Exporing the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com
Culture, Mexico, Outdoor Adventures, Responsible Travel, Ruins, Valladolid, Yucatan

Exploring the Ruins of Chichen Itza

Exporing the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Chichen Itza is the most well-known and frequently visited Mayan ruins site in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and it also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Due to its central location in the peninsula – about two hours from the larger cities of both Merida and Cancun and less than an hour away from Valladolid – exploring the Chichen Itza ruins makes a perfect and convenient day or half-day trip. Chichen Itza is an expansive ruins site and it is considered to be the largest archeological site in the Yucatan! 

Although I generally tend to prefer exploring lesser-visited places that are situated a little further off the main tourist path, Chichen Itza was a magnificent ruins site and it is definitely a site worth visiting, despite its popularity. It’s just one of those must-see places, in my opinion. Plus, if you arrive at the ruins early enough, you can beat the insanely large crowds, tour buses and annoying vendors trying to sell you stuff along every pathway, while having almost the entire ruins site completely to yourselves and being able to enjoy wandering and exploring the ruins site in a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere.

I visited and explored Chichen Itza followed by a refreshing swim in the nearby Cenote Ik’Kil in May 2015 with three fellow travelers from the hostel I was staying at in Valladolid – Hostel La Candelaria

This is my detailed guide to visiting Chichen Itza, along with lots of photos and anecdotes from my experience, geared towards independent and budget travelers like myself. 

About Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is the largest and most visited archeological site and Mayan ruins in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It is an expansive site with well-manicured grounds that contain a large variety of beautifully restored and impressive structures (palaces, temples, pyramids, a massive ball court and more) as well as a cenote. Chichen Itza is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Chichen Itza is a magnificent ruins site and is definitely a must-visit when traveling through the Yucatan.

Location

Chichen Itza is located in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula and is situated 45 km west of Valladolid (45 minute drive) along Highway 180 and 119 km east of Merida (1 hour and 20 minute drive). The ruins are also 197 km west of Cancun (2 hours and 10 minute drive), 180 km west of Playa del Carmen and 153 km west of Tulum.

Getting There – Transportation from Valladolid to Chichen Itza

Getting to Chichen Itza on your own is easy and inexpensive and I recommend going there independently instead of with a tour. If you choose to go independently, you can read all about the ruins’ history from the internet and/or guidebooks and save yourself lots of money while also having the freedom to explore the ruins at your own pace. If you are staying in the nearby city of Valladolid, you have the opportunity of arriving to the ruins early in the morning when they open, where you will be able to explore the well-maintained and expansive site in a peaceful and relaxed environment and atmosphere, with no annoying vendors yelling at you while trying to sell their tourist souvenirs or not having to deal with insane crowds of people everywhere. 

If you want to arrive at the ruins early before all of the crowds get there, you will definitely want to stay at least one night in the small and pretty colonial city of Valladolid, which is located only about 45 minutes from Chichen Itza and is the perfect base for exploring the ruins. The ruins are still accessible from other parts of the Yucatan, including Merida, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Cancun, however, you will not be able to enjoy the tranquility and relaxing atmosphere in the early morning if you arrive from any one of these places. 

From Valladolid, you can get to Chichen Itza using the following modes of transportation:

Colectivo

Local colectivos (shared white 12-passenger vans) from Valladolid to Chichen Itza can be found on Calle 46 just north of Calle 39, in a small parking lot located behind the ADO bus terminal. The vans leave every 30 minutes or so between 7 AM and 6 PM. The one-way fare costs 40 pesos and the journey takes approximately 45 minutes.

The colectivos are fast, reliable, safe, (usually) air-conditioned, and relatively comfortable (depending on how many people are packed in the van). They do not have a set schedule and they operate all day, every day. Keep in mind that you may have to wait in the parking lot for a little while until there are enough people to make the trip worthwhile (I waited around 15 minutes).

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The sign pointing to the entrance of the parking lot behind Valladolid’s ADO bus terminal, where colectivos to Chichen Itza depart from.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

The colectivo van to Chichen Itza, waiting for some more passengers

ADO First Class Bus

First class ADO buses leave from the ADO bus terminal located at the corner of Calle 46 and Calle 39 in Valladolid. The one-way fare costs 84 pesos (significantly more expensive than colectivos) and the buses generally leave at 9:50 AM and 10:00 AM and leave from Chichen Itza to Valladolid at 4:30 PM. The journey takes around 50 minutes and the buses are clean, comfortable, safe and reliable. You can view up-to-date bus schedules at www.ado.com.mx.

There are also first class buses leaving from Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum that make the trip to Chichen Itza, however, the journey will be much longer than if you start from Valladolid. You can view the bus schedules on the ADO website or at the bus terminal. 

ADO Second Class Bus

Second class buses leave from the same ADO bus terminal as the first class buses. They run on a different schedule that can be found by visiting the bus terminal, and they generally take longer to get to their destination, as they make many stops picking up and dropping off passengers at small towns along the way.

The buses are usually older models of the newer first class buses, but they are still comfortable and safe (they just don’t have washrooms at the back, TVs with movies playing, or air conditioning). The bus fare is cheaper as well.

Car Rental

Renting a car and driving to the ruins on your own allows you the freedom to explore at your own pace and not have to wait for transportation to and from the ruins. I rented a car from Tulum to visit the Coba Ruins and also in Merida to take a two-day road trip in order to explore the Ruta Puuc Mayan ruins. Both times, I had positive experiences.

Many travelers visit Chichen Itza as part of a package tour day trip from all-inclusive resorts and hotels along the Mayan Riviera (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum), which are all about a two hour drive away. However, the ruins are much easier to access if you are staying in the nearby colonial cities of Valladolid or Merida

My Experience

I had been staying in Valladolid (at Hostel La Candelariaand had made plans with three new friends from my hostel the night before to visit Chichen Itza the following morning.

We woke up early in the morning and walked to the colectivo parking lot which was tucked away just behind the ADO bus terminal. There were two other people waiting on a bench and there was one colectivo van with its driver in the parking lot.

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The entrance to the colectivo parking lot in Valladolid

Colectivos leave when they have enough people and they do not operate on a fixed schedule. Since there were only six of us in total, we ended up waiting for about 15 minutes (which I believe is the average wait time, more or less), before more people started arriving to the parking lot wanting to go to Chichen Itza and then we were on our way!

If you plan to make your way to Chichen Itza from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or Merida, you can check out the updated schedules for ADO first class buses at www.ado.com.mx. Second class ADO buses are also an option from these places and schedules are available directly at the bus terminal.

If you are visiting Chichen Itza from Valladolid, I recommend taking a colectivo as they are inexpensive and their schedules are flexible, making it easier and more enjoyable to explore the ruins at your own pace and the freedom to leave when you are finished (with first class buses, you would have to wait around at the ruins until the bus leaves again at 4:30 PM to go back to Valladolid).

 Exploring the Ruins

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Me standing in front of the famous El Castillo Pyramid at Chichen Itza! It was so impressive and beautiful in person.

We arrived at the ruins shortly after they opened and after paying our admission fee, we began exploring the large archeological site.

There were hardly any cars in the parking lot when we arrived, and it was lovely to explore the almost empty ruins site with only a handful of other people around for most of our morning there.

The atmosphere was quiet, calm and relaxed and the structures were all very impressive, beautiful, and well-restored and contained detailed architecture and intricate carvings from a variety of ancient architectural styles (including my favourite, the Puuc-style). The ruins site itself was quite spread out and the grounds were beautifully manicured with well-defined pathways leading from one structure to the next.

Kukulcan Temple/El Castillo:

After entering into the ruins site, the first structure that we arrived at was the famous landmark and pyramid that you will see in almost every single photograph of Chichen Itza – The Kukulcan Temple or El Castillo.

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Chichen Itza’s famous El Castillo structure

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

The beautiful El Castillo Pyramid at Chichen Itza

This majestic temple was massive, had been very well-restored and was situated in the middle of a perfectly manicured and large grassy area which was surrounded by jungle vegetation. Unfortunately, travelers are prohibited from climbing the pyramid, after a tourist fell from the top and died in 2005, but it was still beautiful to admire from a distance. Since we had arrived to the ruins in the early morning, there were hardly any other people around and I was able to get some awesome photos of the temple with nobody blocking my views!

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The beautifully restored and impressive El Castillo Pyramid.

The structure was impressive in its size and architectural design. It was a perfect pyramid shape, with each side being exactly the same size. In the centre, along each side were stone steps starting at the ground level and ascending up to the platform at the top of the pyramid. Each stone staircase along the four sides was comprised of 91 steps, which equaled 364, plus the platform at the top of the pyramid made for a total of 365 steps (corresponding with the number of days in one year – the Mayans were quite advanced in their mathematics, astrology and calendars).

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Looking up to the top of the El Castillo pyramid

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

I love the contrasting colours in this photo between the El Castillo’s white stones and the vibrant blue sky!

It was so amazing to be able to photograph the pyramid with only a few other people around. The serpent heads at the base of the stone staircases were interesting as well. I enjoyed admiring the incredible architectural design of El Castillo, before we moved on to explore more ruins.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

I enjoyed admiring the El Castillo Pyramid with hardly anybody else around!

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

A serpent head at the base of El Castillo’s stone steps

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

The El Castillo Pyramid

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The majestic El Castillo Pyramid at Chichen Itza

From the Kukulcan Temple/El Castillo, we explored the remainder of this expansive ruins site and the variety of structures, which were accessed via gravel pathways stemming off of the large open area around El Castillo.

The Grupo de las Mil Columnas (Group of 1000 Columns) was very impressive and consisted of a stone platform on top of which there were rows upon rows of circular stone columns. It is believed that these columns once supported a roof and that this area was used as a meeting hall.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Group of 1000 Columns

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The impressive Group of 1000 Columns at Chichen Itza

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Looking through the rows of columns

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The rows of columns at the Group of 1000 Columns

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

The temple at the Group of 1000 Columns

The Temple of the Warriors/Los Guerreros Temple was the attached to the Group of 1000 Columns. It was a large and impressive structure that consisted of four platforms or levels with a wide stone staircase leading to the top and rows of columns in front of the temple.

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Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

The Temple of the Warriors

El Mercado (The Market) was also attached to the Temple of the Warriors and the Group of 1000 Columns. It featured of a small collection of tall stone pillars in the shape of a rectangle. Back in the day, it was believed that these pillars were the foundation of a large building with spacious interior.

The Temple of the Deer was a decent-sized temple with a large, wide and crumbling stone staircase leading to the top. The stairs led to a smaller temple on top of the structure with three doors and adorned with detailed carvings along the top.

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The crumbling steps at Chichen Itza’s Temple of the Deer

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Temple of the Deer at Chichen Itza

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Temple of the Deer

The Juego de Pelota (Great Ball Court) was Chichen Itza’s massive ball court – the largest one in Central America – where the ancient Mayas would play a game which ended in the sacrifice of one of the teams (it continues to be debated whether it was the winning or losing team who was sacrificed). The ball court featured two large and completely vertical stone walls parallel to each other on either side of a grassy field area. The ball court was designed slightly differently than the ones at many of the other ruins in the Yucatan, which had sloped stone walls on either side of the court. At the top and centre of each wall, was a very small donut-shaped circular hoop or ring that was made from stone (apparently the game involved attempting to get a ball through this hoop – after looking at the size of the ring, it seemed impossible to me!). At the far end of one side of the ball court stood a large stone temple (called the Temple of the Bearded Man) with steps leading to an open room at the top (although it could not be climbed).

It was somewhat eerie to think of potentially how many people had been sacrificed in the ball court where I was standing but learning about the history of the ball game fascinated me.

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Approaching Chichen Itza’s Ball Court

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Temple on the far side of Chichen Itza’s Ball Court

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

The small hoop at the top of the Ball Court wall

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View of El Castillo from the Ball Court

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

The large Ball Court at Chichen Itza

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

The small donut-shaped ring at the top of the wall in the Ball Court

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The long stone wall along one side of Chichen Itza’s massive Ball Court

The Tomb of the High Priest (The Osario) was a pyramid that resembled a smaller version of the Kukulcan Pyramid/El Castillo. It had the same perfect step-pyramid shape with stone stairways in the centre along each side leading to the top. At the base of each set of staircase were detailed carvings of serpents. It was an interesting structure to admire.

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The Tomb of the High Priest resembled a smaller version of Chichen Itza’s famous El Castillo

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Tomb of the High Priest

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Tomb of the High Priest at Chichen Itza

El Caracol (The Observatory) was a large structure featuring a few different sized staircases, two platforms, a small cluster of columns, and a large round viewing tower with small windows in the stone, that rose from the top of the structure. The ancient Mayas were stellar astronomers and used this structure for viewing celestial events.

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The Observatory with its round room at the top

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The Observatory at Chichen Itza

La Iglesia (The Church) was my favourite structure at Chichen Itza! It was a tall, narrow and rectangular-shaped building that was completely covered with decorations in a variety of amazingly detailed and intricate ancient designs and carvings (including latticework and other shapes). Masks of the face of the Mayan rain god Chaac with his long and upwardly curved nose could be seen on the corners of the buildings. This Puuc-style architecture is very beautiful and unique and can be found more prominently on the ruins situated along the Ruta Puuc near Merida (Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna).

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La Iglesia – My favourite structure at Chichen Itza!

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I loved the detailed Puuc-style architecture on La Iglesia

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La Iglesia at Chichen Itza

The Monastery featured a similar design to “La Iglesia,” and was also completely covered in unique and detailed carvings. It featured the Puuc architectural style, which was one of my favourites.

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The Monastery at Chichen Itza

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I loved the detailed Puuc-style carvings and designs on The Monastery!

After visiting The Monastery, we continued wandering down the paths and discovered this smaller but crumbling temple at Chichen Itza.

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A crumbling temple at Chichen Itza

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

A detailed serpent head sitting at the base of a temple’s stone steps

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

A small and crumbling structure at Chichen Itza

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

A small Ball Court at Chichen Itza

We walked down a long and well-maintained gravel path (called “sacbes” by the Mayas) into the jungle and then reached the Cenote Sagrado, our last stop at the ruins. The cenote was a naturally large and perfectly round hole deep in the ground with high rock walls on all sides and was filled with freshwater that was a beautiful green colour. The cenote was surrounded by the dense jungle and the natural environment was very pretty. No swimming was allowed here and after reading about the history of the cenote, I don’t think I would want to! The cenote was used for human sacrifices when Chichen Itza was a flourishing city and I learned that artifacts as well as human remains have been recovered from the bottom.

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Cenote Sagrado was a beautiful and serene place – But no swimming was allowed here!

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The water at Cenote Sagrado was such a vibrant green colour!

There were lots of iguanas sunbathing themselves on the rocks of the structures and running around the ruins.

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I large iguana camouflaging himself in with the rocks at Chichen Itza

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

There were huge iguanas like this one all around the ruins! 

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

A serpent head at the top of this ruin’s stone steps

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Detailed designs and carvings along the side of a ruin

In total, we spent around three hours exploring the ruins at Chichen Itza at a relaxed and leisurely pace and I would recommend being there for at least two and a half hours, as there is a lot of ground to cover.

Overall

Aside from experiencing some large crowds and annoying vendors close to the end of my visit, I otherwise had a really enjoyable experience while exploring Chichen Itza. The ruins site was large and expansive and contained many structures that were all impressive and beautifully restored and the atmosphere in the morning was relaxing and peaceful. Learning about the history of the ruins was also fascinating!

Recommended For

Chichen Itza is a great ruins site to explore especially for first-time travelers to the Yucatan in addition to anybody who enjoys visiting ancient Mayan ruins. The structures are beautiful, well-restored and impressive and finding transportation to and from the ruins is easy. If you’re traveling to the Yucatan, these ruins are definitely a must-see.

How to Beat the Crowds and Vendors

My friends and I had almost the entire ruins site to ourselves during most of our visit, which was lovely and created a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. However, as the morning progressed, more and more people started to roll in. By 11 AM, when we had almost finished exploring the ruins, there were crowds of people everywhere. The atmosphere was loud and chaotic which detracted somewhat from the experience and I had much preferred the calm and quiet environment from earlier in the morning.

Prior to the throngs of tourists arriving, local salesmen had began setting up tables which lined both sides of the gravel paths inside the ruins. They filled their tables with handicrafts and typical Mexican souvenirs. They didn’t bother us for most of our visit. Once the vendors had finished setting up at around the same time the crowds of people started arriving and filing into the site, the salesmen began aggressively attempting to sell their souvenirs to everyone who passed by them. They would yell things like, “Only $1! Almost free!” as we walked along the path to the next ruin structure. They also made strange and realistic-sounding jaguar roaring sounds, by blowing air into wooden decorative souvenirs, which startled me the first time I heard it. I then realized that this was their creative way of getting peoples’ attention, even if it was just a look in their direction. It is best to simply ignore the vendors and keep walking if you have no intention of purchasing anything.

The loud and chaotic environment with the vendors yelling and making sounds and the crowds of people everywhere, was overwhelming and it definitely took away from the experience of being surrounded by some of the most amazing, impressive and majestic ancient Mayan ruins.

The only way to avoid the crowds and beat the vendors, is to arrive to the ruins as early as possible and close to their opening time of 8 AM. Staying in the nearby colourful and peaceful colonial city of Valladolid allows you the opportunity to take a short 45-minute colectivo journey to Chichen Itza and arrive slightly before the opening time. If enjoying the ruins of Chichen Itza in a peaceful, relaxed and tranquil atmosphere sounds appealing to you, then I would highly recommend spending at least one night in Valladolid and then making your way to the ruins early in the morning. I was so thankful that my friends and I had finished exploring the site shortly after the crowds had arrived and the vendors had started using their aggressive selling techniques.

My friends and I arrived shortly after the ruins opened in the morning from Valladolid and we had the opportunity to wander and explore the various impressive structures with only a handful of other people around and with a quiet and laid-back atmosphere. Another added benefit of arriving early to the ruins, was being able to admire and photograph the structures with nobody obstructing our views!

It was absolutely lovely having almost the entire ruins site to ourselves, and the atmospheres in the early morning compared to late morning were in stark contrast with one another. In order to beat the crowds and the vendors, it’s essential that you arrive early to the ruins site.

Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza

  • To avoid the large crowds and annoying local salespeople and vendors inside the site, arrive to the ruins early (ie. around the time they open at 8 AM). To get there at opening time or shortly after, taking a colectivo from Valladolid is the fastest option.
  • Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes – Chichen Itza has a lot of structures that are spread out around the large site, so you will be doing a lot of walking.
  • Bring sunscreen and wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun – there are very few shade trees inside the ruins site and the sun (and heat) gets very intense during the midday.
  • Bring your own snacks and bottled water to avoid paying for over-priced food and drinks at the ruins.

Is Chichen Itza Worth Visiting?

Despite the fact that Chichen Itza is a very popular, well-known and highly frequented Mayan ruin site by tourists, my opinion is that these ruins are definitely worth visiting, even for independent and budget travelers who enjoy venturing to places that are located off the beaten path. The structures at Chichen Itza are impressive, grand, well-restored and maintained; the site is expansive and contains many interesting ruins; and the history of the ruins is interesting to learn.

The El Castillo Pyramid is obviously the main attraction and the characteristic landmark at Chichen Itza, however, there is so much more to Chichen Itza than this famous structure. My favourite part about visiting Chichen Itza was exploring and admiring the smaller temples, and the unique pyramids and structures with interesting and detailed architecture such as The Iglesia, The Monastery and The Observatory.

If you arrive at the ruins site close to their opening time at 8 AM, you will largely be able to avoid the huge crowds of tourists which start arriving around 11 AM and the annoying vendors lining the paths inside the site. You will likely have the majority of the ruins to yourselves and have the luxury of exploring the ruins in a peaceful, relaxed and calm environment. Another benefit of arriving early, is that you are able to beat the intense mid-afternoon sun and heat.

Even if you are only able to arrive at Chichen Itza during the late morning or afternoon, the structures are fairly spread out throughout the large site, and the further you get away from the El Castillo pyramid, the more dispersed the crowds will likely become.

In addition to visiting Chichen Itza and if you are spending more time in the Yucatan, I highly recommend checking out some of the many other fascinating, off the beaten path and lesser-frequented Mayan ruins in the Yucatan – places like Uxmal, Coba, Ek Balam, Edzna, and the smaller but impressive ruins along the Ruta Puuc (Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna). These ruins have a rugged and natural feel to them, they are surrounded by the thick jungle, and contain many partially-restored and completely unexcavated ruins which are overgrown with plants and jungle vegetation. I loved the serene atmosphere while trekking through the jungle at these ruins sites and I was completely alone during my entire visit at most of them, which was great.

In summary, don’t skip Chichen Itza just because it is touristy and a main attraction in the Yucatan. These ruins are definitely still worth visiting and exploring. However, I do recommend exploring at least one smaller and lesser-known/frequented Mayan ruins site in order to have a completely different and more authentic experience.

Getting Away – Transportation from Chichen Itza to Valladolid

From Chichen Itza, these are the transportation options for getting back to Valladolid. 

ADO First and Second Class Buses

There is an ADO ticket office at the entrance to Chichen Itza where you can purchase tickets. The buses leave from the ruins parking lot. Typically, first class buses leave around 4:30 PM and the one-way fare costs 84 pesos. You can find up to date ADO bus schedules at www.ado.com.mx for all other destinations as well.

Colectivos

There are colectivos going back and forth between the ruins and Valladolid continuously throughout the day between 7 AM and 6 PM (generally). They wait for passengers in the ruins parking lot (you may have to wait a little bit until there are enough passengers to leave). The one-way fare is 40 pesos and the journey takes around 45 minutes.

For bus schedules to other destinations, like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Merida, or Tulum, check the ADO bus website

Practical Details – Chichen Itza

Location: 45 km west of Valladolid (45 minute drive) along Highway 180 and 119 km east of Merida (1 hour and 20 minute drive). The ruins are also 197 km west of Cancun (2 hours and 10 minute drive), 180 km west of Playa del Carmen and 153 km west of Tulum.

Hours: 8 AM to 5 PM daily.

Admission: 202 MXN pesos

Parking: There is a large parking lot at Chichen Itza for those who arrive to the ruins via a rental car. The cost of parking is 10 pesos.

Facilities: There are modern washrooms, a gift shop, ATMs, luggage storage (free), and an information centre (where you can purchase ADO bus tickets) inside the entrance to the ruins.

Recommended Length of Visit: 2.5 to 3 hours.

Visiting Cenote Ik’Kil

After we had finished exploring Chichen Itza, we took hopped in a taxi and headed for a swim at the nearby Cenote Ik’Kil. 

Cenote Ik’kil is a large and perfectly round cenote situated deep underground, with lots of long tree roots hanging from the ground level all the way down into the water and sheer rock walls on all sides. The cenote is located just a short distance from Chichen Itza and the nearby town of Piste. It is an absolutely gorgeous natural wonder to see and swim in. 

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Tree roots hanging down into Cenote Ik’Kil.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Swimming in Cenote Ik’Kil

Getting There – Transportation from Chichen Itza to Cenote Ik’Kil

After we had finished exploring Chichen Itza, my friends and I decided that we wanted to cool off and go for a refreshing swim in a cenote. We found a taxi waiting in the ruins parking lot and asked if he could drive us to Cenote Ik’Kil. He agreed and we paid 70 pesos total (which we divided equally between the four of us).

You can also get to this cenote directly from Valladolid by taking the same colectivo that goes to Chichen Itza from the small parking lot behind the ADO bus terminal (Calle 39 at Calle 46 in Valladolid) and asking the driver to drop you off at Cenote Ik’Kil. The one-way fare will be 40 pesos.

Swimming in the Cenote

Upon arriving at the cenote, I immediately noticed that it was very commercialized and the environment almost felt artificial compared to the other cenotes I had visited, which had been surrounded by their natural jungle environment and felt much more rustic. This cenote had brand new, large and modern facilities (washrooms, changing rooms and lockers) and even a restaurant and almost felt like sort of a resort. We arrived at around noon and it was also extremely busy, with crowds of people everywhere.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

There were lots of tree roots hanging down into the water from the ground

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Looking up at the cenote’s hole in the ground from the water below

We entered the cenote via a set of stairs leading from a hole at the ground level underground and down into the cenote. There was an open area on the rocky surface at the water level, which was completely packed with people, waiting in line to be able to jump into the cenote from a platform above the water and another line to climb down one of the four wooden ladders into the water. There were staff members standing at each ladder and controlling how many people were able to swim at one time.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Inside Cenote Ik’Kil

After waiting my turn in line, I finally made it to the water’s edge where I climbed down the sturdy ladder into the water. There were quite a few other people swimming as well which detracted somewhat from the experience of swimming in such a beautiful natural sinkhole. The water was crystal clear and had a beautiful deep blue colour and it was refreshing. I enjoyed admiring the beauty around me, like the many tree roots dangling into the water from the ground above. The cenote was stunning and it was hard to believe that this incredible place was created naturally. 

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Looking into Cenote Ik’Kil from the ground above

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Cenote Ik’Kil

After a short swim, we headed back to Valladolid. Although the cenote itself was beautiful and I enjoyed a refreshing swim there, it wasn’t my favourite cenote and I much preferred the serenity and peacefulness of the lesser-known cenotes I had visited throughout the Yucatan, to the busy atmosphere and commercialized environment of Cenote Ik’Kil.

Getting Away – Transportation from Cenote Ik’Kil to Valladolid

We found a taxi waiting in the parking lot of Cenote Ik’Kil who drove us back to Valladolid. We paid 70 pesos in total (split between four people).

Practical Details – Cenote Ik’Kil

Location: Located 7 km southeast of the town of Piste and 40 km west of Valladolid, Mexico (45 minute drive).

Hours: 8 AM to 5 PM.

Admission: 70 MXN pesos

Facilities: There are modern washrooms, changing rooms, locker rentals, and even a small restaurant located at the cenote.

Overall, I had an amazing day exploring the ruins of Chichen Itza and then going for a refreshing swim at Cenote Ik’Kil. 

If you have plans to travel to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, I recommend checking out the incredible Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza! 

 

 

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

I had a fantastic morning exploring the ruins of Chichen Itza in a peaceful environment! This is me standing in front of the famous El Castillo Pyramid.

Planning Your Next Adventure?

Here are some helpful links if you are currently planning your next travel adventure!

Compare prices and book your flights using Momondo. I love the user-friendly design of this website and how easy it is to filter your flights by price, duration, etc. It’s a great place to find the best flight deals! 

Use Hostelworld to book a private room or dorm bed at a budget-friendly hostel and browse through listings across the globe. Use Booking.com to find a huge inventory of independent hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, hostels and chain hotels around the world and for every budget. And if you’re looking for a more authentic and unique experience of staying in a local’s home at your destination, then book your stay using Airbnb (sign-up using my link and get a discount off your first stay). 

Click here to read more of my posts about Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to help you plan your travels!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a travel booking on any of the websites I have recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I use all of these websites for booking my own travels and would never recommend something that I don’t already love. 

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Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan | brittanymthiessen.com

Have you been to Chichen Itza? What was your experience like? What other Mayan Ruins would you recommend exploring? 

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

Remember to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up-to-date about my current adventures and explorations.

Thanks for reading!

I’m Brittany, a small town girl living simply in the Canadian prairies. I love exploring off the beaten path and discovering hidden gems both locally in Manitoba and beyond; traveling independently; photography; eating plant-based and gluten-free foods; browsing local markets; and learning about cultures and ethnic cuisines. My other loves include cuddling with my cats, playing board games, drinking kombucha and matcha tea, spending time in nature, studying maps, eating Mexican food, and making fresh fruit smoothies. On this website, I share my photography, in-depth travel guides, reflections on a variety of travel-related topics, reviews, and favourite simple and healthy recipes, while also documenting stories from my experiences, travel adventures, local wanderings and explorations. Follow along using the social media buttons below and read more about me here
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  • FERCO.

    Hey there Brittany! This is Fernanda from Fernanda Was Here and I wanted to thank you for the mention! I’ve checked out your blog and I really, really like it. Great job! Travel lots, Fernanda 🙂

    • Hi Fernanda! No problem, I really enjoyed reading your blog post. Thank you so much for checking out my blog and I’m glad you like it!! I hope you have a lovely day 🙂

  • Spencer & Candace

    Hey Brittany! We’re going to Chichen Itza tomorrow, and this post has
    really really helped our planning! Thank you! One question: if not
    Ik’Kil…which other cenotes would you reccommend? Cheers, Spencer &
    Candace (www.360honeymoon.com)

    • Hi Spencer and Candace!

      Sorry for my late response! I hope you had an amazing day exploring Chichen Itza and I am so happy to hear that my post was helpful for you 🙂

      My favourite cenote in that area was at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman, which was just 4 km south of Valladolid. Valladolid is 45 minutes from Chichen Itza. I would highly recommend that one if you are sticking around in that area. Let me know if you have any other questions and I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip!

      Brittany