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.
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.
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.
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 .
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!
More Photos of Chichén Itzá
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.
Share your favorite image on Pinterest:
All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal.