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Visiting Chichen Itza: Everything You Need to Know

Chichén Itzá Entry Tickets & Guided Tours

Skip-the-Line Entry Ticket

Guided Group Walking Tour

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What is Chichén Itzá?

Chichen Itza is a ruined, pre-Columbian city. It was built and inhabited by historical Mayan people, descendants of whom still live in this part of Mexico. The city developed in the Late Classic period of Mesoamerican archaeology, around the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Over time, the city became a major economic powerhouse in the region, with much fabulous architecture built here to demonstrate the power and influence of its elite. Chichen Itza reached its apogee in the subsequent Terminal Classic and Postclassical periods although by the 13th century had entered a decline, with many of its elite buildings falling into disuse. The exact reasons for this fall are still the subject of archaeological debate and enquiry.

Although Spanish invaders tried to establish their own base at Chichen Itza in the 16th century, their plans were scuppered by violent opposition from the local Maya population. By the 19th century, jungle had overgrown much of the ancient city, creating a romantic ruin that helped fire the imagination of explorers and antiquarians alike. Archaeological excavation helped reveal more of the site in the 19th and early 20th centuries, after which several of the buildings were partly reconstructed to help capture their former splendour.

Although climbing the steps of el Castillo pyramid, or the temple of Kukulcán – one of the site’s most monumental stone structures, a walk around Chichén Itzá remains a treat for anyone with the slightest interest in Mesoamerica’s past. It really is little surprise that when a major international poll was undertaken in the early 21st century, Chichén Itzá was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, having already been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Two temples at Chichen Itza, Temple of the Warriors and Temple of Kukulcán.
There is more to Chichen Itza than the Temple of Kukulcán, also called called ‘El Castillo’. To the left of the iconic temple, in this photograph, is the Temple of the Warriors.

Where is Chichén Itzá?

The archaeological site of Chichén Itzá, officially the Zona Arqueológica de Chichén Itzá, is on the Yucatán peninsular, in the Mexican state of Yucatán. Pisté, the nearest town, is just 2.5 km away. The site is just off the main highway that runs between the city of Mérida (115 km away) and the seaside resort of Cancun (200 km away).

Overgrown Chichen Itza as seen in a photograph from around 1895.
Temple of Jaguars and Temple of Kukulkan (El Castillo) at Chichén Itzá in their overgrown state. The photo, now in the A. D. White Architectural Photographs Collection at Cornell University Library, USA, was taken around the turn of the 19th century.

Buying Tickets for Chichén Itzá

There are two sums that make up the entry fee for Chichen Itza: one to the Institute of History and Anthropology of Mexico (the custodians of the site) and the other to the Ministry of Culture of Yucatán, the local government tax. When visiting Chichen Itza, if you have not bought tickets online in advance, you will be required to queue twice to pay these two parts at two different ticket booths. Both are located near the main entrance.

It is advisable to bring sufficient cash (with Mexican pesos) as the card machines can be unreliable.

The cost of entry varies depending on who you are. As of early 2022, the price for non-citizens is 533 Pesos (80 to the site custodians and 453 Pesos in taxes to the state), which is approximately US$26 for an adult. Mexican citizens are charged 157 Pesos on top of the 80 Pesos general entry fee, but not on Sundays.

Chichen Itza is currently operating with certain restrictions. Only 3000 visitors are allowed entry per day to prevent excessive crowding inside the site. This makes it a good time to see the site without having to compete with the sheer number of visitors one usually finds here.

Buying a Ticket Online, in Advance

When is the Best Time to Visit Chichén Itzá?

First of all, the best time of the year to visit this part of Mexico is the period from November to April. By choosing these months you will avoid the rainy season and the colder months of the year. Not surprising then it is the most popular time of the year to visit the Yucatan and Chichén Itzá. 

The earlier you get to Chichen Itza, the better. The doors open at 8am, by which point a small queue has often already formed. Things get busier from around 10am onward, at which point the site can usually get quite crowded, although current restrictions mean that it will not be as congested as in previous years. Going early in the morning also means you can get a good look around the site before the heat of the midday sun hits.

For this reason, if you really want to avoid the crowds of day-trippers you are well advised to stay in a hotel near the site, or the nearby town of Piste. There are hotel recommendations further down this page. 

As locals get free entry on Sundays, this is often a day when crowds grow larger and should be avoided if possible.

Plan to spend at least two to three hours inside the site. Keen archaeological explorers could conceivably spend far longer, especially if you stay for a meal at the on-site restaurant.

What Should I Take?

Chichen Itza is an outdoor experience and you can expect to be exposed to the elements – whether that be baking sun or pelting rain. For this reason, it is important to come prepared. Although slightly cooler between November and January, the weather in this area is fairly constant throughout the year, meaning that there are plenty of hot, sunny days. A sun hat, sun cream, and plenty of drinking water is a must. If rain is forecast, an umbrella or poncho will be very handy.

As you will be on your feet most of the time, wear appropriate footwear. Under the heat of the Mexican sun, some visitors decide to wear flip-flops, but these probably won’t give your feet the needed support for the day. You are better off with comfortable trainers.

If it is great photo opportunities you are after, you are advised to arrive early to avoid the crowds. Those with camera tripods or video recorders may be charged for an extra permit so it is best to check ahead of time if you are planning on bringing professional-level photographic equipment.

On-site explanations are comparatively limited, so keen archaeological explorers might want to bring along a specialist book purchased beforehand. Alternatively, there are many professional guides available for hire at the entrance to the site itself. Those visiting as part of a pre-arranged guided tour can sometimes rely on their guide to provide them with an overview of the site and its history.

What Can I Expect to Find at the Site?

There is an air-conditioned restaurant, Oxtun, located inside the archaeological site. The menu is based largely on traditional Mexican cuisine, although has been adapted to international tourist tastes. Vegetarian options are available. There are other cafes and restaurants within a short drive of the Chichen Itza site itself.

Those wanting a souvenir of their visit will find sellers competing to provide you with a range of standard tourist memorabilia. Many of these sellers blow whistles and cause quite an annoying racket, much to the chagrin of visitors. Be prepared for some sellers to behave in a particularly pushy manner; it is not unknown for sellers to hand you one of their wares unrequested and then demand payment.

Although Chichen Itza is a largely safe place for tourists, like many popular attractions it can attract pickpockets so visitors should be careful with their belongings. Lockers for suitcases and bags are available near the entrance.

How to Get to Chichén Itzá?

Mayan glyphs at Chichen Itza.
A warrior with a feathered headdress carrying spears and a human head, surrounded by rattlesnakes. This image can be seen at the Platform of the Skulls on the wall of the stage.

Where to Stay When Visiting Chichén Itzá

Hotels Near Chichén Itzá

Add Chichén Itzá to Your Itineraries & Travel Lists

Chichén Itzá

Attracting over 2 million tourists each year, Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. Once a great centre of Maya civilisation that at its peak housed 35,000 people, it now survives as a series of monumental platforms, temples and a grand ballcourt. It was conquered by the Spanish in 1534 AD, but resistance from Mayan peoples prevented a Spanish settlement being established here. By the 19th century it was taken over by forest. Since 1988, Chichén Itzá has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archaeology Travel Writer

Ethan Doyle White

When not exploring archaeology and history sites at home and abroad, and then writing about these for Archaeology Travel, I research religion in early medieval England and contemporary uses of heritage. In 2019 I completed a PhD in medieval history and archaeology from University College, London. Read More

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