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Wonder of the World: Chichén Itzá (Yucatán, Mexico)

Pink umbrellas before the Wonder of the World, Chichen Itza pyramid El Castillo, Temple of Kukulkan, Yucatan, Mexico, Happier Place

The ruins of the vast Maya city of Chichén Itzá are astonishing in scale, history, and artistic detail. Not surprising, it’s considered one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

For North Americans, Chichén Itzá and its famous El Castillo may be the easiest of the New 7 Wonders of the World to experience in person. This is not just because it’s the closest but also because once you’re in Mexico, you can drive there yourself or just hop on a day-trip tour bus from your hotel along the über-popular Riviera Maya coastline.

El Caracol, The Snail or The Observatory, Chichen Itza, Mexico
The ruins of the Maya Observatory called El Caracol (The Snail) – one of the intricate and astonishing buildings of the important archeological site.

Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site Chichén Itzá also provides a nice cultural and environmental contrast to a vacation spent on the beach. But beware, once you’re away from the coast and in the woods, the humidity and heat feels a bit more intense without the sea breeze.

Chichén Itzá Overview

Chichén Itzá is a pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people between the 9th and 12th century. The active archeological site covers about 4 square miles (10 square km). The most recognizable structure is the step-pyramid El Castillo, also known as Temple of Kukulcan, which rises to 79 feet (30 meters) with the temple at the top of the 91 steps.

The impressively large city of Maya ruins is located away from the coasts near the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula. Notably, there are no visible rivers because in this arid region they run underground. The only source of water in the area are cenotes, sinkholes. There are two cenotes on the premises, which made this a suitable location to build this city between-the-coasts. The name Chichén Itzá derives from the words for mouths (chi) and well (chen) – and the name of the Maya tribe Itzá.

Maya ruin, intricate facade of building in the Las Monjas Group, Chichen Itza, Mexico
The collection of Maya ruins called Las Monjas Group features several buildings with intricate facades.

Location, Hours, Entry Fee

Chichén Itzá is located inland of the Mexican state Yucatán on the Yucatán Peninsula. The entrance is on Highway 180, south of the town Pisté. The nearest bigger town is Valladolid.

The entry fee has recently increased to 480 Mexican pesos, about 25 US Dollars (23 Euros).

The historical site is usually open 7 days a week from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. But there are different hours for special events, like the equinox celebrations.

Kids jumping for photographer in front of El Juego de Pelota (Great Ball Court) and Temple of the Jaguars, Chichen Itza, Mexico
Kids jumping for photographer in front of El Juego de Pelota (Great Ball Court) and the Temple of the Jaguars. Why do people jump for photos of famous locations? Hey, whatever makes them happier!

How To Get To Chichén Itzá

Fly to the Yucatán Peninsula, most likely to Cancún. Or take a boat. Then you can drive yourself with a (rental) car or book a day-trip from towns along the coasts (e.g., from Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Cancún). Driving time from any of the coastal towns is between 2 and 3 hours.

We rented a car straight from the Cancún airport to travel to Tulum, Sian Ka’an and Chichén Itzá. Actually, we initially rented a car from a company that turned out to NOT be directly at the airport. They tried to rip us off – so we ended up taking their car back to the airport to rent a car from one of the big American rental car companies (for the same price!) and returned the sketchy car to the sketchy company. Lesson learned: in the future, for Mexico travel we will stick with the big name car rental companies .

Shady tree in front of Group of the Thousand Columns
Shade is a little hard to come by since the ancient city was discovered and the forest has been cleared all around. So when you find a shady spot like here at the Group of the Thousand Columns, use it!

Happier Tips

Wear a hat and maybe even bring an umbrella to provide shade. Use sunblock and drink lots of water. Don’t bother bringing a tripod, they’re not allowed at Mayan archeological sites. Keep your eyes open for iguanas and other critter that may blend into the surroundings.

Plan a cooling-off visit at a cenote, a limestone sinkhole! There’s nothing quite like swimming and snorkeling around fish and turtles in one of these magical sinkholes – especially after hours spent walking around in the heat contemplating the scope and history of this vast pre-Columbian Maya city. After our visit, we went straight to Gran Cenote outside of Tulum. What a treat!

iguana camouflaged among among the Group of the Thousand Columns
Iguana camouflaged among among the Group of the Thousand Columns (each representing an individual soldier).

More Photos of Chichén Itzá

Wonder of the World, Chichen Itza pyramid El Castillo, Temple of Kukulkan, Yucatan, Mexico, Happier Place
The famous pyramid El Castillo (The Castle) also known as the Temple of Kukulkan.
365 steps lead up from the plaza to the temple at the top of the El Castillo pyramid in Maya city of Chichen Itza
365 steps lead up from the plaza to the temple at the top of the El Castillo pyramid – the heart of the Maya city.
Entrance below the stairs into El Castillo pyramid
That’s how you get into the El Castillo pyramid – a door below the stairs!
La Iglesia, The Church, Las Monjas Group, Chichen Itza
La Iglesia (The Church) is part of the Las Monjas Group.
Detail of the La Iglesia facade building corner: Mask with distinct nose, horse and headless guy, Chichen Itza
Detail of the La Iglesia facade: A mask with distinct nose, a headless guy and a horse.
Maya ruins, facade details, Masks with different noses and negative space, Las Monjas Group, Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Masks and negative space – Las Monjas Group Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Another significant structure and highlight of the Maya city ruins: Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors).
Chac Mool statue Templo de los Guerreros Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Chac Mool statue at the top of Templo de los Guerreros.
Group of the Thousand Columns, Each column at the Templo de los Guerreros and the One Thousand Columns represents a different warrior Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Group of the Thousand Columns. Each column at the Templo de los Guerreros and the One Thousand Columns represents a different warrior. A lot of the intricate carvings have disintegrated – but you can still make out some distinct details.
Restored and original, two different sides of the pyramid El Castillo / Temple of Kukulcan at Chichén Itzá
Restored or original, which one do you prefer? Two different stages on the side of the pyramid El Castillo aka Temple of Kukulcan at Chichén Itzá.
Left snake head on the north-east side of El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza, Mexico
Left serpent on the north-east side of El Castillo pyramid honoring Kukulkan, the Maya Feathered Serpent deity.
Pyramid with snake decoration, El Osario, The High Priest's Grave, Yucatan
Much smaller pyramid with its own snakes crawling down: El Osario, The High Priest’s Grave
Stone carved heads, detail of Plataforma de Venus, Platform of Venus, Chichen Itza
Stone carved heads at the top of Plataforma de Venus (Platform of Venus).
A little green shrub grows on El Osario, maya ruin, Chichen Itza, nature takes back
Nature takes back: a little green shrub grows on the Maya ruin of El Osario.
Dash of color: red wooden devils and jaguars for sale at Chichen Itza, Mexico
A dash of color: red devils among jaguars and other wooden souvenirs for sale by very vocal vendors in the shady entrance section of Chichen Itza.

Let’s Inspire Each Other

Have you been to Chichén Itzá? What was your experience like? Did you post any pictures you’d like to share? How about other Wonders of the World? Tell us about where you’ve been and where you dream of going.

Please leave a comment below.


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World Wonder El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico, serpent head and stairs to Temple of Kukulcan, serpent deity, Happier Place
Wonder of the World, Chichen Itza pyramid El Castillo, Temple of Kukulkan, La Iglesia, Las Monjas Group, Yucatan, Mexico, Happier Place

All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal.

Wonder of the World: Chichén Itzá (Yucatán, Mexico)

9 thoughts on “Wonder of the World: Chichén Itzá (Yucatán, Mexico)

  1. It’s a really special place to visit, so much history! Love your blog post is very complete.

  2. Those ruins are definitely a sight to see! The intricate details, the carvings on those stone slabs are just amazing. And to think these structures were built with only crude tools! Wow.

    1. Yes, I think that’s exactly what kept amazing me – that all of this scale of the city and the buildings and then the small intricate details were created many centuries ago by hand and simple tools. So much effort was put into creating beauty, not just function!

  3. I’ve never been to any place special outside of French territories. I would love to travel to somewhere in Asia once in my life

  4. I haven’t been to Chichen Itza yet but have loved exploring Mayan ruins in Guatemala & Belize so this site is definitely on my list!

  5. These Mayan ruins look incredible! I would love to visit Chichen Itza and experience them in person!

  6. This place looks wonderful. I studied something and it discuss the Mayans. It looks intriguing.

  7. This is on my bucket list for sure! I have always wanted to see these ruins.

  8. Oh wow! What amazing photos! I dream of going here one day. There are so many places I want to go. Egypt, India, japan…

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