No trip in the Yucatan region of Mexico can be considered complete without a side trip to Chichen Itza, literally “At the mouth of the well of the Itza”.
Although it is quite far from the Maya Riviera (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum), it can be easily reached by bus, tour operators and private cars.
All major hotels and tour operators offer a day trip to Chichen Itza. The price may vayr, but it is around 80 USD per person, including a visit to Valladolid and or nearby cenotes, and lunch, with a round trip on a confortable coach.
If you are a single visitor, or elder couple, you might consider this option. In all other cases, I strongly suggest the DIY way, renting a car and driving back and forth.
Driving in Mexico is much easier than someone believes.
Renting a car is no hassle, just a bit more of paperwork and carefulness respect to US or Europe, and that’s it.
I rent a big volkswagen everything included (no gas of course) for 120 USD for 1 and half day, but you can get smaller cars for lower prices.
We drove from Maya Riviera for approximately 2 and half hours, on pretty much decent roads. Just be careful at bumps.
When the Police stops you (note: not if, but when) just smile and tell the truth, that you are a tourist going to Chichen Itza. Period. A little bit of Spanish will help.
Don’t get out of the car, don’t be arrogant, witty or sarcastic.
DON’T EVER TRY TO BRIBE ANY OFFICER. I read reports about this, and I think that this is the most dangerous thing you can do.
The Police stopped us twice, no problems whatsoever.
Once you get there, parking is cheap, but remember: keep the receipt if you want to get out later!
The ticketing is awkward: you first pay the taxes, and then the real ticket, on a separate booth on the left of the entrance.
There is 45 USD fee to use videocameras.
Photo cameras are not charged, even though almost all of them nowadays can shoot videos.
You will not be able to walk a single meter without someone asking in your language if you want to hire a guide. It might be a good idea, we decided we didn’t care about it, we read enough about it and had a couple of books on Mexico.
The heat can be umbearable, make sure you have enough water, or money to purchase it.
As soon as you get into the archeological site, you will see the pyramidal shape of the Temple of Kukulkan, also known as “El Castillo”.
Kukulkan was the feathered deity with the shape of a serpent.
As to prove the Maya astronomical knowledge, the 91 steps on each side, plus the temple top, add up to 365, and during spring and autumn equinox the sun cast a shadow which will give an illusion of the serpent crawling the steps.
As with any other Chichen Itzà monument, it is not possible to climb or even touch El Castillo, but you can get quite close to it and take beautiful pictures.
On the opposite side of the temple you will probably see groups of people clapping their hands rhythmically: the echo produces a very weird noise, and you might want to try yourself!
At the other end of the site there is a large area surrounded by lower temples: is the Great Ball Court.
Mayans used to play an ancestor of our soccer/basketball game, only they used a heavy rubber ball, which needed to be sent into a ring using ankles and knees.
As far as we know, winners were going to be decapitated on the spot. A very strange reward.
The Tzompantli is a large wall covered with skulls, which probably was used for representations and plays.
You can find skulls everywhere on t-shirts, souvenirs, and other items sold by vendors within the site.
There are many other interesting objects on the site, such as the Temple of the Warriors and the Group of Thousand Columns.
On site, there is also a cenote, one of the thousands wells interconnected. Not one of the most beautiful, though, but worth a look once you’re there.
Chichen Itzà, a Unesco heritage site, is not to miss.
There are other interesting place to see nearby, or on the way back to the Maya Riviera, such as cenotes, other Mayan sites, colonial cities.
Even if your goal is just relaxing at the pool’s bar, carve a day into your vacation for this trip, and you will not be disappointed.