There are few archaeological sites in the Americas as well known as Chichen Itza. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the most popular attractions in Mexico with over two million visitors each year. Not surprisingly then, you would normally expect to see the site along with many other people. Given the low number of tourists in 2020, however, now is the perfect opportunity to visit this iconic Mayan site for a quieter experience. Here we set out essential information for visiting Chichen Itza, such as admission price, buying tickets online, guided tours and where to stay, as well as a number of tips to allow you to be better prepared and enjoy this amazing archaeological site.
The information on this page was last checked and/or updated on 26 November 2020.
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Perhaps the best known monument of Chichen Itza. Called ‘El Castillo’ by the first Spaniards to visit the site, it is the ‘Temple of Kukulcán’ – a Mayan feathered deity.
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.
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 Chichen Itza?
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).
See the exact location of Chichén Itzá, and other nearby archaeology and history sites and museums on our Interactive Map of Mexico >>
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 Chichen Itza
Entry tickets for Chichen Itza are sold at the box office 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 2020, the price for non-citizens is 486 pesos, which is approximately US$23, €19, or £17.50. Mexican citizens who are not residents of Yucatan state are charged 207 pesos on Monday to Saturday and 127 pesos on Sundays. Residents of Yucatan state are charged 80 pesos, although entry is free for them on Sundays. The entry cost includes fees levelled both by national and state authorities, which have to be paid separately. These costs are likely to increase in future.
Chichen Itza closed for several months in 2020 and 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
It is possible to buy Chichen Itza tickets in advance, online. Benefits include avoiding all the hassle of needing cash or hoping the card facilities will be working at the ticket booth.
Entry only, skip-the-line tickets for Chichen Itza can be purchased online through Tiqets and Viator. Both of these are our preferred and recommended ticketing and activity partners. They both offer excellent customer support. Although these two tickets and your experience at the site are exactly the same, there is a difference, albeit a small one.
So which one to get?
Tiqets is a bit cheaper than Viator, but don’t be blinded by a few dollars. Cancellation with a full refund up to 24 hours is included in Viator’s ticket. Whereas if you purchase a ticket with Tiqets you will have to pay a 12% supplement in advance to be able to cancel your ticket and get a refund. I think the difference between the two is clear. If you are not certain of your dates, Viator’s ticket would be my choice. If your dates are fixed and/or you are buying your tickets a day or two in advance, Tiqets would be the better option.
When is the Best Time to Visit Chichen Itza?
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.
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 Chichen Itza?
Many visitors choose to visit Chichen Itza as a daytrip from Cancun, the coastal city popular with tourists. With about 120 miles between them, the archaeological site is roughly two hours away from the city by car. One option, particularly suited for visitors who like their independence, is to rent a car in Cancun and drive to Chichen Itza themselves. A car park is available near the archaeological site.
An alternative option is to join an organised tour from Cancun. These will usually mean less hassle but also less freedom to plan your visit as you please. These groups usually arrive at Chichen Itza in the middle of the day, when the crowds peak, and often include a scheduled lunch stop on the itinerary.
It is also possible to take a day-trip to Chichen Itza from Mérida, the capital of the Yucatan state which is located 76 miles away.
For those not wanting to visit Chichen Itza on a daytrip, there is the option of staying overnight at one of the hotels close to the archaeological site itself. Staying at one of these locations will make it easier to get to the ruined city early in the morning, before the crowds.
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
Most visitors to Chichén Itzá stay on what is called the Mayan Riviera; that coastline on the northeastern edge of the peninsular that runs from Cancun through Playa del Carmen to Tulum. As a very popular tourist destination there are hundreds of hotels to choose from.
Hotels Near Chichén Itzá
There are also a number of very good hotels closer to Chichén Itzá. Nearby Piste itself has a good choice; one that gets repeatedly mentioned and is very favourably reviewed is La Casa de las Lunas. And even closer to the archaeological site there are more highly rated hotels, two 5 star hotels (The Lodge at Chichén Itzá and Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows) and one 3 star hotel (Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza).
Visiting Chichen Itza
Is Chichen Itza Open?
Along with some, not all, sites and attractions in Mexico, Chichen Itza re-opened to the public on 22 September 2020. Safety and hygiene measures and protocols were put in place to safeguard site staff and visitors.
The site is open everyday throughout the year, from 09h00 – 16h00
Last entry is at 16h00, some areas of the site are no longer accessible from 16h00, and the entire site closes at 17h00
Please Note: The site will sometimes close ahead of major storms and hurricanes, so check the weather forecast before your visit.
Chichén Itzá Entrance Fees
Standard Entry Fee: 80 Mexican Pesos
Additional Tax, 417 Pesos or 130 Pesos for Mexican citizens (proof of identity will be required)
Individuals who prove residence in Mexico are exempt from these payments on Sundays.
Facilities at Chichén Itzá
Restaurant, car park, luggage storage lockers
Official Website for the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá.
Chichen Itza Virtual Tour
Looking for a virtual tour of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, click through to our Interactive Map of Mexico. If you are unfamiliar with how to view archaeology sites on Google maps, follow these steps (more details on using Google maps for virtually touring archaeology sites and museums). First locate Chichen Itza on the map, and zoom in to the site using the + button in the lower right corner. In the top left hand corner of the map switch to Satellite view. Drag the yellow pegman from its original position in the lower right corner on to the map – light blue lines and dots will appear (as in the image below). Drop pegman on to a dot to see a 360-degree photograph, and onto a line to move about the site.
Satellite view of Chichen Itza on Googlemaps.
What Else is Nearby?
Not far from Chichen Itza is a sacred site of Ik Kil – a cenote that was used by the Mayans to make human sacrifices to their rain god. Ik Kil is a popular stop on day trips to Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza is located a short drive away from Ik Kil, a cenote or natural sinkhole filled with water. Like many other cenotes in the Yucatan area, Ik Kil was used as a religious site by Maya people in centuries past, when various offerings were deposited here. Although the water is notoriously cold, for a fee it is possible to dive and swim in the cenote so bring your swimming clothes! Like Chichen Itza itself, Ik Kil can prove very popular with tourists and is best visited early in the day before the crowds arrive.
Ik Kil is a frequent addition to itineraries to Chichen Itza from hotels on the Mayan Riviera. For those with a particular interest in seeing Mayan ruins, a day trip to both Chichen Itza and Coba include Ik Kil. Another day trip to Chichen Itza that includes Ik Kil also stops at the colonial city of Valladolid.
Less than an hour from Chichen Itza is the town of Valladolid, a popular tourist destination for visitors to Yucatan. The town is particularly known for its colonial era churches and architecture, in particular the Convent of San Bernardino de Siena that was built by Franciscan missionaries between 1552 and 1560.
About the Author: Ethan Doyle While
Ethan has a PhD in medieval history and archaeology from University College, London. When not hunting down archaeological monuments at home and abroad, Ethan researches religion in early Medieval England and contemporary uses of heritage (Academia Profile). Check out one of his most recent books, Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft, published by Sussex Academic Press. Browse Ethan’s Articles on Archaeology Travel.