Considered one of the new 7 wonders of the world as voted in 2007, the UNESCO world heritage site Chichen Itza is a must see in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. Located approx. 2 hours drive from the popular Tulum and Cancun, the Mayan engineering marvel is a fascinating sight to behold.
Dominated by the famous El Castillo or Temple of Kulkulcan, the ruins are made up of multiple sites and a network of paved roadways, reflecting the city complex, which was built sometime in the 5th century AD. By 600 AD, Chichen Itza had grown to become a thriving urban centre of Mayan civilisation, with an estimated 50,000 people living in the city at its height.
If you are planning a trip here (which you should!) here are 7 tips, tricks and things to know before your visit to Chichen Itza:
1. Timezone differences!
Perhaps the most important of all, particularly if you are making the visit from Tulum or Cancun, is being aware of a possible time zone change. In 2015, the state of Quintana Roo (in which Cancun and Tulum are located) decided to change to Eastern Standard Time, permanently gaining an hour of sunlight for tourists. Chichen Itza located in the state of Yucatan however, which still observes Central Daylight Time. Although, during April – October when daylight saving is in play, both states operate in the same time zone.
Between October – April when daylight saving is not observed in Yucatan, this creates a time zone difference. During this time, Chichen Itza is an hour behind Tulum, so if you’re planning on getting there just before opening at 8 am don’t forget to factor that in otherwise you’ll be like us and arrive before 7 am!
2. An early start to beat the crowds
While you don’t want to be too early, you do want to get there as close to opening as possible. A small queue had already formed by 7:45 am and being amongst the first people inside for the day means you get to enjoy the quiet and awe of Chichen Itza without the crowds and in the relative cool of the early morning.
3. Taking in your SLR camera
Be mindful there is a fee for the use of what they deem professional cameras and videos at Chichen Itza and requires a separate ticket to be used (i.e. DSLR’s and go pros. Regular point and shoot cameras like our Sony RX100 was fine). As such if you’re not willing to pay the fee, or happy to use our phone to snap pics, leave your camera and GoPro at home.
4. Entry fees
You will need to buy two tickets at Chichen Itza – one is the federal fee (MXN75 p.p), and one is the state fee (MXN400 p.p). When we were there in April 2019, we could pay both tickets on credit-card, but it’s often said that the state fee is paid in cash.
5. Cenotes of Chichen Itza
Unfortunately you can’t swim in the cenotes at Chichen Itza, however, if you’re looking for great nearby ones, our favourites were Ik Kil (8 mins away) or Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman (45 mins away just on the outskirts of the nearby town Valladolid and on the way back to Tulum).
Both open top cenotes, Ik Kil though is consistently rated in the top cenotes in Mexico with beautiful vines that dip down to the 40m deep waters. It has many facilities, including an on-site restaurant, lockers and accommodation options. The entrance fee is MXN70.
For Hacienda Oxman, what’s different about this cenote is it has both a natural underground pool (with rope swing!) plus an above ground pool with a bar if you’re craving a bit of sunshine. It also has three options for entry fees, all of which include life vest use and access to the pool.
a) MXN80 flat entry fee
b) MXN100 entry fee with MXN50 redeemable on food and drinks
c) MXN150 entry fee fully redeemable though on food and drinks
While we didn’t try the food, it was nonetheless a perfect post-Chichen Itza stop for an afternoon swim and drinks!
A fantastic stop for lunch near Chichen Itza is Yerberbuena in nearby town Valleidod. This serves a delicious meal with local Mexican dishes and even vego/vegan options. If you go, we highly recommend their mango frappe – it was divine!
7. Special events
There is a bi-annual festival during the spring and autumn equinox each year at Chichen Itza that celebrates the beginning of spring. An interesting fact: there is equal (12 hours each) of daylight and night.
Occurring every year in March and September – generally on the 21st of the month – on these days in the late afternoon around 4 pm, the light of the sun casts a shadow along with the steps of the Kulkulkan template that makes it appear like a serpent is slithering down the pyramid. This amazing display of the Mayan’s advanced astronomical knowledge and is a fun celebration to be had as thousands gather each year to admire this phenomenon. While we missed it this time around, if you are planning a holiday in these months, it will be well worth lining up the dates!