Visit the Maya site of Chichén Itzá: tickets, prices, opening hours

Chichén Itzá

Going to Mexico? Be sure to visit the Yucatán and the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá! Here’s a mini tour guide!

Who hasn’t seen Mexico’s iconic pyramid at Chichén Itzá? An ancient Mayan city located in Mexico, between Cancún and Mérida in the Yucatán, the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá was one of the greatest centers of Mayan civilization, whose history spans almost a thousand years. A priceless testimony to the Maya and Toltec peoples, it is one of the best-preserved sites in Mexico. However, its chronology and the identity of the Itzá peoples are uncertain.

Would you like to visit the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá? Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá attracts between 3,500 and 8,000 visitors a day, and was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. Here’s our mini-guide to make the most of your stay in Mexico, and discover all the mysteries lurking around this unique archaeological site!

History of the Maya site of Chichén Itzá

The chronology of the Maya site of Chichén Itzá is the subject of much scientific debate. The first Maya city is thought to have been built in the 5th century (around 415, 435 or 455) by the Itzá, or Itzaes, near two natural cavities – cenotes, used to collect water underground to irrigate the city – according to which the city was named « at the edge of the Itzaes well ». The Itzaes left Chichén Itzá around 692 AD and returned in the 10th century, around 987 AD. The king of Tula, called Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs and Kukulcán by the Mayans, is said to have succeeded in taking the city and founded a second city there.

This was the period of the migration of the Toltec warriors, who came south from central Mexico to colonize the Yucatán. Thus, Mayan and Toltec architectural styles merged in the course of an enormous acculturation between the two empires. The Itzaes ruled the city for two centuries, building the Kukulcán pyramid around 1050 as a tribute to their founding « father ». The pyramid, a sacred religious center of the Maya civilization, is one of the most important in Mexico.

The Toltecs, conquerors of the Mayas, left the region around 1200 for reasons that remain unknown to this day. Discovered by the Spanish Conquistadors in 1533, the site was abandoned again, only to be recognized by the general public in the 19th century as a result of archaeological work. Today, it is Mexico’s best-known tourist site, but only 25% of the city of Chichén Itzá is believed to have been excavated from the rainforest.

What to see and do in Chichén Itzá?

Chichen Itza Map

Photo credit: Our Worldmaps

Two sites corresponding to two distinct eras can be visited: the Old Chichén to the south, and the  » New Chichén Itzá« , which encompasses the sacred monuments of the Maya. The monuments of Chichén Itzá have been described as masterpieces of Mesoamerican architecture, and priceless witnesses to the ingenuity of the builders in their proportions, the precision of the sculpted decorations and the refinement of the constructions. A visit to the Maya site of Chichén Itzá is an opportunity to see :

  • The Great Ball Game
  • The Kukulcán Pyramid – also known as the « Castillo
  • The heads of the Feathered Serpent
  • The Warriors’ Temple
  • El Caracol – the Observatory –
  • The Sacred Cenote
  • The « Tzompantli » (an altar of the dead, where the skulls of humans sacrificed by decapitation were impaled and displayed…)

The Kukulcán pyramid is located in the center and measures 30 metres in height, with a base of 55 metres. The sides feature a staircase with 90 steps (364 steps in all, with the top being the 365th step, making one step for each day of the year). An attraction at the spring equinox: the shadows of the steps and the sunlight reflecting off the heads of the Feathered Serpent give the impression that the animal is spawning outside the building.

Don’t miss the Tzompantli: the Warriors’ Temple, with its round and square columns and the skulls of human sacrifices, reflects the power of the city. The Grand Ball Game is the largest in Mexico, and a testament to outstanding acoustic engineering. The clapping of hands from one side to the other produces 7 and 9 echoes respectively, and these numbers were sacred to the Maya. The Ball Game was a sacred rite, in which two teams competed with a rubber ball during festivals. In a match lasting up to 24 hours, the leader of the losing team was decapitated by the winner. Blood was seen by the Mayans as a fertilizer for the earth, so blood sacrifices were not thought to be warlike. It was therefore an honor to have one’s head impaled at the Tzompantli, helping to improve future harvests…

Then on to the sacred cenote, 40 metres deep. Not far away, the Caracol was the Maya astrological observatory: it enabled scientists to observe the movement of Venus and the stars, confirming the advanced state of knowledge of the Maya civilization at the time.

How do I get to Chichén Itzá?

Okay, but how do you get to the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá?

First of all, there’s no set direction for your visit: you can wander around the monuments as you please, and that’s quite something!

During your visit, you’ll regularly find a map of the site to help you find your way around and find out which monuments to see, so you won’t get lost!

There are two ways to get to the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá:

  • By car: Allow 2 hours’ drive from Mérida and 3 hours from Cancún or Playa del Carmen. The easiest way is to rent a car at the airport. This will give you greater freedom to get around and visit Mexico.
  • By bus: Direct bus services run between Mérida and Chichén Itzá, departing once an hour. From Valladolid, the journey takes 45 minutes, with buses leaving every half-hour.

Opening hours and prices for visiting Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá

SCHEDULES

The site is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 8am to 5pm.

We recommend visiting the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá in the morning, when the hordes of tourists have not yet arrived. Besides, it can get very hot later on.

RATES

The visit fee is 157 Mexican pesos, or €7.32, plus a federal tax of 64 pesos (€2.98). A total of 232 pesos is therefore €10.81.

A guided tour of Chichén Itzá in French will cost 750 pesos (€34.95), 650 pesos for a tour in Spanish (€30.29).

Other guides sometimes negotiate their rates after entering the park.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • There are no queues and no order to visit.
  • Bring plenty of water as it can get very hot
  • Snack bars and refreshment areas with free toilets are scattered around the site.
  • Every evening at 7pm (autumn and winter) and 8pm (spring and summer), a free show (1h30) is offered (book in advance).