Chichen Itza Travel Guide | Explore the Mayan History in Mexico

Explore the incredible ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza! Travel Guide with transit time, tours, the pyramid, beyond the pyramid, Mayan History in Mexico, and more!

El Castillo Mayan Pyramid Chichen Itza Mexico

Art, Museums, History, Science, Natural Wonders, and Archaeology are a few of my favorite things!  So what could be better than an archaeological site full of art, culture, science, an ancient pyramid, an astronomical observatory, and more located in a jungle? That was my motivation to spend the day at Chichen Itza Mayan archaeological site.

The Chichen Itza site is located in the Yucatan state of Mexico, the nearest village is Piste (pronounced pis-tay).  Our adventure started in Cancun, Mexico on the far East coast.  The cheapest way from Cancun to Chichen Itza is by tour bus, it is also the slowest and most restrictive.  We skipped that and arranged for a private car through our resort, paying $250 USD for private driver all day including fuel.  Slightly more expensive, but we set the schedule and our little car passed all the buses so we arrived before the crowds.  By car, it is a 2 hour drive using toll roads, or an extra hour to avoid the tolls.  Tolls are charged by type of vehicle, meaning that our private car paid approx $500 pesos for both tolls (approx. $42 USD) but van or bus is more expensive.

Tour Guide Victor
Tour Guide Victor

Once we arrived on-site at Chichen Itza, we hired a private tour guide as an additional fee beyond the site entrance admission charge.  Our guide is of Mayan ancestry (which is really obvious by looking at him) and his family has lived in the nearby village of Piste for generations.  Victor spoke English, Spanish, Mayan and several other languages.  For $750 pesos ($62.50 USD) we had a private historian, archaeologist, comedian, linguist, photographer, and guide for the next 2 hours.

El Castillo
El Castillo Pyramid

El Castillo is the pyramid that most people associate as the main focal point of the site.  Unfortunately, the site is so popular, they now restrict tourists from hiking the pyramid to avoid damage to the site.  Walking around the structure and the full site is still quite impressive.  Clapping at the base of the pyramid makes a quacking sound like a duck.  The light at Spring & Autumn equinox casts a serpent shadow of the side of the steps, making these 2 days (usually March 20 & September 22) the busiest days at the site.

Great Ball Court
Inside the Great Ball Court

Just north of El Castillo is the Great Ball Court, with Temple of the Bearded Man on the North side and Temple of Jaguars on the East side of the court.  Clapping inside the Great Ball is amplified and has a strange echo quality.

Osario with skull platform in the background on the right
Osario with skull platform in the background on the right

There are multiple smaller pyramids that make up the Osario group.

Skull Platform
Skull Platform

The Osario, skull platform, the great ball court, and the Temple of the Warriors are all closely grouped near El Castillo.

Temple of the Warriors
Temple of the Warriors

Surrounding jungle protected the site against natural disasters and damage, and the site is now well-groomed for tourists and archaeologists.  Many detailed carving are still easily visible throughout the site.

El Caracol Observatory
El Caracol Observatory

El Caracol is the astronomical observatory and my favorite building on-site.  It is a square foundation with a round topper that looks like modern day telescope buildings, except that it was built between AD 600-1200, the exact century this building was constructed is only one of the great mysteries surrounding it.

open archaeology site near El Castillo
open archaeology site near El Castillo

Chichen Itza is a marvelous historical and cultural attraction that is well worth the visit.

The site opens at 8 am with various afternoon and evening events.  Due to heat and humidity summer is the low tourist season.  Summer visitors need to remember to drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and many folks bring umbrellas or parasols to protect from the sun rather than hats.  December is the busiest month for tourists, so try to arrive early and beat the tour buses.

17 thoughts on “Chichen Itza Travel Guide | Explore the Mayan History in Mexico”

  1. After traveling to Cancun I had the good fortune to visit Tulum, a padrísimo archaeological vestige, truly anyone who visits the place is amazed at the incredible constructions adorned with giant palm trees around and an immense sea, which makes us feel how small we are in the universe, incredible post

  2. I was fortunate to visit Chichen Itza when we were still allowed to climb the El Castillo pyramid (and so I did). Although it’s very touristy, I still think it’s a great and easy one-day excursion. It’s fascinating to think how all those structures were built so many years ago without today’s technology!

    1. That is great that you were allowed to climb El Castillo. I wish I could see inside the observatory, or any of the buildings!

  3. Whoa! I’m such a sucker for UNESCO sites and all these Mayan sites are under UNESCO and I’d totally love to go and visit them. In your close up photos, the sculptures are so similar to centuries old Indian sculptures!

  4. Well I honestly have no clue how to pronounce this place, but looks like a good choice! And it seems to be so empty, so you had a pretty quiet time? 🙂

    1. It is pronounced like “chicken pizza” with the p sound in pizza being silent. It was so quiet, in off season. Such an amazing place!

  5. The toll roads in Mexico are super expensive. I lived in Mexico City for 3 years, I decided it’s worth it for the tolls as it means there is less traffic and less potholes!
    I was at El Castillo about 15 years ago when you were allowed to climb it. It looks like you had a great day trip!

  6. Amazing pictures! We were planning to visit Mexico in April but it’s still undecided. It’s been my dream to visit this place … Cancun too! Thanks for the tips regarding transport. We might hire a car as well since we don’t like to be rushed. It would be good to bring my history class to life!

  7. Such a stunning area to explore. I’m so jealous I’ve never been there. One day I’ll get there and live out my history nerd dreams.

  8. It looks completely empty in your photos!! When I went there were crowds and crowds of tourists, although in all fairness most people were extremely nice and would make a sharp exit if it looked like they were messing up somebody’s photo. When I visited Chichen Itza it was at the end of a somewhat costly 5 month trip through India and South America, so my budget didn’t quite stretch past the cost of a group tour! I really wish I’d been able to do it privately like you did, though. I imagine you were able to take away a lot more facts and information than I did!

    1. By hiring a private car we beat the large tour buses and arrived before any crowds. We also went in low season (summer) that draws much fewer people. IT really was that empty all morning for us!

  9. Beautiful photos! We live in Mexico and spent a month in Belize. We have sent A LOT of pyramids but this is one we missed. I loved all of them. They are all different. Palenque in Mexico is incredible. It has a waterfall you can swim in after exploring the site 🙂

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