Cruise and Beach Destinations
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Chichen Itza Shore Excursion Tips

El Castillo, Chichen Itza
El Castillo dominates the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza near Cancun. © 2017 Scott S. Bateman

A Chichen Itza shore excursion is one of the best and most educational attractions in the Cancun region.

Anyone approaching the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins by tour bus might see the top of El Castillo (The Castle) through the trees. That first glimpse belies the massive ruins that lie ahead.

Chichen Itza is one of the most famous ruins in Mexico. Photos and descriptions don’t fully prepare someone for the extensive complex of stone buildings when they see them for the first time.

This ancient city, which was first built around 900 A.D., is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the second most-visited archaeological site in Mexico.

Chichen Itza is a day trip from Cancun to the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s also a day trip from Playa del Carmen at Riviera Maya and the Progreso cruise port in the northern Yucatan peninsula. Each trip is more than two hours one way, but the long drive is worth it for anyone who wants to see this amazing site.

Visitors who take a tour bus there will get off the bus in an area with trees that block any complete view of the ancient city.

They take a path through the trees and first come upon the Great North Platform, which includes the monuments of El Castillo, Temple of Warriors and the Great Ball Court.

Besides the Great North Platform, the site has two other major groups of building.

One is the Ossario Group, which includes the Ossario Temple and the Temple of Xtoloc. The other is the Central Group, which includes El Caracol Observatory Temple, Las Monjas governmental palace and Akab Dzib or “The House of Mysterious Writing.”

Chichen Itza Attractions

El Caracol at Chichen Itza.
El Caracol at Chichen Itza. © 2017 Scott S. Bateman

Highlights include:

• El Castillo, also known as Kukulkan’s Pyramid, is a 75-foot-tall step pyramid that was used for astronomical purposes. It was recently named one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.”

It is the most dominant building in the ruins and probably the most photographed.

• The Great Ball Court is an open ball court that is more than 500 feet long and 200 feet wide. The court was used for games requiring players to get a rubber ball through hoops at either end of the field without using their hands. The court is more interesting and education than it is photographic.

• Temple of the Warriors is a broad and low-lying step pyramid with rows of carved warrior columns.

• Group of a Thousand Columns lies next to Temple of the Warriors and is an extensive set of stone columns that probably supported a massive roof.

• El Caracol Observatory Temple is a round building on a square platform that probably was used for astronomical purposes. This ruin also is quite photographic.

How to Visit

Chichen Itza Location Map

Chichen Itza attracts resort visitors from Cancun.

It also attracts western Caribbean cruise visitors from Cozumel just south of Cancun and the Progreso cruise port on the northern Yucatan Peninsula coast. Visitors from all destinations will find that a visit will take up to a full day.

Depending on the starting location, the bus ride might take up to two hours or more one way.

A good tour of the site will take three to four hours, although the tour operator usually decides how long visitors can stay. The total time for an entire tour including transportation may last as long as 12 hours.

A buffet lunch and a tour guide are usually included in the price of the trip. Our tour guide was worth the extra money and made the trip much more educational for the entire family.

Based on personal experience, I recommend booking a tour that offers the maximum amount of time at the site. Some tours offer far less time on site than the total amount of time on a bus.

Depending on the type of tour and amenities, a typical tour will cost about $120 per person for adults with discounts for children. Some operators “offer” a price as low as $28, but that price covers only transportation and not the $30 entry tax, lunch, tour guide or other amenities.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
November 09, 2022

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