In 2021 I unexpectedly left for Mexico† The reason? I wanted to go to the USA around Pacific Crest Trail to go for a walk. Unfortunately, however, it was still forbidden for travelers from the Schengen zone to travel to the US. Corona, remember?! So I booked a ticket to Cancun, Mexico. My plan was to stay there for two weeks and fly from there to the US – and it worked! Anyway, I had two weeks in Mexico and no idea what I was going to do there.
Cancun is the capital of Quintana Roo, one of the most popular and touristic Mexican states. I had a wonderful time and met great people, but Cancun was a bit too touristy for me. It is mainly aimed at luxurious sun-sea-beach vacations. After a few days of lazing about on the beach, I started to itch, so I got on Google Maps to see what else there was to do in the area. This is how I visited coastal towns Tulum en Playa del Carmen, but just like in Cancun, I started to get a little bored.
But what turned out? Neighboring state Yucatan turned out to be only an hour away! I decided in Cancun a rent a car and thus traveled inland to the wilder Yucatan! There I discovered remote cenotes, the sounds of jungle, authentic villages, and one of the seven wonders of the world: The wonderful Chichén Itzá!
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The History of Chichen Itzac
These archaeological Mayan temples and structures are located in the middle of the Mexican jungle in the state of Yucatan. Chichén Itzá was one of the most important and largest cities in the time of the Maya. In the 9th century the city quickly gained power and inhabitants, and around the 10th century this place was the epicenter of Yucatan.
What is there to see in Chichen Itza?
A lot! Tombs, a cenote, the Temple of the Jaguars, the Thousand Columns, an Eagle Platform… Sounds exciting, doesn't it? The Maya had a rich culture and fascination with the gods and astronomy.
The ruins and their beautiful sculptures combine to form surviving relics of an ancient and intriguing civilization. Exploring the terrain will certainly keep you busy for a few hours. The archaeological site of Chichén Itzá is therefore definitely worth a visit!
1. El Castillo, the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl
El Castillo, or the pyramid of Kukulcan, is the most prominent temple on the property. It appeals enormously to the imagination and is a very well-known building in Mexico.
This temple was built in honor of the god Kukulcan – Quetzalcoatl in Aztec. The staircase pyramid consists of four sides with 91 steps each – that is 365 steps in total. This is no coincidence: Given the great interest in astronomy, this rhymes with the number of days in a year. It is thought that this pyramid was like a calendar for the Maya.
Inside the temple is said to be a mysterious jaguar throne from Jade! The Maya worshiped the jaguar: This animal was considered by them to be the God of the Underworld… Just ask the locals and sellers; they can probably tell you a thing or two about the jaguar.
Twice a year, the shadows fall on the stairs in such a way that they resemble crawling snakes. This mysterious phenomenon attracts thousands of visitors, tourists and believers every year.
Remark Nowadays you are no longer allowed to enter the stairs of the pyramid, this to protect both the pyramid and the tourists.
2. The horror of the great ball court
Remarkable: The belief in gods was so great that human sacrifice was part of the Mayan culture. Special games were held in this place. For example, there was a certain ball game in which you were not allowed to use your arms and hands. The winner of this tiresome game was sacrificed to the gods. Close to the ball court you will find a building with more than 2000 engraved skulls, believed to be the poor winners of the game…
3. Souvenir stalls
Did you know that there is no shortage of tourist stalls? As in so many places in Mexico, you will often be approached by sellers here. Admittedly, that can be quite difficult at times. In Chichén Itzá, mainly souvenirs, clothing, jewelry and all kinds are sold. Not everyone is a big fan of these booths and many feel that the historic site would be better off without vendors.
Understandable, but also a shame, because somehow you grant these people their income. Tourism is one of the main sources of income in Quintana Roo and Yucatan.
Practical information for Chichen Itza
Tickets and prices
A visit to Chichén Itzá, one of the seven wonders of the world, naturally comes with a price. But as you will notice, it is – I think – still a reasonable price. Contrary to what we Europe are used to, prices in Mexico are still relatively “low”. As an adult you pay 533 pesos at the entrance, which amounts to 25 EUR. Children (3-12 years) are allowed in for just under EUR 4. Mexicans and people living in Mexico get a big discount and can even enter for free on Sundays! If you want to avoid the crowds, it is best to enter on a normal weekday.
You can buy the tickets both pre-purchase online or on the spot at the cash register. There are often long queues at the cash registers, so if you prefer to skip the queues, you can order and pay for your tickets online… But be prepared to pay a lot more!
Guide and Tours
Many visitors like to call on a guide here to learn the history and not get lost. In addition to a guided tour, there are also extensive tours that you can book† Some are super-de-luxe: They come to pick you up with a bus and are including food and drinks!
A cheaper alternative is an audio guide! With the help of your smartphone, you can walk around the domain and receive information via your mobile. The app provides both written and audio information.
I visited the domain without a guide, as I had a meeting with Brazilian friends and I had a limited travel budget. Fortunately, we occasionally found signs with some explanation and spoke Spanish with locals and Mexican visitors, who eagerly told us stories about Chichén Itzá and the Mayan culture.
Our location and how to get there
Chichén Itzá is located at the following coordinates: 20.6843° N, 88.5678° W. No joke, these are indicated on the official website of Chichén Itzá! I also had to use these coordinates to find the place with my rental car – Google Maps and I are not always the best of friends. Chichén Itzá is about 3 hours from Cancun and a good 2 hours from Tulum.
In Cancun I had rented a car with which I could explore Yucatan on my own. Not only did a rental car fit better in my budget (I paid about €180/week), it also fits better with my personal travel style.
Sunnycars is based in the Netherlands and is by far our favorite choice for car hire when traveling.
At Sunnycars you can rent a car carefree without having to worry about conditions and insurance.
Sunnycars only offers all inclusive car rental. This means that all prices you see include all other costs, coverage and insurance.
- All inclusive car rental
- Dutch company
- Worldwide offer
- Rent a car without worries
- Not always the cheapest
From the nearby village of Valladolid you can also reach Chichén Itzá by ADO bus. You can see these ADO buses everywhere in Yucatan and take you to different cities and highlights. Timetables, destinations and prices can be found online.
There is certainly also the option to visit Chichén Itzá with a tourist bus. There are several travel operators, tourist offices and hotels that offer this trip. These organized trips pick you up at your hotel in Cancun or Tulum, have a certified guide with them and often offer nice extras. These are also book online.
Chichén Itzá is open daily from 8 a.m. to 17 p.m. The golden rule is: The earlier you go, the fewer people! So if you would like to enjoy the impressive temples in peace, go early. Later in the day it not only gets crowded, but also very, very hot!
Come early in the morning with enough water in your backpack, bring your good mood and enjoy your visit to these mighty beautiful Mayan ruins in Chichén Itzá! And watch out for the jaguar