Best way to see Chichen Itza from Cancun

The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
67 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
North America
Length of time
1-2 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 100
Time of year visited
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
152nd/372 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb


One of the 7 Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is a must visit site.  The iconic El Castillo pyramid; the great ball court that conjures up scenes from movies of brave competitors playing for life and death; the mysterious Cenote Sagrado believed to be the entrance to the underworld; and all  throughout the site a reminder of the complexity, sophistication and genius of the Maya.  The only downside is just how busy this world famous site can get which, when combined with the heat and humidity, could easily spoil the experience

Two key tips:

  • 1. Spend the night in one of the hotels nearby (we stayed at Mayaland, which was nicer than it sounds).  This allows you to enter the park early at 8am when it is far quieter and cooler, compared to an energy sapping trip from somewhere like Cancun for a wander round in the heat of the day.  It also allows you to enjoy the night show . . .
  • 2. Stay for the night show – I’m usually a little sceptical about night shows as they can be a bit tacky and really just another way to make money, but the Chichen Itza Night Show, I thought, was fantastic.  It tells you a bit of the history, runs a spectacular series of images across the El Castillo pyramid, and it’s also just super cool to be walking around the ruins in the early evening when the vast majority of tourists have left.  Must do


#1 The world famous El Castillo pyramid, the centre piece of this Wonder of the World

Chichen Itza Night Show - fantastic experience

#3 Seeing the Cenote Sagrado, believed to be the route to the Mayan underworld

#4 Walking through the Great Ball Court and imagining what it must have been like to be a life & death competitor here

#5 A slightly odd, but non-the-less fun stay at the Mayaland Hotel

#6 Wandering through the less famous ancient sites, getting lost and thinking what it must have been like all those years ago

Other Travel Tips

  • Get a bit lost first – as with so many of these world class ancient sites, its often best to first head in and generally get a bit lost in the feelings of wonder, discovery and adventure as you make your way around the complex and soak it all in.  You can then follow up through a guide or simply make use of the very good audio guides provided
  • Hawkers – be prepared for quite a lot of stores selling tat, even in some prime spots in the site
  • Chichen Itza was at its height in what is known as the post-Classical Mayan period (900AD to 1500AD, although in the case of Chichen Itza it was abandoned around 1250AD), which partly explains why so many of the ruins are so well maintained
  • Other Mayan sites – for Classical Mayan Period ruins, it’s hard to go wrong with a visit to the premier Mayan site of Tikal in nearby Guatemala.  See Mayan Ruins of Tikal for a review and tips on how to best enjoy your time there.  Calakmul, around 250km to the south of Chichen Itza is also supposed to be great, but sadly we didn’t get a chance to visit
  • A different Mayan experience – for pre-Classical ruins, and a bit of an adventure, I would highly recommend the one day helicopter trip from Flores in Guatemala (next to Tikal) to El Mirador which has only seen excavation start relatively recently and has, it is now being realised, some of the most massive pyramid complexes in the world.   See Helicopter Trip to El Mirador in the heart of the Guatemalan Jungle for my tips on this unforgettable experience
  • Books – if you have an interest in Mayan history or Pre-Columbian American civilisations in general, I’d recommend reading 1491 by Charles Mann.  It gives an insight into what these civilisations were like before Europeans arrive and the level of their sophistication.  Great introductory read
  • Broad points for this Yucatan part of Mexico:
    • Safety – we felt safe at all times.  The violence that is happening in so many other unfortunate areas of the country has thankfully not spread to this part of Mexico.  The same as in your home country cities, use common sense and you should be fine
    • Note on the sargassum (seaweed) – unfortunately the beaches in this part of Mexico have been hit hard over the past years by strong blooms of sargassum (with varying theories as to why).  Have a quick research before you go as to how strong the bloom is and the approach the place you’re staying has to dealing with it because it really does change the vibe of the place.  The large hotels have armies of staff removing it from their beaches, but the surrounding areas don’t and so the mounds of sargassum will dominate your beach experience both in terms of visually and the smell
    • Ubers were abundant and the easiest way of getting around
    • Don’t expect everything to be dirt cheap.  This part of Mexico has some world famous attractions and is a natural destination for many tourists from the US, so prices reflect this

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone