerous human skeletons were found but there are numerous cenotes nearby where you can. The closest and most famous one is the Ik Kil cenote, which is a pretty but very busy one. I recommend Cenote Zaci, Cenote Dzitnup, Cenote Suytun, and Cenote Xkeken – here you will find more authentic experience!
Recommended Length of Visit: 2.5 to 3 hours.
Parking: There is a large parking lot at Chichen Itza. The cost of parking is about 3 €.
Ready to visit Mexico? Start looking at your Mexico accommodation now while it’s fresh in your mind.
Want stylish accommodation you can afford?. Find the cheapest prices for the best accommodations possible:
- Click here to search for hotels in Mexico (Booking.com)
- Click here to search apartments in Mexico (Airbnb + up to 40 € off)
- Click here to search hostels in Mexico (Agoda)
If you are flying to Mexiko it is beneficial to use a flight comparison site to find the cheapest flights. I recommend and use Kiwi.com.
Click here to compare and book cheap flights to Mexico
Rental Car in Mexico
RentalCars.com searches all the big car rental companies in Mexico and finds the best price for you. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Mexico and around the World.
If you are the type of person who prefers joining a tour, there are all kinds of guided tours around Mexico including Chichen Itza.
Enjoy the day!
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Continue reading this series:
The Best Cenotes Near Valladolid You Can’t Miss ~ Mexico