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Chichen Itza Ruins Travel Guide | Facts & Things to See

Visiting one of the seven wonders of the world is on most people’s bucket lists, so why not add Chichen Itza to your next travel plans?

This marvel of Mayan engineering is visited by over 2 million people every year and is undoubtedly one of the top attractions in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

Chichen Itza pyramide mexico
The mighty Temple of Kukulcán (El Castillo), the most famous site in Chichen Itza

While there are plenty of places to visit in Mexico, you can’t explore the Yucatan without going to Chichen Itza. 

In this article, we’re going to look at everything you need to know when planning your next great getaway. 

Chichen Itza Facts & History

Chichen Itza is a masterpiece of Mayan architecture and a truly worthwhile adventure. Whether you’re a history nerd or just looking to check off another item from your bucket list, these are some of the most important things to know.

1. Mexican Wonder of the World

In 2007, a list of the new seven wonders of the world was announced, and Chichen Itza made the cut. This alone is a good enough reason to want to visit this ancient archaeological site. Another of the seven new wonders of the world worth visiting is the Taj Mahal in India.

Take a step back in time and explore one of the most unique destinations around the globe. 

Note: Chichen Itza was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1988.

2. Chichen Itza is Over 1,500 Years Old

The size and grandeur of Chichen Itza are only made more impressive by its age. Although the exact date of completion is difficult to tell, scientists have placed it between 500 to 700 AD. This makes the Mesoamerican marvel up to 1,600 years old. 

El Caracol mexico
El Caracol is also known as the Observatory, is a round building on a large square platform dating to around 906 AD.

While these ruins aren’t in any danger of disappearing any time soon, the fact that they are in great condition after such a long period is awe-inspiring. 

3. Most Populous Mayan City in the Yucatan

Not only was Chichen Itza a center of science, economy, and religion, it also had the biggest population in the Yucatan. It may not have been the largest Mayan settlement on the continent, but certainly in the area.

Chichen Itza lizard mexico
The only inhabitants in. Chichen Itza these days

At the height of its power, Chichen Itza had a population of over 50,000 people. What’s even more impressive is that modern archaeology is suggesting that it was a melting pot of cultures. Which is possibly what lead to its dramatically diverse architecture. 

4. Equinox Shadow Art

The Mayans are well-known for their astrological prowess, and they had done it again at Chichen Itza. If you visit here during the spring or fall equinoxes, you will be treated to a surreal serpentine show.

On these two days, it appears as though a snake is slithering down the main pyramid. By the end of the day, the shadow will have merged with the stone serpent heads found at the base of the structure. 

Tip: While this is an amazing time to visit Chichen Itza, it is also the busiest time, and you will be sharing the grounds with many tourists. 

5. Unique Acoustics

While the architecture is enough to keep you mesmerized, the acoustics are a fun thing to enjoy. Various spots throughout the complex have unique audial effects. The three most popular ones are:

  • Clapping at the base of El Castillo produces an echo that sounds like a high pitched chirp
  • Clapping at one end of the Great Ball Court produces an echo of 9 claps in the middle
  • Whispers can be heard from up to 150 feet away when standing at the temple north of the Great Ball Court

Chichen Itza Wonder of the World | Things to See

Now that you know some of the most interesting facts about Chichen Itza, it’s time to take a look at the main attractions. There are plenty of structures and public areas to enjoy when visiting the site, but these are some of the ones that you simply can’t ignore. 

Tomb of the High Priest mexico
Tomb of the High Priest is a small step-pyramid temple

Note: While you could opt to explore the grounds by yourself, this Chichen Itza tour will allow you to learn from a highly trained guide. 

chichen itza Las Monjas
Las Monjas, also known as the nunnery.

1. Temple of Kukulcan / El Castillo

The most famous of the Cancun pyramids is definitely El Castillo – also known as the Temple of Kukulcan. If you’ve seen a photo of a massive Mayan structure at Chichen Itza, it’s most likely El Castillo.

Temple of Kukulcan / El Castillo Chichen Itza Mexico
Temple of Kukulcan / El Castillo

It is in the center of the compound and, without a doubt, the most important place to visit when exploring the ruins. It is 30m (100 feet) tall, and there are 365 steps to reach the top – one for each day of the year.

Temple of Kukulcan / El Castillo Chichen Itza Mexico
you won´t be alone around the Temple of Kukulcan

2. Great Ball Court

That’s right, the Mayans played sport, and the biggest venue was found at Chichen Itza. Try to imagine the Madison Square Garden of the Mayan world, and you’ll be pretty close to the real thing.

Although they weren’t playing basketball, the ball game still involved shooting through a hoop 7 meters (22 feet) off the ground. This massive field was known as a Juego de pelota and reached 166 meters (545 feet) in length and 68 meters (225 feet) in width – that’s almost 60 meters longer than a football field!

3. Sacred Cenote

The Yucatan peninsula is dotted with cenotes – large sinkholes filled with freshwater. The one found at Chichen Itza was a popular pilgrimage site for ancient Mayans and was used for ritual sacrifice and other acts of devotion.

The sacred cenote is the largest of the two found at Chichen Itza. It is north of the Temple of Kukulcan and can be reached via the ‘ceremonial walkway’. 

4. Temple of the Warriors

This large temple is found to the east of El Castillo and is one of the largest buildings in the complex.

Temple of the Warriors Mexico
Temple of the Warriors

While you can’t climb to the top of the pyramid anymore, you can still admire the architecture and many pillars surrounding it – each depicting a warrior. 

Temple of the Warriors Mexico
Temple of the Warriors

5. Group of a Thousand Columns

There are so many Mayan structures to admire while at Chichen Itza that you could easily miss these columns. While these pillars are all that remains, they used to support an elaborate roof system.

You can find these columns in the area surrounding the Temple of the Warriors. 

Group of a Thousand Columns Mexico
Group of a Thousand Columns

How to Visit Chichen Itzá Ruins

Chichen Itza is located in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, approximately 130 km from the provincial capital of Merida. It is also quite close to the popular tourist town of Cancun, which is just over 220 km away from the ruins. 

These are the most popular ways to visit the ruins:

Casa Colorada mexico
The Casa Colorada is one of the best-preserved buildings

Reaching Chichen Itza via Plane

If you search for nearby airports, you might be pleasantly surprised to see the Chichen Itza International Airport pop up. This airport was inaugurated in the year 2000, but unfortunately struggled with debt and is currently not accepting any public flights. 

This means you will have to choose from one of the two nearby airports – Merida International Airport or Cancun International Airport.

Cancun is the larger of the two airports, with more international flight options available. However, it is a slightly longer journey from here to Chichen Itza.

Reaching Chichen Itza via Car

Rental car agencies are available at both Merida and Cancun International Airports. Whether you are driving from Merida or Cancun, you will use the same 180D highway.

The trip from Merida should take just under 2 hours, while traveling from Cancun will increase your travel time to approximately 2h30m.

Chichen Itza

Travel tip: If you don’t feel like driving yourself but aren’t a fan of public transport, you can always book a private tour from Cancun, which includes transportation. 

Reaching Chichen Itza via Bus

The ADO bus service is a safe and reliable way of traveling around most of Mexico and can also be used to visit the Chichen Itza Ruins. On average, it costs between $6 to $10 per trip – depending on where you are traveling from. 

There are terminals in both Merida and Cancun, which makes it easy for you to catch a bus close to the airport you flew into. 

Chichen Itza World Wonder | Frequently Asked Questions

With so many tourists planning trips to Chichen Itza, there are bound to be some frequently asked questions. These are some of the most common things to find out while scheduling your holiday. 

Can You Climb the Ruins at Chichen Itza?

Unfortunately, you can no longer reach the top of the Chichen Itza pyramid. In an attempt to preserve this historical landmark, it has been made off-limits for tourists to climb. 

The mighty Temple of Kukulcán (El Castillo) the most famous site in Chichen Itza
No, you are not allowed to climb the Temple of Kukulcán (El Castillo), the most famous site in Chichen Itza.

This is the case for most Mayan ruins throughout Mexico. Although it means you won’t be able to snap a selfie from the pinnacle, it’s important that these attractions are preserved for future generations.

How Tall is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza is a complex, home to many different structures. The tallest and most noteworthy of these is the Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo). The height of this pyramid is just under 30 meters (100 feet). 

Why Was Chichen Itza Built?

Chichen Itza became the center of Mayan culture in the Yucatan peninsula. While the exact reason for its construction is unknown, scientists speculate that it was its proximity to nearby cenotes (underground freshwater) that made it the perfect place to develop a city. 

La Iglesia meXICO
La Iglesia is one of the oldest buildings at Chichén Itzá
Chichen Itza mexico
Local resident

Explore a Wonder of the World in Mexico

Chichen Itza is, without a doubt, a Mayan site worth exploring. If you are visiting the Yucatan peninsula, make sure to add one of Mexico’s wonders of the world to your itinerary.

While other places like Cancun, the Tulum Ruins, Mayapan, and the Palenque Ruins are also great places to visit, Chichen Itza is in a league of its own.  

Travel guide to chichen itza in Yucatan Mexico
Everything you need to know before visiting Chichen Itza, one of the wonders of the world in Yucatan Mexico