A World Heritage Site, and home tone of the New Seven Wonders of the Earth, Chichen Itzá gets thousands of visitors. Sometimes it seems impossible to enjoy spending time there, but if you know what to expect and when to go, you’ll be able to get the most out of it.
The following list is far from complete, but it gives you an idea of what to expect when visiting.
1. There are a few easy ways to get to Chichen Itzá, but you need to fly to Cancun first.
From there, you can rent a car, take a tour or a local bus. It’s easy to rent a car and gives you most flexibility. It is also my favorite way to get there. Drive west on Highway 180 between Cancun and Chichen Itzá. Or, if you are more adventurous and want to see more of Yucatan, take the local roads and stop often. But if you prefer to stay at a resort and get on a tour, there are plenty to choose from. Try to find one that you feel most comfortable with.
2. Get there early if you drive a car, and prepare to stand on line.
No matter when you go, you’ll always find a crowd. And if you get there too late, you won’t find a parking spot. Don’t take it personally, but you’ll have to pay a separate parking fee. It is not much, just make sure you have some change for it. And expect to stand on line for a while before entering.
3. To avoid the parking fee, but mostly the crowds, stay in one of the hotels by the back entrance.
Sure, you’ll pay a lot more to stay there, but you need a hotel anyway. Besides, sometimes you can get a great deal if you are lucky.
You have three to choose from, depending on your budget.
The Mayaland Hotel is the oldest hotel and it is closest to the gate. In fact, the gate is on its premises. It is also the pricier choice, but if you like luxury hotels, it is your definite choice. You’ll love it. Enjoy the peacock walking around while you dine on the outdoor patio. In fact, even if you don’t stay there, was through the gardens, or watch the show at the observatory.
The Hacienda Chichen is your choice if you are also in more recent history. It was originally a hacienda, owned by the first archaeologist who excavated the ruins. The Hacienda is my personal favorite. The rooms are separate bungalows, with personal patios.
Your third choice here is the Villas Archaeologicas. It is farthest from the entrance and it is usually the cheapest, but still a great place, with rooms looking out to an inner yard and swimming pool.
You can walk to the back entrance from either one.
4. Prepare to do some walking once you are on the premises,
Though you can’t walk to every structure on the premises, Chichen Itzá is a large site, and it will take a few hours to explore.
Don’t forget to take the trails to the Observatory in Old Chichen, and the one to the Sacred Cenote.
5. And don’t forget your hat and sunscreen
No matter what season it is, it will be hot and humid. Be prepared to sweat, and don’t let it bother you.
Since you won’t find much shade around the ruins, wear a hat, use sunscreen and carry water.
6. Don’t let the vendors bother you on the trails
If you’ve never been there or it’s been over ten years since your last visit, you’ll be surprised of the number of vendors lined up on both sides of the trails. It used to be illegal for the to enter the actual site, but that is no longer the case.
Ignore their calls of of “almost free today”, or the newest one I heard, “less than free”. Right, how can that be?
Avoid eye contact if you are not interested in stopping. And try to ignore the “jaguar calls” of their newest noise maker. I know it gets very annoying. But they are only trying to make a buck.
Do stop if something catches your eye. Before you buy it though, make sure it is geniune and local. Don’t buy a statue of a Mayan warrior looking like a Greek god. Look for a vendor who makes his/her own crafts on the premises. You’ll find plenty of them. And don’t forget to haggle, you are expected to do so in Mexico.
7. Don’t be disappointed that you can’t climb the famous Pyramid of Kukulcan.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramid of Kukulcan is truly a work of art. Did you know that it was built on top of an older one, which was in turn built on top of an even older one, which was built on top of a cenote? Yes, impressive, isn’t it? Then the realization that the number of stairs you would have climbed to the top coincides with the number days in a year might make it even more remarkable.
But the most dramatic thing about it is the Serpent Kukulcan, on the sides of the stairways.
Since it is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it needs to be protected. What would happen if the thousands of visitors per day would all climb it? Remember that you want to keep it for future generations to see.
So please understand why you can’t climb it.
8. Enjoy walking through the Great Ballcourt instead.
Clap or yell as much as you want while in the center. You’ll understand how the ancients used the principles of acoustics outdoors. It seems better than some of the most modern opera houses.
9. If you need to exit, you can return with your ticket on the same day
In fact, you might want to exit to see the small museum set up at the entrance. If you come through the front, it is easy enough to stop be. But if you entered through the Mayaland Hotel, you’ll need to exit to see it, and then return so you can get back to the hotel. You can easily do it, you won’t be asked to buy a new ticket.
To be on the safe side, stop on your way out and tell them you intend to return. It is probably unnecessary, but good practice. At least it’s what we did.
When you come back in, you don’t need to stand on line again to get your ticket scanned. Instead, walk through the side door by the scanner, and show the attendant your ticket, he’ll let you back in.
10. But he won’t let you return for the light show.
You’ll need to pay a separate, much higher, entrance fee. But, it is well worth it. Besides, it’s still much less than a ticket to Disneyland and you’ll have a great experience.
Don’t forget to pick up an Ipod to listen to the stories. It is “free of charge”, more precisely, included in the entrance fee. They do ask you to leave an ID until you return it. You plan on returning it anyway, so it should not be a problem.
You can choose the language you listen to the story of Chichen Itzá while at the site in the dark. Walk through the ruins lit up with different color lights, and stop at each, while you listen to its story. Walk at your own pace.
Then sit down and enjoy the light show projected on the Pyramid of Kukulcan. Among other things, you’ll see the shadow of the Serpent Kukulcan descending the stairs of the Pyramid.
11. If watching a simulation of the descent intrigued you, plan your next visit to see the real thing.
Time your visit around one of the solstices. During that time, you can see the shadow of the serpent Kukulcan descending the stairs of the pyramid. Huge crowds gather on the days of the each solstice to watch the spectacle. Avoid these crowds.
Most people don’t know is that you can still see the shadow a week before and after an equinox. Go later in the day and stay till closing time to watch the show.