The time has come to embark on an exciting journey to Chichen Itza, recognized as one of the seven New Wonders of the World. This site has been on our bucket list for a long time, and let me tell you, finally checking it off was nothing short of amazing!
Imagine yourself walking in the footsteps of the ancient Mayans and uncovering the mysteries they left behind. How cool is that?
Our group took a Chichen Itza day trip from Tulum in a rental car. By having the flexibility to stop for lunch and explore some cool shops along the way made the trip more enjoyable because we were on our own schedule. Plus, we got to drop by the Zazil Tunich Cenote, after we visited Chichen Itza where we had a fantastic dinner and got to take a dip in an underground cenote. It was such an awesome experience. I highly recommend doing something similar.
- Tip: If you decide to do the same adventure, make sure you check out the Zazil Tunich website to reserve your spot in advance.
Now, let’s dive into the top 10 things to do, see, and know about Chichen Itza before visiting to craft your perfect day trip itinerary.
A Glimpse into Mayan History
Chichen Itza: A Portal to the Mayan World
Chichen Itza is far more than just a destination with an array of ancient stone structures. It’s a profound gateway that transports us back to the time of the Mayans.
Astronomical Genius: The El Castillo Phenomenon
The Mayans’ extraordinary grasp of astronomy is brilliantly encapsulated in the El Castillo pyramid, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan. The pyramid was built for astronomical purposes and during the spring (March 21st) and autumn equinox (September 21st) the sunlight flows down the pyramid’s stairway.
This causes seven isosceles triangles to form imitating the body of a serpent (Kukulcan), 37 yards long until it joins the serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the staircase. This phenomenon, resulting from the interplay of light and shadow, is not only a spectacle but also a symbol of the Mayans’ understanding of celestial cycles.
But there’s more to El Castillo than meets the eye. When you clap your hands in front of the pyramid (about 20 feet in front), the acoustics of the structure create an echo that mimics the chirping sound of the sacred quetzal bird.
This unique sound effect is a testament to the Mayans’ advanced knowledge of acoustics and their architectural techniques. Standing there, clapping, and hearing the echo, you’re not just witnessing an acoustic wonder but also experiencing a connection to the natural world as perceived by the ancient Mayans.
Cultural Melting Pot: A Diverse Architectural Canvas
At its peak, Chichen Itza was a lively mix of different cultures within the Mayan world. You can see this blend in the variety of building styles there. From the famous El Castillo pyramid to the impressive Temple of the Warriors, each building shows how different cultures came together to influence the art and architecture.
Center of Power: The Hub of Mayan Civilization
Chichen Itza was much more than a religious sanctuary; it was the heart of political and economic life in the Mayan world. From approximately 600 to 1200 AD, it was a beacon of power, influencing the entire civilization through its religious, cultural, and commercial prowess.
Sacred Cenote: A Well of Mysteries
The Cenote Sagrado, a natural sinkhole on the premises, was a sacred space where the Mayans connected with their deities. Cenotes were considered portals between the natural world and the underworld. Here, they performed rituals and offered precious objects like gold and jade and human sacrifices of many women, children, and warriors to appease their gods. The Sacred Cenote was one of the many cenotes that held the most tributes and sacrificial offerings.
Knowing about Chichen Itza’s history makes your visit so much more than just a regular tourist stop. It turns it into an exciting trip back in time and through different cultures. Now that you’ve got this background info, let’s dive into the top 10 things you should do on your trip to make it both fun and memorable.
Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Know When Visiting Chichen Itza
Here are 10 essential tips to ensure your day trip to Chichen Itza is nothing short of remarkable.
1. Early Bird Gets the Worm
Getting an early start is super important! We reached Chichen Itza a few hours after it opened and found it quite crowded. So, I’d suggest getting there as soon as it opens, between 8am and 9am, to avoid the crowds and the hot sun.
2. Water is Your Best Friend
It can get very hot and humid, so staying hydrated is essential. Everyone in our group brought their reusable water bottle, which made the experience more enjoyable. The key is to keep sipping water throughout your visit to stay refreshed.
3. Don’t Forget Sun Protection & Mosquito Repellent
The Yucatan sun is no joke. We all used plenty of sunscreen and carried extra with us. Make sure to bring your sunglasses too. Wearing a hat is also a good idea for extra protection. Believe me, you’ll definitely want to shield yourself from the intense sun while you’re out exploring.
Also, don’t forget your mosquito repellent, friends. There’s no escaping those nasty critters, so wear and bring some bug spray to protect yourself from getting bitten. Mosquitos are everywhere due to the tropical and humid environment.
4. Wear Comfortable Shoes
There’s a lot of ground to cover. The site is massive! You’ll probably be on your feet for 2+ hours. So wear your comfy shoes.
5. Hiring a Guide is Worth It
Our group didn’t know much of the history behind Chichen Itza, so we decided to hire a local guide that we found at the entrance, and we felt it was a great decision. The stories and insights they shared brought the ruins to life in a way we couldn’t have imagined. If you prefer to tour the site at your own pace, that’s completely fine as well. It just depends on what your preference is.
6. Check Out the Sacred Cenote
The Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza is a sight to see. It’s steeped in history and mystery, so don’t miss it. This particular cenote was not made for swimming or drinking, it was considered a gateway to the underworld. Today, the pool is a thick murky green color and can be viewed from a distance so you can take photos. The natural sinkhole can be found towards the far left of the site.
7. Pack Some Snacks
There aren’t many food options inside, so packing some snacks is a good idea. I brought some oranges and nuts, which kept my energy levels up throughout the time we were there.
8. Capture Memories but Respect the Site
While it’s tempting to touch the structures, it’s important to respect the site. You are welcome to take tons of pictures but just make sure to follow the rules and keep a safe distance from the ruins.
9. Visit the Temple of Warriors & Ball Court
The Temple of Warriors: Echoes of a Mighty Past
Standing amidst the Temple of Warriors at Chichen Itza is like stepping into an ancient storybook. This incredible structure is a testament to the Mayan civilization’s architectural prowess and their intricate understanding of warfare and religion.
Architectural Splendor: The temple is surrounded by a wall that has a series of columns, each with a carved stone figure of a warrior in full battle attire, giving it the name Temple of the Warriors.
Chac Mool Statue: At the top of the temple, which you might be able to see, is a Chac Mool statue – a reclining figure holding a plate on his torso. This statue was used for sacrificial offerings to please the gods. It’s a poignant reminder of the Mayans’ spiritual beliefs and rituals.
The Great Ball Court: A Game of Life and Death
The far left of the site contains the Great Ball Court, which was the largest in Mesoamerica. It was not just a sports ground; it was a sacred arena where the Mayans played a game that symbolized the cosmic struggle between life and death.
Imposing Structure: The Ball Court measures about 168 by 70 meters (551 by 230 ft), with walls up to 10 meters (33 ft) high on each side. It’s hard not to be awed by its sheer size.
Acoustic Mystery: One of the fascinating aspects of the Great Ball Court is its acoustics. Stand at one end and whisper; you’ll be amazed at how clearly your voice can be heard at the other end, over 100 meters away. You got to try this!
Carved Panels: The walls around the court are covered with detailed carvings that show scenes from the ball games, including players in elaborate gear and scenes that suggest the game had deep ritualistic importance.
What to Expect: As you explore these sites, you’ll get a sense of the might and spirituality that drove the ancient Mayan civilization. It’s an opportunity to witness firsthand the blend of athleticism, art, and ritual that defined their society.
10. Shop for Souvenirs Outside the Site
I must admit, I was somewhat taken aback by the abundance of vendors scattered throughout the Chichen Itza site. Their presence, constantly offering souvenirs, felt a bit overwhelming and, in some ways, seemed to distract from the site’s profound historical ambiance.
If you find yourself considering a purchase, just be mindful and vigilant to avoid any potential scams. Outside the boundaries of Chichen Itza, you’ll find more vendors, where I stumbled upon some unique gifts. Engaging in a bit of bargaining is customary and part of the local shopping experience, so don’t shy away from negotiating a fair price!
Planning Your Day Trip to Chichen Itza
Getting to Chichen Itza can be a fun part of your adventure. You can drive, take a bus, or hop in a taxi – each way has its perks!
Taking a Rental Car
Driving yourself is great because you can go at your own pace and start early to beat the crowds. Renting a car usually costs around $25 a day, but sometimes you can find deals as low as $8. The drive from Tulum takes about 2 hours. With this option, you have the luxury to make pit stops along the way and even stop and get some breakfast or lunch. You can even drive to one of the nearby cenotes after your visit to Chichen Itza to cool off.
Going by Bus
If you want to save money, the bus is a good choice. Tickets cost between $10 and $15, and the trip takes about 3 hours. Here are some bus tips:
- Get to the bus station 30 minutes early to make sure you get a seat.
- Ask about the route. Some buses stop to pick up more people.
- If you get motion sickness, bring something to help.
- It’s a good idea to bring snacks and water.
Taking a Taxi
Taxis are straightforward but cost more, usually between $50 and $60 each way if you’re coming from Tulum. Remember to agree on the price before you start, and booking through your hotel can get you a better deal. Taxis are great for groups since you can split the fare.
Chichen Itza is much more than just a spot to check off your bucket list. It’s a special place where the stars, architecture, and human spirit all come together. When you leave, take with you the tales told by the ancient stones and the echoes of history.
Remember, it’s all about enjoying the experience while respecting this incredible piece of history.
By following this guide, you’re not just visiting Chichen Itza, you’re becoming part of its enduring legacy. Have an amazing trip and soak in every moment. Let us know how your trip went in the comments below!