Cancun Day Trip to Chichen Itza

The distance from Cancun to Chichen Itza makes it a full but popular day trip.  When else could you take a day and see a modern wonder of the world?  So I looked into a Cancun to Chichen Itza private tour, and at renting a car or taking a bus.  Here is the benefit of my research, as well as a look inside Chichen Itza and why it’s completely worth the trip.

Distance from Cancun to Chichen Itza

When we were first looking in to visiting, the distance from Cancun to Chichen Itza was a deterrent.  The nearly 200km and approximately 2.5 hours (by car) each way seemed a bit too much, especially since we had no intention of taking an overnight away from our resort.  But as I continued to look into options, there are some ways to make it work fairly well.  Honestly, for such a rich cultural and historic site, it’s worth making it happen.


Cancun to Chichen Itza: Bus, Car & Private Tour

Day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun | Cancun to Chichen Itza bus | Distance form Cancun to Chichen Itza | Chichen Itza Private Tours | Chichen Itza Entrance Fee

Cancun to Chichen Itza Bus

The Cancun to Chichen Itza bus options are not attractive as far as I’m concerned.  The travel time varies from 3 to 4 hours because of stops as you go, and unless you leave crazy early, you will likely get caught at Chichen Itza around the hottest and most crowded time of the day.  I pretty much planned our whole time there around NOT arriving then.  If you want to check it out, this is the official site to get bus tickets.  I had a lot of trouble getting the dates of travel to take, so basically wound up not being a fan and abandoning the public bus option pretty early on in our planning.


Cancun to Chichen Itza Car

To travel from the heart of Cancun to Chichen Itza by car will take approximately 2.5 hours, and you will drive 197 kilometers.  The good news is that most of the trip is on one highway, with 180D taking you from the heart of Cancun to 6 kilometers outside Chichen Itza.  The toll for the highway isn’t small at $350 MXN, which currently converts to $18.64 USD.  If you are comfortable renting a car and are looking for a lot of autonomy and maybe a nice stop or two on your way there or back, this is a very doable option.  If we were to go back, I think I would lobby for renting a car.

Cancun to Chichen Itza Private Tour Transport

There are a shocking number of tour options that will pick you up at your hotel in Cancun, take you on a guided tour of Chichen Itza, and bring you back to your hotel again.  For ease of use, this is a great option, and what we went with.  No car rentals.  No insurance.  No navigating.  AND, we chose an EARLY tour so we could doze on our way to Chichen Itza and tour soon after the doors opened.  With Amigo Tours, we were picked up from our hotel at 6:00am (this varies depending on how many they are picking up and at what hotels), and didn’t leave the Cancun area until after picking up our last passengers around 7:00AM.  With our travel time **and crossing a Time Zone on the way to Cancun** we arrived at Chichen Itza at 8:20AM.  That’s why our pictures have big open areas between sites – we were there EARLY.


Day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun | Cancun to Chichen Itza bus | Distance form Cancun to Chichen Itza | Chichen Itza Private Tours | Chichen Itza Entrance Fee

Chichen Itza Entrance Fee & Hours:

  • The site is open daily, from 8am – 5pm.
  • The Chichen Itza fee to enter the complex on your own with no tour is as follows:
  • The Chichen Itza Entrance Fee is $70 MXN pesos
  • There is an additional tax of $172 MXN -or- $92 MXN for those proving Mexican nationality.
  • On Sundays Chichen Itza entrance is free to residents of Mexico.
  • To use a video camera is an additional $45 MXN ($2.40 USD)


Can you climb Chichen Itza?

For many years it was part of the Chichen Itza experience to climb the pyramids, and even when we were there, people were asking if they could do so.  Sadly, since 2006 when a woman fell and died from her injuries, climbing the pyramids is no longer allowed.  So, you will still see pictures of people climbing who visited pre-2006, but that is not allowed any more.

Visiting Chichen Itza Complex

While most people know El Castillo, the main pyramid of Chichen Itza is actually a collection of several pyramids, ancient ball courts, platforms, two cenotes, and various other structures.


El Castillo:  The Castle

Day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun | Cancun to Chichen Itza bus | Distance form Cancun to Chichen Itza | Chichen Itza Private Tours | Chichen Itza Entrance Fee

What we see today is actually not the first temple to be built on this spot.  El Castillo was actually build directly on top of the first, built around 800AD.  As recently as 2015 it was discovered that this main temple was also probably built on top of a cenote that is approximately 20m deep.  Because of this, El Castillo is at greater risk of collapse than otherwise!

The main pyramid of Chichen Itza is actually an impressive homage to the Mayan calendar.  The facades of the pyramid have 52 panels for the 52 years in a Mayan calendar round.  If you count, there are a total of 364 steps up the sides of the pyramid.  Once you add in the top platform, you have 365 – for the 365 days in a year.  And each of the 9 levels are divided in half by a staircase, creating 18 terraces for the 18 months of the Mayan year.

When you are standing directly in front of the stairs of El Castillo, and clap your hands, you will hear a chirping bird sound echo back to you.  El Castillo was engineered acoustically to echo the sound of the quetzal bird, only from this spot.  The quetzal bird was sacred to the Mayan people, and the feathers were considered as valuable as Jade to some Mesoamerican peoples.  Recordings of this chir-rooping echo were made and compared by scientists to recordings of the quetzal that are at Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab, and they matched perfectly.  For more on this phenomenon, check out National Geographic’s article on the topic.

While the original temple on this site was a purely Mayan one, the El Castillo shows great influence of the Toltec culture that invaded and fused with the Mayan.  This can be seen in representations of Quetzalcoatl, the Toltec plumed snake, throughout the building.  The heads are obvious at the base of the stairways, and at the spring and autumn equinox, light and shadow create an illusion of the creeping snake body leading up the sides. Chichen Itza is apparently overwhelmingly crowded on these days to see this phenomenon, and some books & sites recommend going the week before to the week after those dates when it is still visible, but the crowds have not yet fully descended.


Chichen Itza’s Gran Juego de Pelota:  Great Ball Court

Day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun | Cancun to Chichen Itza bus | Distance form Cancun to Chichen Itza | Chichen Itza Private Tours | Chichen Itza Entrance Fee

There are many ancient ball courts in ruins throughout Mexico, attesting to the importance the game held.  In face, there are (I believe) eight courts just in Chichen Itza!  The rules of the game have to be inferred from carvings around the various courts, and this is made harder by evidence the game evolved and changed over time.  The best guesses are that the game was played with a hard rubber ball being hit through stone hoops high on the walls, without the use of the players hands.  It also seems that at least the captain of the losing team, if not the whole team, was sacrificed.  (Whoa.  We think we take sports too seriously… )

The acoustics of Chichen Itza’s Great Ball Court are also fascinating.  The structure is designed so that a conversation from within the viewing area at one end can be heard clearly within the viewing area 135m away at the opposite end of the field.  This way, visiting dignitaries could converse with the leaders at the far end, while still remaining in their respective places.


Chichen Itza’s Plataforma de los Craneos:  Platform of the Skulls

Day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun | Cancun to Chichen Itza bus | Distance form Cancun to Chichen Itza | Chichen Itza Private Tours | Chichen Itza Entrance Fee

The Platform of the Skulls was apparently where the heads of those sacrificed were displayed and it is easily identified by its multitude of skulls carved into every level.  Other lovely decorations include scenes such as eagles tearing open the chests of men to eat their hearts.


Grupo de las Mil Columnas: Group of the Thousand Columns

Day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun | Cancun to Chichen Itza bus | Distance form Cancun to Chichen Itza | Chichen Itza Private Tours | Chichen Itza Entrance Fee

The Group of the Thousand Columns is aptly named for the many, may, many column lined around the south of the temple.  At the top of the temple you can just see the Chac-mool figure reclining.  In 1926 archaeologists found a second temple dedicated to Chac-mool beneath this temple.  Unfortunately much of this temple was being closed off soon after we visited for restoration.


Cenote Sagrado:  Sacred Cenote

There is a path that leads away from the main El Castillo, beside the Plataforma de Venus.  400 meters along this path you will cind the Cenote Sacrado, or Sacred Cenote.  Edward Thompson bought the house and land that included Chichen Itza in 1900.  He was fascinated with the Sacred Cenote and had it dredged.  He found gold and jade jewlery from Mexico and as far away as Colombia, various other artifacts, and even human bones.  But that didn’t seem to be all the cenote was holding.  The Sacred Cenote was further explored by divers in the 20s and 60s, and many other valuable artifacts were found – as well as the remains of numerous people. There is ample evidence that the cenote was used for human sacrifice.


Deciding to visit Chichen Itza from Cancun will mean a full day commitment.  But, for us, the chance to see this incredible site we have seen pictures of all our lives, and is rated one of the modern wonders of the world, was too good to pass up.  With a bit of planning, it can be a thoroughly enjoyable day trip from Cancun.

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24 thoughts on “Cancun Day Trip to Chichen Itza

    1. Those are the two sides that warred in my head. I love the convenience of the tour, just get on the bus and go, rely on the guides to get you everywhere you need to be. But I do feel stifled in my free exploration sometimes. decisions, decisions!

  1. So glad I have come across your post via FTB as my parents are looking into something similar so I will share with them!! Personally I have never been there myself either but it’s definitely something I would do if I was. It’s a shame that you cannot stand on the pyramids but it makes sense based on safety, also to preserve it.

    1. I absolutely agree. I’m always looking for those ancient spots and ruins. So much to learn, and they make awesome photos. 😀

    1. Quite welcome! I would really suggest getting a tour that gives you a good chunk of time at the site, or driving on your own. While we loved our time, I would have headed over to the sacred Cenote, and spent more time exploring if we were on our own.

    1. 😀 Yeah, we’re not really the party party party types – and Cancun has so much to offer besides that! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  2. I’ll be in Cancun this May so this post is so helpful! I didn’t know that there were cenotes in this area either. I went to one a few years back in Tulum and really want ot visit one again!

  3. This is a very complete information on how to do day trip from Cancun to Chichen Itza. And I believe this is the first time I read about Group of the Thousand Columns.

  4. What an interesting place to visit. Thanks for this detailed information on how to do a day trip to Cancun. Its just sad you cannot climb the pyramid anymore. It would have been amazing.

  5. Great post with really thorough research! We visited Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen with a tour. I’d dreamed of going since I was a kid, unfortunately I passed out from the heat even though our tour arrived at the site really early! Such an unmissable site though.

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