Holding the title as one of the new seven wonders of the world, it’s no surprise Chichén Itzá’s relics are one of Mexico’s top attractions. It’s believed the former Maya city dates back to as early as 550 AD, and once operated as the ceremonial centre of the ancient civilization. As the towering El Castillo (also known as the Temple of Kukulcan) gets most of the attention, some travellers are surprised to find the site has much more to offer: think sacred cenotes, sprawling temples adorned with intricate stone carvings, and forests leading to crumbling ruins. Here are nine tips you need to know before visiting Chichén Itzá.
1) Parking is easy
Unless you’re visiting as part of a guided tour from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, chances are you’ll be arriving by car. Some tourists choose to park for free along the side of the road just before entering the site, but keep in mind your vehicle could be at greater risk of dents and dings since the road is narrow. To minimize the chance of damaging the rental car, pay to access the shaded lot right in front of the entrance which is only 30 pesos (about $2 USD)—a small price to pay for peace of mind.
2) Time your trip
Timing is everything, particularly when it comes to seeing of the world’s most popular tourist attractions. With millions of people visiting Chichén Itzá each year, to say it can get busy is an understatement—particularly when the tour groups arrive. Beat them to the site by arriving first thing in the morning when the gates open, or around 3 p.m. when sunlight bathes the pyramid’s main staircase and the crowds usually start to clear out. It typically takes about two to three hours to tour the complex.
3) Pack your pesos
There’s an entrance fee of 232 pesos for adults (about $13 USD), and in true Mexican fashion there’s a good chance the credit card machine won’t be working…oh, and they only accept pesos. Ensure you have some of the currency handy, or seek out one of the men stationed near the entrance who can convert your USD to pesos—for a small fee, of course. There’s also an ATM on site.
4) Get a guide
That entrance fee won’t get you anything more than the privilege of walking through the site, so if you’re hoping to have any semblance of an idea about what you’re looking at you’ll want to hire a guide. It is possible to go it alone as there are plaques in front of some of the points of interest, but very little information is available about the actual history or significance of the sites. Your guide will be able to explain the astronomical theories behind the design of El Castillo, and why you’ll want to clap when standing under it (hint: listen for the echo). Tours can be booked at the entrance.
5) It’s more than a pyramid
One thing most travellers don’t realize is how huge Chichén Itzá is. Sure, you could simply snap a selfie in front of El Castillo and call it a day, but then you’d be missing spots like the enormous Great Ballcourt where Mayan sportsmen used to compete. Or the intricate Temple of the Warriors. Or The Observatory. The list goes on and on. Ensure you give yourself enough time to properly explore the complex—it is a wonder of the world, after all!
6) Dress for success
Keeping in mind how sprawling Chichén Itzá is, proper footwear is crucial (read: no flip flops). The uneven pathways aren’t paved, and you’ll have to keep an eye out for errant rocks and sticks. It can also be extremely hot, especially around El Castillo and the Great Ballcourt where there isn’t any shade. Be sure to have lots of water on hand, along with a hat, sunscreen and maybe even an umbrella to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
7) Don’t pack a swimsuit
One thing you won’t need to bring along? A swimsuit…despite the promise of not one but two cenotes on site. As soon as you see what colour they are, you’ll understand why they’re not exactly popular for swimming in.
8) Brace yourself for the salespeople
It often seems like everyone in Mexico is trying to sell you something, and it’s no different when you pass through the gates of Chichén Itzá despite it being a protected site. There are souvenir stands absolutely everywhere, selling the likes of t-shirts, wood carvings, shot glasses and figurines. Brace yourself for the constant barrage of what sounds like a dying cat—it’s actually vendors blowing through a jaguar whistle. Yes, that’s actually a thing, and it is literally the worst.
9) Eat offsite
After a long, hot day wandering around one of the greatest wonders of the world, it feels so good to sit back with a cold cerveza, si? There are plenty of spots to do so at the entrance/exit of the site, but here’s a tip: head just down the road to Pisté instead.
The colourful village may be just outside Chichén Itzá, but it’s inexplicably escaped the throngs of tourists and might just be one of the most authentically Mexican spots in the entire Yucatan. Best of all, there’s a fantastic family-run restaurant just off the main road called The Mexican Chicken, which serves up an entire spit-fire roasted chicken, rice and salad for only about $9 USD- a large enough serving to feed at least two people. Considering a hot dog at Chichén Itzá costs about $4, it’s a no-brainer to head outside the gates and eat in Pisté.
Do you have any tips for visiting Chichén Itzá to add? Share them in the comments below!
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