You couldn’t call your trip to Mexico complete without visiting Chichen Itza, the Mayan ruins. Without making too many “The Arrival” jokes, “Have you seen the ruins, my friend?”
When you visit the ruins at Chichen Itza, you can make your trip more enjoyable by knowing what to expect and how to get the most out of visiting. What you see in photos online and in travel books typically shows the main pyramid but there’s so much more to see.
1. Be ready to explore
The ruins take about three hours to tour. If you had the notion that it would just be a quick stop on your day, know that it takes several hours.
You’re visiting the ruins of a town, not simply a religious site. You should explore the entire site to enjoy the ancient sports complex, for example. The Mayans loved sports and the ball courts survived. Although you can’t ball on them, you can photograph them and explore their perimeter. Imagine your favorite athletes competing in this Mayan megaplex.
Also, don’t miss the temple or the observatory also located in town. The excavated townsite is massive. You should wear sneakers or loafers, so you can stay comfortable while hiking around it. Also, wear a hat and plenty of sunscreens. There’s no shade at the ruins and it gets hot.
2. You can no longer walk on the pyramids or the other ruins
Until a few years ago, tourists could schlep up the steps and take selfies atop the pyramid. The government no longer allows walking on the pyramids. A rope encircles each of the ruins and you’ll find yourself at least 10 yards away from each structure. You can just use a zoom lens for a cute photo.
3. The nearby towns of Pisté and Valladolid provide context and comfort
You can stop for lunch here or spend the night. While you can’t camp at the ruins, you can stay overnight in the nearby towns. This lets you soak up a bit of modern culture in the area, too. While the ruins represent what was, you can experience what is in Pisté or Valladolid. An overnight stay in either location provides you with an opportunity to experience what those Mayan cultures developed into. You can find comfortable hotels and delicious casual and fine dining restaurants in both towns.
4. Pack some pesos
Withdraw money from your bank at the hotel ATM. While there is an ATM, also known as a money machine in Mexico, at the site, it often runs out of cash to dispense. You will need about 250 pesos just to get into the site. Entry requires two tickets, and they equal about that in cost. You must pay in cash. You will also need pesos for the food vendors just outside of the ruins and the souvenir vendors. Forget using your credit cards or Apple Pay, Google Wallet, PayPal, etc.
5. Hire a tour guide
You will miss a lot if you simply read the informational pamphlets. The well-trained tour guides on a private Chichen Itza tour can explain the historical significance of the site and astronomical theories on the site’s construction and layout. This would make your visit memorable.
6. Timing means a lot to the success of your visit
The perfect times of year to avoid include major holidays and Sundays. On these days, Mexican nationals receive free entry to the site. Locals flock to this significant religious and cultural site. Time of day matters, too. You should arrive before the gates open at 8 am for the best results. If you beat the crowds, you can enjoy the site. Alternately, you can wait until 3 pm when the tours leave. The site closes at 5 pm though, so this may not leave you time to explore fully.
7. You cannot swim or wade in the cenote, the local wetland
This portion of the site was used in Mayan times, not for sports, but for human sacrifice. The people who lived at Chichen Itza practiced human sacrifice as a part of their religion and the cenote near the pyramids was sacrificial water where they would throw the bodies of their sacrifice. Besides the fact that it is a religious site, many years of dead people are in the waters. You should not swim in that type of environment. If the lime-green water isn’t enough to put you off, the thought of hoards of dead people having been thrown in there and swimming in their ancient remains should do it.