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Chichen Itza Day Trip from Cancun: Top 10 Tips

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El Castillo (Pyramid of Kukulcan) | Chichen Itza day trip from Cancun
El Castillo (Pyramid of Kukulcan)

There is no better Cancun day trip than exploring Chichen Itza’s ancient ruins. Our Chichen Itza Day Trip from Cancun: Top 10 Tips article will give you all the information you need to take this road trip. See the Temple of the Warriors, Sacred Cenote, Great Ball Court, and El Castillo.


In ancient pre-Columbian times, Chichen Itza was a Mayan city on the Yucatan Peninsula. The city was an important ceremonial and commercial center with a massive step pyramid, known as El Castillo. Today, the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and designated as one of the new 7 Wonders of the World.

At Chichen Itza, the Mayans conducted trade, invented a writing system, and made major contributions to the field of astronomy. Walking through the site’s expansive plazas, it is fascinating to think of the thousands of Mayans who would crowd the city for ritual sacrifices and sporting events. Seeing the sheer scale of the towering pyramids, stone temples, and ball courts makes this day trip one of the best things to do Cancun.

For more information on Yucatan travel read our articles on:

Temple of Warriors | Chichen Itza day trip | Things to do in Cancun
Temple of Warriors

The park encompasses about 2.5 square miles. Plan to spend at least 3 hours touring (you could spend the whole day, but it gets very warm!).


1. Book a Cancun to Chichen Itza Tour for Your Day Trip

We recommend booking a small group tour (12 people or less) Chichen Itza tour. Though the 2 ¼ hour route is mostly highway through the jungle, we believe a tour is the best option in terms of safety, efficiency, and peace of mind. Choose a small tour to maximize your time at the site (a van will take less time to board, have shorter pit stops, and less waiting in general). Take a look at these tours:

Road Trip  Cancun to Chichen Itza | Things to do in Cancun, Yucatan Travel
Road Trip Cancun to Chichen Itza

2. Time the Outing for Early (or Late) in the Day

It is important to choose a tour that arrives at the site at opening time. Around mid-morning the large coaches arrive and the site becomes much more crowded. There is also little shade and the higher the sun climbs, the hotter the site becomes. Alternatively, you could choose a tour that arrives after 3pm. The crowds begin to thin, it is cooler, and every night there is a light and sound show that centers around El Castillo (the main pyramid).

Colonia Hipódromo Temple | Cancun Day Trip | Things to do in Riviera Maya, Yucatan Peninsula
Colonia Hipódromo Temple

3. Include a Stop at the Ik Kil Cenote

Chichen Itza is hot! Many tours include a stop at this lovely cenote. The grounds are well kept, there is fun tunnel to the cenote, and you can take a dip in the pool. Well worth the stop.

4. What to Pack for Your Chichen Itza Day Trip

Biodegradable sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, bug repellant, and sun block clothing. Have sturdy shoes for uneven, crumbly surfaces. Pack camera and extra batteries. Bring a few bottles of emergency water. There are places to purchase food/drink onsite and at planned pitstops, but it is good to have backup.

5. Currency Tips

Bring pesos for park admission, tips, food/drink, and souvenirs (many businesses outside of Cancun will not accept bank/credit cards). There is an ATM at the archeological site.

Ik Kil Cenote | Things to do in Cancun, Riviera Maya
Ik Kil Cenote

6. Utilize a Park Guide

To know what to see at Chichen Itza, we recommend viewing the sight with a park guide. If you have purchased a tour, likely a park guide is included in the price. If not, we recommend hiring an official park guide inside the site (not an unofficial guide hired outside the gates) or joining in a group tour. There is little signage throughout the park. An official guides is knowledgeable of park facts, trivia, and stories that make the grounds come alive.

7. Have a Photography Strategy

If you are an avid photographer, we recommend ditching your tour once you receive your admission ticket (let your group leader know!). Then, as soon as the gates open make a loop around the park taking pictures. Your best shots will be before the plazas and buildings become too crowded, and the sun gets too high. Once you have gotten your shots, return to the entrance and join a group tour or search out the group you came with.

Map Credit: | Chichen Itza day trip from Cancun, Riviera Maya
Map Credit:

8. Save Time to Shop

There is a museum store, and throughout the site there are local families selling goods on blankets in the jungle. There is little real craftsmanship in the most of the plaster, wood, and straw goods being sold. But, the bric-a-brac is colorful, the bartering is fun, and it is interesting mixing with some of the area inhabitants (many of Mayan descent). There are also many interesting shops in the nearby rest areas.

Rest Area Dancers | Cancun to Chichen Itza Day Trip, Things to Do in Cancun
Rest Area Dancers

9. Don't Miss These Ruins

El Castillo: Also called the Pyramid of Kukulcan, El Castillo is the massive step pyramid towering over the complex. There are 91 steps on each of its four sides. It was the ceremonial heart of the site. Visitors are no longer able to climb the pyramid due to safety concerns.

Pyramid of Kukulcan | Chichen Itza Day Trip | Things to do in Riviera Maya Mexico
Pyramid of Kukulcan

Caracol: It is theorized that the round-topped building was utilized as an observatory (the Mayans being wizards of calendars and clocks).

Group of the Thousand Columns | Chichen Itza day trip from Cancun, Riviera Maya
Group of the Thousand Columns

Temple of Warriors & the Thousand Columns: Rows of columns lead to the stairway at the structure's entrance. Feathered serpent statues guard the temple, thought to be used for ceremonial sacrifice.

Jaguar | Temple of Warriors | Mayan Ruins, Yucatan Peninsula
Jaguar | Temple of Warriors

Great Ball Court: There are several ball courts onsite. The Great Ball Court is longer than a football field. The game played here involved one team getting a ball through the opposing team's net. Carvings suggest that at the end of the game a player was sacrificed. No one knows if from the losing or winning team.

Great Ball Court | Cancun to Chichen Itza Day Trip, Yucatan Mexico
Great Ball Court

Sacred Cenote: There are a number of cenotes on the grounds. In the Sacred Cenote vast numbers of jewels, gold artifacts, and skulls have been found suggesting ritual sacrifice at this location.

10. Plan for a Long Day

You will spend about 4.5 hours in transit time, 4-5 hours at Chichen Itza, 1.5 hours at Ik Kil Cenote, and additional time added-on for food and bathroom breaks. Don't schedule an evening activity on the day you book this tour.

Bendiciones a los mayas (Blessings to the Mayans), Laura and Randy

For more information on Yucatan travel read our articles on:


Blooming Flowers | Yucatan Peninsula | What to see at Chichen Itza | Things to do in Cancun
Blooming Flowers


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