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Chichen Itza, wonder of the world tarnished to an ultimate shopping experience?

by Flitter Fever
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Chichen Itza (Chichén Itzá), the must-see world wonder in Mexico. Right? Meh, to be honest, I found it a bit disappointing. Nothing to the disadvantage of the buildings, they are impressive. When you consider that these buildings were built by human hands more than 1500 years ago, without the modern techniques of today. Then you can have nothing but respect. But the whole circus that is being set up around it every day in 2022, turned me off. In this article I will share my personal experience. The last part contains visitor tips.

El Castillo, the main building of Chichen Itza
El Castillo, or The Castle, is the main building of Chichen Itza

Skulls of murdered and sacrificed enemies on temples show that the Maya were no sweethearts.

Chichen Itza Wonder of the World

Chichen Itza is a wildly popular attraction, there’s no doubt about it. Also in Corona time. The day before our visit to Chichen Itza, dozens of coaches pass our accommodation in Valladolid in just a few minutes. All with the words ‘Chichen Itza’ glued to the windshield. No doubt where they are all going. Yikes!

Many tourists from places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen apparently have a few hours of ‘bus sitting’ to see the wonder of the world. We visited Chichen Itza from Valladolid. It is also possible to book accommodation in Chichen Itza yourself.

Chichen Itza was one of the most important Maya cities in the Yucatan during the Terminal Classic period and the Early Postclassical period. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. In 2007, Chichen Itza was voted one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

Wikipedia
Special Mayan hieroglyphs on stone pillars at Chichen Itza
Special Mayan hieroglyphs on stone pillars

Let’s go to Chichen Itza

We decide to leave the next day at 07:00 for Chichen Itza. It is a 45 minute drive from Valladolid, arriving shortly before opening time. It is 24 degrees, the parking lot for coaches is still empty. There are already several dozen regular cars parked.

We walk to the entrance and there are two rows in front of the cash registers. Tip: check which side has the most cash registers open and choose the correct row. Tickets can be paid by credit card or cash. MEX 538 per person, good heavens. That’s about as much as a day at a theme park! This made Chichen Itza by far the most expensive Mayan city we visited during our 18-day trip through Mexico.

Stone ring on the wall at the large ball game field Chichen Itza
Ring on the wall at the large ball game field

After purchasing our entrance tickets (yikes) we continue to the security gates. My temperature appears on a large television screen, our entrance tickets are scanned and bag checked. Food is not allowed inside, only water.

When I heard about this rule from another traveler beforehand, I still naively thought: maybe not because of the waste? But no. After the entrance gates, there are various points of sale for all kinds of snacks, etc. Purely commercial, which is a pity.

Experience Chichen Itza

Imagine: the sun is shining, you are walking on a large lawn. In the center is a large, ancient, pyramid-shaped stone structure. Stairs lead up on all four sides. Around the lawn are a few other smaller stone structures. The paths around it are filled with market stalls on both sides. Welcome to Chichen Itza!

Every morning the stalls between El Castillo and Cenote Segrado are set up
Every morning the stalls between El Castillo and Cenote Segrado are set up

When we walk into Chichen Itza just after 8:00 AM, hordes of vendors lug their wares in. Others are already building and filling their stalls. They build it up and down every day. In the blazing sun a man passes by, dragging his cart full of things, soaked with sweat. Two meters away, a couple is posing for the camera.

One of the many stalls with souvenirs at Chichen Itza
One of the many stalls with souvenirs

Hundreds of vendors try to sell their souvenirs to the five to six thousand visitors who come here day in, day out. A kind of daily recurring free market, but then on sacred Mayan ground. “One Dollar!” the trudging past tourists are shouted. Similar items are offered everywhere: T-shirts, magnets, masks, sombreros, jewelry, that kind of stuff. It is also not the case that the souvenirs you see here are unique, you will find them everywhere in Mexico.

The offer is wide at the stalls of Chichen Itza
Enough junk for sale at the stalls of Chichen Itza

Not a good feeling

I honestly had a little bit of a hard time with it. Can I blame the sales folks for standing here and trying to promote their wares? Nope. Financially they also have to keep their heads above water. Undoubtedly they have a family to take care of. I get that. But I can’t deny that as a visitor I found it a letdown. As if the wonder of the world is being obscured by all that junk.

Animal statues and Mayan calendars for sale
For sale: statues of animals and Mayan calendars

Chichen Itza, the ultimate shopping experience? Was this what I had come for? New. It actually made me feel a bit sad. Do we really need all this stuff? I also felt really sorry for the sellers, dragging and peddling their merchandise. While the temperature slowly but surely rose above 30°C (86°F) .

Sellers lug their merchandise in and out every day at Chichen Itza
Sellers drag their merchandise in and out every day

And yes, I’ve also made myself guilty of blunt posing in front of El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulc’an. That is the largest pyramid-shaped structure of Chichen Itza, in the middle of the central lawn. Also bought a magnet and a pair of earrings. OMG.

With that last purchase it went wrong. One day you you give professional lessons in negotiation. And the other day (I guess my brains were also on vacation) you don’t do well with that negotiation in your private life. What they do a lot here, is the ‘exchange rate trick’: quote an amount in USD that you as a potential buyer think is in MEX. Very annoying. Afterwards I felt a bit screwed over. So watch out.

Alright, so one picture at El Castillo, the most important building of Chichen Itza
Alright, so one picture at El Castillo, the most important building of Chichen Itza

¡Vamos!

After 1.5 hours of walking around we have had enough. Tom is ready for a cup of coffee so we walk towards the exit. When we finally get back to the car around 10:00, the parking lot is packed. A man is clearly relieved when he hears that we are leaving and he can park in “our” parking lot.

On the way to Valladolid we meet dozens of coaches. The same merchandise is also offered along the road in the surrounding villages. Is it really silly if I say that a thought crossed my mind: will they all have the same Chinese supplier?

We drive past the nearby cenotes. At 11:00 we are having a late breakfast. Good time to visit some cenotes between Chichen Itza and Valladolid and near Valladolid. Examples: X-Cajum, Samulá, Ik Kil, Xkeken, Saamal, Oxman and Suytun.

The parking lot for buses was still empty around 7:30 am
The parking lot for buses was still empty around 7:30 am
At 10 am the parking lot is full and vans are double parked
At 10 am the parking lot is full and vans are double parked

Reflection

Later in the afternoon at the pool, I reflect on my Chichen Itza experience. On the one hand, I’m glad I saw it. On the other hand, I also found it a disappointment, I lost an illusion. An uneasy thought passes by: what is my share of what I saw today in Chichen Itza?

What could the administrator do about the situation? And if so, what, and what could be the possible consequences? I think it’s a difficult issue and I don’t have a solution ready. I just hope it never happens at Calakmul, which impressive Mayan city we visited (and loved) earlier during our trip.

Up to the exit, sellers try to seduce you Chichen Itza
Up to the exit, sellers try to seduce you

Make the best of it

Are you going to Chizen Itza and want the best possible experience? Then go as early as possible and hire a guide. Guides walk along the lines of visitors. A guide here costs MEX 1000 for a small group. Big advantage: with a guide you can skip the line at the cash registers.

Furthermore, with a guide the big advantage is that you really learn something about what you see. Stories, historical facts, how did people live here? Without a guide it is quite a ‘hollow experience’. There are few information boards, and the signs that do exist are not easy to read. A guide can really contribute to the experience, such as with our visit to Maya city Calakmul and our snorkeling guide in Akumal.

Stone pillars in front of the Temple of the Warriors Chichen Itza
Stone pillars in front of the Temple of the Warriors

Cenote Segrado

By the way, there is also a cenote on the grounds of Chichen Itza, called Segrado. However, it is not accessible for swimming or anything like that. Sacred according to the Maya, but not beautiful to look at. The water is very low and didn’t look a bright bright blue, as you often see at other cenotes. Segrado is about 60 meters wide (65 yards). From where you stand to the water is about 22 meters (24 yards) deep, and then the water is about 6-12 (19-39 ft.) meters deeper to the bottom of the cenote.

Between the 5th and 16th centuries AD, Segrado was considered not only a natural water source, but also a ceremonial center and pilgrimage destination. Apparently the visitors thought it was more special than I did? The Maya offered offerings of gold, copper, hut, rubber and fabrics.

Mayans also sacrificed small children by throwing them into a cenote – sacred to them. In this way they hoped to propitiate the gods for, for example, rain and fertile fields. Many children did not survive this ritual.

Cenote Segrado Chichen Itza
Cenote Segrado

Chichen Itza Visitors Information

For those who are interested, some practical information and tips for a visit to Chichen Itza.

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 08:00 – 16:30 (last entrance before 16:00).

Try to arrive at Chichen Itza before 8:00 AM to beat the crowds and the heat. During the Christmas holidays it is extra busy in Chichen Itza. From the 2nd week of January it becomes a bit quieter, but it is always busy. Certainly from half past nine, with the peak around lunchtime.

In Chichen Itza you are never alone, early in the morning it is still doable
In Chichen Itza you are never alone, early in the morning it is still doable

How much does a visit to Chichen Itza cost?

  • Parking access: MEX 80 per car
  • Entrance to the archaeological zone: MEX 538 per adult foreigner, MEX 85 per child (3-12 years), Mexicans MEX 242 p.p. and residents Yucatan MEX 85 p.p.
  • English speaking guide: MEX 1000 for small group
  • Any purchases (souvenirs, drinks, snacks)

In short, count on approximately EUR 50 for a half-day Chichen Itza with two adults, excluding transport, guide and refreshments. You may have noticed that a guide in Chichen Itza is cheaper than in Calakmul. That’s because in Chichen Itza a guide can show several groups per day. In Calakmul there is only one group per day (start/end from the entrance gate of the bioreserve, 1.5 hours drive to the archaeological zone).

Back side of the entrance gate Chichen Itza Mexico
Back side of the entrance gate Chichen Itza

Bring when visiting Chichen Itza

  • Cash and/or credit card
  • Mouth cap (mandatory in COVID-19 times)
  • Camera
  • Water
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, cap
  • Feel like shopping (just kidding)

There are many trees around the large central lawn, which provide the necessary shade on a sunny day. There are quite a few stones on the paths, large and small, so thin flip-flops are not recommended. Applying sunscreen and anti-insect spray beforehand is a good idea. At the cash register and many of the stalls you can pay by credit card, parking fee must be paid cash.

Queuing at the cash register at Chichen Itza
In line for the cash register – with a mouth cap on!

What is not allowed to bring

When visiting Chichen Itza, it is better to leave the following items at your accommodation, in the car or bus, as they are NOT allowed inside.

  • Food
  • Glass bottles
  • Drone
  • Selfie-sticks
  • Tripods
  • Professional camera equipment
  • Telelenses
  • Separate flash
  • Banners and flags
  • Balls, toys and stuffed animals
  • Folding chairs
  • Children’s bicycles
  • Musical instruments
  • Swiss knife
  • Pets

If you do have (one of) these items with you, and they are seen during the bag check, you can either return it to your car, or rent a locker (there were at least 50). Our 20L (5.3 gallons) backpack (day pack) was allowed to enter Chichen Itza. This in contrast to Uxmal, where that was not allowed.

Climbing the buildings is not allowed in Chichen Itza. And I think that’s a good thing with so many visitors per day (before COVID-19 5,000 to 6,000 per day, 2 million per year, now max 3,000 per day).

No matter how beautiful, climbing these stairs is not allowed
No matter how beautiful, climbing these stairs is not allowed

Distances to Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is located east of Merida and west of Valladolid. Chichen Itza is easiest to reach with your own rental car or bus (tour). Driving times and distances from surrounding places:

  • Valladolid – Chichen Itza 51 km (32 mi) 45 min
  • Merida – Chichen Itza 120 km (75 mi) 1.5 hours
  • Tulum – Chichen Itza 150 km (93 mi) 2 hours
  • Playa del Carmen – Chichen Itza 180 km (112 mi) 2.5-3 hours
  • Cancun – Chichen Itza 200 km (125 mi) 2.5 hours

Tip: from Valladolid follow the regular 180 road via Kaua to Chichen Itza to avoid toll roads. This costs (almost) no extra time and saves significant money.

For organized day tours to Chichen Itza (from Cancun, Playa del Carmen etc.) check out:

You can also purchase Skip The Line tickets online in advance. Super convenient, it saves you half an hour or more waiting in line for the checkout.

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3D map of Chichen Itza

So Chichen Itza is super commercial, but you might have expected that, more or less? Are you or were you planning to visit Chichen Itza? Or have you already been to Chichen Itza, perhaps years ago? Feel free to leave a comment or additional tip at the bottom of this article. This article is based on my personal experience and opinion from our visit to Chichen Itza on January 6, 2022. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

More Mexico articles

You may also find these previously published articles about Mexico interesting:

Binnenkort zal ik nog veel meer Mexico artikelen op deze website publiceren. Mis deze niet via mijn maandelijkse nieuwsbrief en/of door Flitter Fever reisblog te volgen op o.a. Facebook.

Skulls on wall Chichen Itza
Skulls on wall @ Chichen Itza

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Last Updated on 03/09/2022 by Flitter Fever

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