Chichén Itzá is the largest of the archaeological cities of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It is one of Mexico's most visited tourist destinations. It was granted World Heritage Site status in 1988 by UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recently selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Many tourists visit Chichen Itza as a day trip, especially from Cancun, more than 100 miles away. This archaeological site is also an hour and a half away from Merida, the capital of Yucatan. The Maya communities near Chichen Itza have developed many wonderful sites for travelers to rejoice in the Maya Cultural heritage. It is recommended you avoid a day-trip visit to Chichen Itza and schedule a night or two to enjoy all the activities nearby. This allows time to see more than just a portion of this large site. If you stay a night here, come to the archaeological site early in the day before the sun is so hot, and before most of the day-trippers arrive. The site is open daily, 8am-5pm.
Note that, while Chichen Itza is a spectacular site, the atmosphere is greatly damaged by mass tourism. As an independent traveller, you'll be left waiting in a line for 1 hour to simply buy tickets, while organized groups will be marching straight in by hundreds. A majority of visitors will give the impression of being there simply because they had nothing else to do while their Cancun resort was offering the tour at a price they could afford. The entrance fee for foreigners is at an exorbitant amount of 481 pesos as of Aug 2019. Consider choosing another less visited and less marketed Mayan site nearby.
Chichen Itza was a center of pilgrimage for the ancient Maya for over 1,000 years. The Sacred Cenote (a large natural well or limestone sink hole) was holy to the ancient Rain God "Chac".
About 987 the ruler of the Toltec people of central Mexico came here, and with his Maya allies made Chichen Itza the most powerful city in the Yucatan. The ruler called himself "Kukulcan", the name of the Mesoamerican Feathered Serpent deity (also known as "Quetzalcoatl") and Chichen Itza became a center for worship of that god as well. More buildings were built here in a mixture of Maya and Toltec styles.
About 1221 the Maya revolted against the rulers of Chichen Itza. The city was not abandoned, but as political power shifted elsewhere it declined and no major new buildings were constructed. The reasons for the final abandonment of the city are unknown, but spanish documents show that the city was already abandoned on their arrival.
The structures of Chichen Itza were overgrown with jungle and slowly decayed until major archaeological projects began in the 1920s. Since then, more of the ancient structures have been cleared and restored and more and more tourists come to visit.
Chichen Itza is on the main highway between the capital city of Mérida and the resort city of Cancun. If you have time and are looking for a more adventurist route, the "libre' road that runs parallel to the toll highway goes through and by many villages and gives a better feel for the area. If you take the "libre" route, you will need to be more alert for pedestrians and animals on the road, as well as the numerous "speed bumps" you will encounter. If after dark, stick to the toll road. Come by automobile or take the very regular bus service. If coming by bus, note that if you buy a ticket for Chichen Itza, you will be dropped right next to the ruins. If you want to go to a hotel in the nearby town, buy your ticket for Piste.
From Cancun: ADO bus service from Cancun costs $202 MXN one way trip and takes 3 hours. You'll have about 4 hours to spend in the area if using the faster bus. A cheaper bus is available for 122 pesos and with travel time of four hours per direction. If you are visiting in transit between different accommodations there is free, well signed, baggage storage after the cashier on the right past the restrooms.
From Merida: ADO buses leave from the CAME bus station (located at Calle 69 at the corner with Calle 70) daily at 06.30, 08.30 and 09.15. From Chichen Itza they return at 18.20. Tickets cost $130 to $150 MXN one-way. Travel time is between 1h30m and 1h45m. Many car rental companies are located around the Fiesta Americana Hotel. A one day small car rental costs between $800 and $2000 MXN. Be sure to shop around for the best price. Chichen Itza is 125 km (1h30m) away by car. If you take the toll road to and from Chichen Itza back to Merida factor in 2x $92 MXN. There's a $30 MXN parking fee at Chichen Itza.
From Valladolid: There are hourly buses that stop in Chichén Itza, it costs $26 MXN (September 2015). Colectivos leave from a lot slightly east of the bus station on a regular basis and cost $35 MXN (November, 2018).
Update July 2016: The entrance fee is now $232 MXN ($167 for the ticket + $65 tax). Bring cash, as paying by credit card costs 10% extra. On Sundays, Mexicans don't pay the entrance fee (an official ID must be shown at the entrance).
Update April 2017: The entrance fee is now $242 MXN ($172 for the ticket + $70 tax). There's no indication paying by cash or card is any different in price.
There is luggage storage on site. For a locker, it is $40 MXN for the day. If you have a bag that doesn't fit in the locker, it is $100 MXN to store in a large room that is always attended. Store here first, go to Chichen Itza and the Ik-Kil Cenote (if that's your plan) and pick up your bags after both activities.
At the site you get around on foot. Wear sturdy, comfortable walking shoes; consider that you may want to try climbing rough stone stairs in them. Sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat may be good ideas too. There is very little usable shade in the middle hours of the day. Bring a pair of binoculars, star-gazing and birding is incredible in this region. Also, if you want to know more about the Mayan local communities, their cooking, religious rites, calendar system and ancient arts, visit the small towns around Chichen.
These are the vestiges of a fascinating civilization of times past. Well informed guides speaking all major languages are available for hire here, or download a guide book app for your smartphone or you explore on your own with a guide book and map.
"Tales of the Maya Skies" - this is a dome planetarium show produced by the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland California. It is shown in English and Spanish (alternating) at the Mayaland Hotel. The "Mayan Planatarium" is a new building completed just in time for the celebrations of 12/21/2012; the building is modeled on the Caracol (the observatory) as depicted in the show. Contact the Mayaland for show times. Visit http://mayaskies.org for details about the show.
Be sure to drink lots of bottled water. Those not accustomed to the tropical heat and sun can otherwise risk dehydration.
There are several refreshment stands in the archaeological site.
There are a handful of hotels by the ruins, along the highway nearby, and in the nearby town of Piste, in a variety of price ranges. Some have good swimming pools and restaurants. There is a cluster of hotels that allow direct entrance to the ruins from the back side. However, once the ruins are closed, one cannot walk from once entrance to the other so make sure you end up on the correct side. The town of Valladolid, 40 km away, is a less-touristed alternate base.
When dealing with vendors; Many will say "Only 1 dollar" or "1 Peso", please do not assume that is the actual price of items they are selling. Once you try to complete the transaction it will be actually 1 dollar off or 1 peso off and you will be ask to further "negotiate" with them. This might delay you unnecessarily if you are with a tour group. Don't be afraid to walk away, they will follow you with a better offer.
If on a tour, note that prices at a souvenir stop will be much more expensive than those offered by other vendors. Regardless, souvenirs will still be cheaper than those found in Cancun.
If visiting during the rainy season, consider bringing an umbrella and/or a rain jacket. Otherwise, vendors will sell plastic ponchos for $5 USD or 50 pesos. However, the rain comes and goes quickly, so it may be worth it to just tough it out.
Be sure to have cash pesos; changing money may be difficult here, especially on weekends.
If you bring a video camera, they might charge you extra. Digital camera with video capability are exempted.
Tripods are forbidden unless you obtained special permits months ahead of time.
Many of the items sold are treated with gasoline, especially products made from wood.
There is a bus ticket office located just inside the main building at the entrance (before ticket check) and free secure luggage storage (also before ticket check).
There are 10 daily second class "Oriente" busses (a/c, unreserved seating, make frequent stops, do not use the tollway) leaving Chichen Itza for Cancun hourly beginning at 08:35 until 17:35, costing 133pesos. These busses also drop you in Vallodolid for a fare of 26pesos. The only first class bus (a/c, reserved seating, uses tollway 180D and only makes one quick stop along the way in Valladolid) leaves for Cancun at 16:30 and is 244pesos. Colectivos back to Valladolid leave from a small roundabout at the far left (when exiting the visitor's centre) of the parking lot next to the artisan market and cost 35 pesos as of November 2018.
Tulum, Playa Del Carmen
A first class bus for Playa Del Carmen departs at 16:30 and costs 326pesos. There are two first class departures to Tulum, at 08:25 and 16:30 (same as the Playa bus) - 180pesos. On Fridays and Saturdays only there is an additional second class bus that leaves at 13:05 for Tulum (95pesos) and Playa Del Carmen (135pesos).
For Merida there are 9 daily second class departures costing 78pesos, between 09:10 and 17:10 (not always exactly one hour apart). The lone first class departure to Merida at 17:15 is 142pesos.