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Chichen Itza is probably the most famous Mayan archaeological site in the Yucatan Peninsula and would dare say in all Mexico and Central America.  It was once the political and economic center of the Mayan civilization, between 750 and 1200 AD.

Visiting the site is an easy day trip from Cancun.  Otherwise, a better way to see and absorb the unique atmosphere of Chichen Itza is to stay overnight at one of the hotels situated next to the site and visit the park early in the morning.

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

Currently, Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was recently declared one of the New 7 World Wonders.

There, you’ll still see massive structures standing, demonstrating the extraordinary Mayan architecture, their knowledge in astronomy, and their sacred rituals. I wrote a post about the specific structure in Chichen Itza, so I’ll skip them in this post.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

While Chichen Itza can be a World Wonder, a visit to it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a “World Wonder experience”.  To be quite honest, my visit to Chichen Itza has been one my least favorites among all the ruins I’ve visited.  Why?

Well, the place is a “circus”!

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Since the site is so famous, it is always crowded.  The crowds didn’t necessarily put me off, but what did put me off were the sellers that were constantly harassing one.

Contrary to the rest of the Mayan sis I’ve visited where the sellers are either concentrated in one area or simply gathered outside the actual archeological site, in Chichen Itza, they are everywhere – in every corner, in every ruin, in any imaginable place.  Seriously.

You are standing in front of “El Castillo”, marveling at its symmetrical shape, the steps, and even the acoustical tricks, and suddenly…  “Señor, comprelo por un dollar” – Sir, buy it for a dollar.  It’s a seller interrupting you, showing the first thing he could find, offering for a dollar to catch your attention and then raise the price (yes, that’s their trick).

Chichen Itza, Mexico

I personally think they affected my experience since they became pretty annoying with their pushy attitude.  But anyways, I learned to tune them out and ignored them eventually.

One seller I found very funny was one that wanted to trade my sneakers for a small souvenir.  “Are you crazy?!”, I replied.  When he saw I wouldn’t even bite, he then offered another souvenir trade in exchange for my camera.  “Seriously?!.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Anyways, while annoying, these things do add to the character of the site (or create a character, if I might say)… you just have to be ready to tolerate them. So if you like to be at peace when visiting archeological sites, Chichen Itza is not your place.

But, there’s a way to at least minimize the impact and have a more enjoyable visit with relative tranquility.  The doors to the archaeology park open at 8:00 a.m. In order to be there at that time, you’ll need to spend a night in Chichen Itza (the town or any nearby hotel).

Since the group tour buses have yet to arrive, you’ll have at least two hours to enjoy the park with almost no one there. Fewer tourists also means fewer sellers too, so you’ll be in relative tranquility.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Another benefit of visiting early in the morning is the lower temperature. Chichen Itza gets extremely hot by midday (also the moment when it is more crowded), so at least you can take it easier by that time since you’ll have already visited the major sights.

Equally, by the time the park gets crowded, you can move to see less visited sights while the arriving crowds visit the major sights.

There’s the need to do a bit of planning to have a “World Wonder worthy” visit in Chichen Itza, so I hope this helps a bit when you decide to visit the ruins.

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    1. Madness indeed, I live in Mexico and all the all inclusive resorts sell this tour plus every single street seller is pushing it. You could actually ascend the steps a few years back until a tourist managed to lose their footing and plummet earthwards which provoked a change in policy. But yes madness indeed

      1. I totally understand the madness. Was there, lived it, and now i’m done with it. It’s a nice place to visit, but it’s been partially ruined by the uncontrolled tourism there.

    1. Yes, it isn’t the most appealing Mayan ruin to visit thanks to the crowded environment, but maybe with some luck or very early in the morning you might be able to find some empty pockets.

  1. Visiting Chichen Itza is definitely on my bucket list. It’s a shame about the crowds, but not too surprising.

    1. Yes, it’s good to check-it out of the bucket list, though it is good to know that it might not look like all the postcards show. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Great tips! Some of the vendors in heavy tourist areas can be pushy and annoying.

    What about the ones that will put items like necklaces and bracelets on you, and then ask for payment?! It’s crazy! I guess you’re right about them adding “character” to a location. Thank goodness you learned to ignore them!

    I’m glad you captured the real look of the location. Most travel photos only show the ruins which NEVER look crowded.

    1. True, most travel photos only show a couple people around the ruins or empty, and in fact, I did a post about Chichen Itza that had similar photos. But in this occasion, I saw such a huge crowd that I could not ignore taking pictures showing the ruins as they look every day.

  3. That’s good advice. I’d love to visit, but only very early morning. Considering the amount of visitors later in the day plus annoying trinket sellers I’d probably rather stay on a beach contrary to my nature.

  4. Sometimes my least favourite thing about travelling to these places is other people. If only I could sneak in alone, then I’d really enjoy it.

  5. Norbert,
    Like you said, the ideal moment to visit is early morning and late afternoon. When I visited Chichen Itza, I arrived around 9:00 a.m. The place was desolated and, seriously, we had El Castillo to ourselves and it was possible to get really nice photos.

    Another benefit of arriving early (other than avoiding the heat) is avoiding the rain. People from tropical climates know about the afternoons rains. Inside the archeological area, there is no place to cover yourself from rain (or sun).

    If you want to get there early, you can also stay in the town of Valladolid. The place is super pretty an it has been declared Pueblo Magico. From Valladolid, it is about 45 minutes to Chichen Itza. If you leave at 8:00, you can make it before 9:00.

    1. Oh, very cool you got to experience El Castillo without the crowds! It’s true what you say about the rain… afternoon rains are very common, so it’s good to avoid them.

      Thanks for your tips, Ruth!

  6. Haven’t been there….but the photos remind me a bit of Tikal in Guatemala. Cool setting and great history, but the number of people kind of makes it lose its lustre IMO…too bad I guess.

    1. True, there are certain similarities with Tikal. Well, in case of Chichen Itza, contrary to Tikal, people will (almost) always be on your face, as in Tikal, since it is so big and forested, you can lose yourself and find your own paths along the woods until you reach new ruins.

  7. I appreciate the tip and will be sure to show up first thing in the morning. I’m still very interested to see it and Tulum also.

  8. I think that’s one of the things with these big name sites. It was the same when I visited Angkor Wat. The main temples and palaces are filled with tourists and have the highest number of vendors, but visit the smaller sites, which can be equally as impressive and their is almost noone.

    1. True. Same thing I experienced in Angkor Wat, though there you have more ground to cover and get “lost”. Still, in Chichen Itza you can do that too and you might find some empty pockets.

  9. I have visited Chichen Itza, and Honestly , let me tell you I was so foolish, we planned to visit it in mid day and that led us feel much dehydrated , additionally the whole structure of Chichen Itza was so hot , hardly anyone could walk on it’s way by bare feet.

    1. It’s true that it gets really really hot during mid day. What I did during mid day was to sit down under a tree and just watch things happening around me, as it was simply too hot for me to go walking around.

  10. It’s funny, I Googled “Chichen Itza crowds” as an image search because I wanted to see how bad it really is and I found your post Norbs! ๐Ÿ™‚ We went Thursday this week and it was empty getting there just after 8am. We didn’t stay the night, and in fact, drove 3 hours from Akumal and went in the back way through the hotel and had the best experience. When we got to El Castillo, there were probably 10 other people max there. And the best part — my favorite tip I will write about after reading your post — the vendors are only setting up at 9am so not even concerned about you walking by or harassing you! It wasn’t until we were leaving that anyone said anything to us! ๐Ÿ™‚ When we left at 10:30am the buses were just starting to arrive…couldn’t have asked for a better morning.

    1. Hiiii!!! Hehe, you cracked the code to avoid crowds! It makes sense, though, as most people come from Cancun and they take tours or buses that arrive around 10/11am. You did well, then, by going very early!