Outdoors Magazine

How to Visit the Mythical City of Chichen Itza

By Everywhereonce @BWandering

Chichen Itza, Kukulcán Pyramid, Mexico

Once one of the largest cities in the Mayan world and quite possibly one of the seven mythical locations of human origin, the ruins of Chichen Itza lies within a totally day-tripable 2 hour bus ride from Cancun. That proximity to cruise-ship central also makes it one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

With that in mind, we planned our visit with the intention of arriving early enough to beat the hordes. So we booked a room at the Villas%20Arqueologicas%20Chichen%20Itza,%20Piste">Villas%20Arqueologicas%20Chichen%20Itza,%20Piste" target="_blank">Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza; a hotel located within walking distance of the less-utilized southern entrance to the park.

We found the hacienda-style hotel quaint, comfortable and clean. The only downside is that dining options in the area are limited to the handful of similar resorts located on this side of the park. We checked out a few other options but ended up eating every meal in the hotel’s poolside courtyard where the food was adequate if not inspiring.

El Caracol observatory temple, Chichen Itza, Mexico

The “El Caracol” observatory temple as seen prior to entering the park’s southern gate.

But we didn’t come to Chichen Itza for the food. We came to explore the ruins. So the following morning we made our way to the entrance gate just before opening at 8:00 AM. At that hour we stood second in a line of about six people and waited to pay the two separate admission fees of 65 pesos (US $3.60) and 132 pesos (US $7.30) per person.

Shortly after scanning our tickets we were in the park walking past still empty checkpoints and vendors who were only just starting to set up their stalls. We were among only a handful of other tourists in the park.

And in this one instance, I’m not quite sure how much beating the crowds really mattered.

We’re always glad to have places to ourselves, and Chichen Itza is no exception. But this is a place structured in a way to absorb crowds better than most of the other popular sites we’ve visited.

Pretty much just us and the iguanas at this hour

Pretty much just us and the iguanas at this hour

First of all there is tons of open space. The field surrounding the Kukulcán Pyramid, Chichen Itza’s signature attraction, would take several thousand people to fill. Elsewhere, choke-points and bottlenecks are limited to just a couple of roads connecting separate archaeological clusters. It’s not impossible to imagine the place getting overwhelmed by crowds in the late-afternoon, but it would require tons of people visiting all at once to accomplish that feat.

Serpent head statues at Chichen Itza

Serpent heads are a recurring theme throughout Chichen Itza

The other thing that probably keeps Chichen Itza from becoming too annoying is a fairly recent development. The park no longer lets visitors climb on or through the ruins. That has the downside of giving the site a museum quality, look but don’t touch, please stand behind the velvet rope, kind of feel. But the benefit is that Chichen Itza’s monuments stay completely clear of the hordes.  Even at its most crowded, the structures still look like Mayan ruins rather than a collection hills crawling with ants.

El Caracol observatory temple Chichen Itza, Mexico

El Caracol from inside the park

Even though we took our time at the site we still only spent about two, maybe two and half, hours visiting and sometimes revisiting the ruins. So it really is a place you can do on a day trip. And even by late morning after the first of the Cancun buses started to roll in, the park wasn’t terribly crowded. 

Chichen Itza

Most of the delicate stonework that once adorned the temple facades has been lost, but some still remains to give us a glimpse of what Chichen Itza once looked like in its prime

If we were to visit Chichen Itza again we’d probably skip the overnight stay and instead daytrip in from near-by Valladolid (pronounced Bay-yah-doh-LEED). Second-class buses leave from Valladolid’s ADO bus station every hour on the quarter hour starting at 7:15 am. ADO doesn’t publish schedules for its second class service on the internet so you’ll have to go to the bus station to confirm departure times.

Las Monjas, The Nunnery, Chichen Itza, Mexico

Las Monjas, or “The Nunnery”

The ride to Chichen Itza takes about 50 minutes from Valladolid, so it’s possible to take a public bus and still get to the front gate at opening, not much later than when we arrived. Even day-tripping in, you can still have plenty of time in relative solitude at one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.

Kukulcán Pyramid, Chichen Itza, Mexico

A final look at the Kukulcán Pyramid on our way out


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