Ever since fifth grade social studies, I dreamed of visiting Mayan ruins… any ruins, actually. I think it was at that point that I started wanting to be Lara Croft (minus the pleather and general dominatrix aesthetic) or Indiana Jones; I wanted jungle adventures in ancient tombs and temples. Sounds creepy af, I know. I was a weird little kid. I haven’t quite aged out of that yet. What can I say? I’m a child of the ’90s. A very nerdy one.
Anyway, I never really considered that I’d see one of the wonders of the world (albeit a new wonder) in person. My visit to Chichen Itza has really given my soul something irreplaceable, something priceless, something money can’t buy. I don’t even know how to describe it. I feel enriched as a human being.
Needless to say, if you’re going to the Yucatan, it is imperative that you plan a day for this incredible place! I’m going to detail what we did in the state of the Yucatan, which includes our drive out, visit to Cenote Ik Kil nearby, and an afternoon in Valladolid (coming in the next post, as this one is too long to begin with), which is another colorful town that is rich in religious history.
The dawn of the Mayan civilization was around 1800 BC – nearly 4,000 years ago; their territory spread across the tropical regions of Central America, stretching through the Yucatan, Belize, and Peru. Chichen Itza was built around 60 AD, and is considered the most important Mayan city – an epicenter of Mayan culture. The most iconic landmark is El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan (it’s the big pyramid). Now that you’ve had a refresher course in elementary school social studies, let us proceed.
Some tips for visiting:
- GETTING IN: Chichen Itza is about 3 hours, give or take, from both Cancun and Tulum. You can book a tour bus or service and do the whole tourist (read: safe) thing, or you can do what we did and rent a car. We wanted to be independent! 😐
- Be prepared to drive a stick shift, as nearly all the rentals we encountered were manual, on a very long road to Quintana Roo’s neighboring state, Yucatan. You’ll drive through tiny towns, miles-long stretches of jungle, and feel like you’re completely disconnected from society. Our vehicle also lacked a functional seatbelt and airbags. FUN!
- We happened to be stopped at a checkpoint by Mexican police who wore giant automatic machine guns like they were boy scout sashes. Unfortunately I did not utilize the selfie stick at that time. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, am I right?
- We stopped in the town of Valladolid for some fresh juice and bread, and decided we’d come back later that day.
- Gas prices are comparable to the US, parking was about 20 pesos (barely more than a dollar USD). Mexico’s government has a monopoly on gasoline, so all the stations are called Pemex and they’re all regulated prices, but be sure to tell the gas station attendant (you can’t pump your own gas) exactly how much money you want to pay ahead of time. Be specific. Avoid any possibility of confusion/conflict.
- TIMING: Get. There. Early. Many benefits of getting there at the opening time of 8am include but are not limited to
- The vendors are not set up yet – these people will come at you like a used car salesman on a truckload of cocaine (too aggressive?), and there are approximately 548306948503 of them. In full force. They want you to buy their tourist gifts and jaguar noise machines and they will tell you that everything is basically free. They set up for when the tourists are there; the busses typically get in around 10/11am, so if you get there at 8, you can soak in the history and the fact that you’re at CHICHEN ITZA sans interruption.
- Like I’ve said, this place is hot AF. All the time. Sun. Bugs. Sweat. Tears. Exhaustion. The earlier you get there, the cooler and more comfortable you’ll be
- Also aforementioned, tourist busses don’t get in until the late AM, so you’ll have unobstructed pictures/selfies, and avoid claustrophobia. Do it for the instagram 📷
- COST: aside from parking, admission was 64 pesos (~$4). They also have a restaurant and snack bar on site, near the ticketing booth.
- We didn’t get a tour guide, but I actually would recommend it, especially if you don’t plan on reading up about each site in advance; I personally would have liked to learn a bit more. I was a mooch and tried to just eavesdrop on other English tours.
Here’s the greatest use I could ever make of a selfie stick: getting an ancient Mayan temple in the background with my mom.
cenote ik kil
This place is truly a treasure, and imo, a natural wonder of the world. The word cenote (say-noh-tay) comes from the Yucatec Maya word for ‘well,’ – they are a system of underground (subterranean) freshwater bodies, which create sinkholes in the earth. There are thousands (I’ve read as many as 7,000) of cenotes in the Yucatan.
You can find Cenote Ik Kil after you leave Chichen Itza by getting back on the highway toward Valladolid/Tulum/Cancun; there’s a sign for it on the right side of the road.
I can’t remember the cost off the top of my head, I believe it was 70 pesos total for the both of us, although that could have been per person. Approx $2-4.
You can rent life vests, which I regrettably did not do. The water is NOT salt water, it is actually quite heavy… meaning you’ll sink… quickly. You’d think that’d be more obvious, given that these are literally called SINKHOLES. So yeah, in sum, get a life vest. Looks kooky but is super worth it to enjoy your time. Bring a towel in a backpack unless you want to rent one. Lockers are about $1 to rent. They have showers on site.
One of my favorite parts of Cenote Ik Kil was the vegetation and wildlife. You can see exotic birds fluttering around, particularly the blue crowned motmot. Seriously SO beautiful. In the water you’ll be swimming with TONS of catfish, which I thought was cool, but I can see how some people might be freaked out. My one question is… how did they get there…?
So that was our jam-packed first half of the day, and one of the top experiences I’ve had in my short 24 years.
Hope this was a helpful guide for your trip to Chichen Itza! Stay tuned: I’m about to post all the details on Valladolid, the town on the way to/from the beach!