While Cancun is famous for its stunning beaches and luxury resorts, it’s not exactly known for being a great place to experience Mexican history and culture. But with the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza less than three hours away from Cancun, you have plenty of opportunities to dive into this country’s rich and colorful past. Here’s 6 incredible Chichen Itza tours from Cancun so that you can explore Mexico’s Wonder of the World for yourself!
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Chichen Itza is located in the Yucatan Peninsula, known for its vacation hotspots, like Playa del Carmen, Bacalar, and, of course, Cancun. But the ruins of this once mighty city are nestled deep in the heart of the Mexican jungle and are a bit of a trek from these popular cities—for example, it’s a two hour and 45 minute drive from Cancun to Chichen Itza- one way!
So unless you have a rental car and feel comfortable navigating to Chichen Itza by yourself, the best way to see North America’s only Wonder of the World is on a guided tour. Not only will you not have to worry about getting to and from the ancient city, but you’ll also be accompanied by an informative guide, brimming with facts about the Mayans, and get the opportunity to see other colonial cities, ruins, or cenotes around the incredible Yucatan.
So without further adieu, let’s talk tours!
Best Chichen Itza Tours from Cancun
Group Chichen Itza Tours from Cancun
On this group tour, you’ll receive transportation to and from Cancun on an air conditioned bus. Once you reach Chichen Itza, your tour guide will show you around the ancient city, sharing stories and facts about the incredible Mayans who built and lived in this city hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It’s obvious that the tour guides with this company are actually super passionate about what they do!
Afterwards, you’ll cool off in Cenote Saamal, a stunning swimming hole with vines draping over its rim and a waterfall cascading down its walls—it seriously looks like something straight out of Avatar! You’ll also have a buffet lunch here, which is surprisingly delicious for what it is.
Your final stop of the day will be in the colorful colonial city of Valladolid, where you’ll have some time to walk around, try some street food stands (find a stand selling mango with tajin—it’s DIVINE!), and peruse the shops lining its cobblestone streets.
This tour follows a similar itinerary to the one above—you’ll be picked up in Cancun and guided around Chichen Itza by an enthusiastic guide, taken for a swim and some lunch at Cenote Saamal, and a stop in Valladolid to get a taste of this beautiful colonial city.
What makes this tour stand out is how well-organized and timed it is—in addition to sharing information about the Mayans in a funny and relatable way, the tour guides are also incredibly punctual and keep the tour moving along at a good clip, without making you feel terribly rushed.
And, best of all, this is, by far, one of the most affordable options for a Chichen Itza tour from Cancun!
On this tour, you’ll be picked up by a comfy air-conditioned bus in Cancun and taken to Chichen Itza.
Your friendly and knowledgeable guides will show you around the highlights of this impressive ancient city, like the El Castillo Pyramid, the famed pyramid, or the Great Ball Court, where historians believed the Mayans played a challenging—and, at times, gruesome—game called pok-a-tok. Along the way, your guide will share lots of interesting information about the Mayan people that once lived here and you’ll be given time to explore on your own.
Afterwards, you’ll either be taken to Cenote Ik Kil or Cenote Saamal to cool off. The tour, as advertised, almost always stops at Cenote Ik Kil, which is easily one of the most stunning cenotes near Chichen Itza, with a mouth surrounded by lush greenery and crystal clear water. It’s also probably the most popular—and, therefore, most crowded—cenote in the area, so occasionally, this tour company goes to Cenote Saamal, instead. Either way, you’ll have an hour to enjoy a stunning cenote—and most importantly, its cool water!
After a delicious buffet lunch, you’ll make a quick half hour stop at Valladolid to browse for some authentic Yucatanian food and souvenirs, before heading back to Cancun.
Things to Know About Group Chichen Itza Tours from Cancun:
If you’re looking for an affordable way to explore Chichen Itza from Cancun, you definitely can’t beat the value of a group tour. It’s an awesome way to see a LOT of stuff in a short period of time.
That being said,
- It may not include admission to Chichen Itza. When you’re booking tours, be sure to check whether they include admission to Chichen Itza (around $35 USD per non-Mexican resident over the age of 13)—most do not. Given the amount of other inclusions you get with these tours, they’re still a good bang-for-your-buck, but finding out about unanticipated fees is never fun!
- The days are loooong. Remember that driving directly from Cancun to Chichen Itza takes about two hours and 45 minutes one-way, and the bus will need to stop to pick up and drop off other guests along the way.
So, you’ll get to see and do a lot of stuff on group tours, but they also make for some REALLY long days—like, 12+ hours in most instances. Not a big deal if you can sleep or love listening to podcasts while you’re on the bus, but it may not be super ideal for little kids or travelers who are uncomfortable sitting for a long time.
I’d also recommend bringing snacks along—given that these tours include one meal, a pretty common complaint from travelers is that they wind up being hungry during the long drive times.
If you’re looking to have more time for adventure and less time waiting for others to be picked up or dropped off, have you considered a private tour?
Private Chichen Itza Tours from Cancun:
On this private tour, you’ll have control over your own itinerary!
You’ll be conveniently picked up at your accommodations in Cancun in an air-conditioned vehicle and taken to Chichen Itza. Given that the actual transportation portion of the tour will be much shorter, without picking up other guests, you’ll arrive at the ruins before all of the huge tour buses get here—and before it gets super hot!
While at Chichen Itza, you’ll learn a ton of information about the Mayans, from their government and religion to their architecture and language. You’ll also have plenty of time to explore on your own—remember, you choose the itinerary and pacing of this tour.
Afterwards, you’ll get the option to swim through the cool waters of the gorgeous Cenote Ik Kil, Cenote Saalam, or, alternatively, Cenote Xcajum. Xcajum is another beautiful swimming hole that’s a bit more off-the-beaten path than the other two and will be a good choice if you prefer a quieter and more uncrowded experience.
You’ll also get a buffet lunch and cold beer or soda waiting for you to be enjoyed in your private air-conditioned vehicle (my personal favorite!).
The last stop of the day will be perusing the small shops and cafes in Valladolid, named a pueblo magico (or magical town) by the Mexican government. After you’re done exploring, you’ll be taken directly back to your hotel in Cancun.
Are you a big history buff… or do you just want to do something a bit different than the other Chichen Itza tours? Then this tour is for you!
You’ll get to hit not one, not two, but a whopping THREE different archeological sites on this tour—the Tulum Ruins, Coba Ruins, and, finally, Chichen Itza—with time to see each of the sites with a knowledgeable tour guide and time to explore them on your own.
After your private transportation picks you up in Cancun, you’ll be taken to the Tulum Ruins and guided around by an informative guide. These ruins are quite unique—in fact, they’re the only Mayan ruins located along a beach in the Caribbean.
Once you’re back at the vehicle, you’ll be greeted with cold soda or beer to cool down with and then be taken to your next stop, the Coba Ruins.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Yucatan and visiting the Coba Ruins is definitely a highlight for me—because they’re located a bit of a distance from any major city and hidden away in the dense jungle, they’re WAY less crowded than other ruins in the area—exploring them kind of feels like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie! On this tour, you’ll be taken around to see the highlights of this sprawling 30-mile complex with a rickshaw—it’s a nice break for your feet and kids LOVE this!
Because it wouldn’t be a Chichen Itza tour without stopping at a cenote, you’ll then stop and cool off at Cenote Ik Kil and have a buffet lunch here.
Finally, the main event—Chichen Itza! Because Chichen Itza is saved for last, the big tour buses will be gone for the day, so you’ll get to enjoy your tour and time to explore Chichen Itza without all of the crowds.
If you really want to avoid the crazy crowds of Chichen Itza, this private tour may be the perfect option.
First, you’ll head to Chichen Itza bright and early, stopping along the way to get breakfast at a local (and delicious!) food stand. Because of the early morning wake up call, you’ll be one of the first ones at Chichen Itza’s gate, so you’ll get there well before the other tour buses—and their crowds—descend upon the ruins. Your guide will take you around the grounds and share fascinating information about the Mayan culture, highlighting aspects of their religion, games, and politics. You’ll have as much time as you want here—you get to dictate the schedule!
Next up, you’ll head over to Cenote Ik Kil where you’ll get time to swim through the cool waters and admire your beautiful surroundings. And best of all, because you got to Chichen Itza first, you’ll also be the first ones at Cenote Ik Kil—so you’ll likely have that mostly to yourselves as well!
Of course, one of the best things about this tour is that it’s totally customizable. So if you’d prefer not to get picked up at 5:45 in Cancun to get to Chichen Itza as soon as it opens, that can definitely be arranged! There’s also flexibility to add in some additional stops along the way, like the Ek Balam ruins, another important archeological site left behind by the Mayans.
Frequently Asked Questions About Chichen Itza
What is Chichen Itza?
If you’ve made it this far, I assume you have a pretty good understanding of what Chichen Itza is.
Just in case, though, Chichen Itza was built by the Mayans, sometime between 400-600 AD. Over time, it grew to be a hub of commerce and, as the home to over 50,000 Mayans at its height, one of the most important cities in their civilization.
Historians believed that one of the reasons that Chichen Itza grew to be so strong was their proximity to a large cenote, which supplied the Mayans with precious fresh water. In addition to being used for drinking, this cenote’s water was also used for agricultural, religious, and cleaning purposes. In fact, “Chichen Itza” roughly means “at the mouth of the well of the enchanter of water.”
It’s not clear why the once powerful Chichen Itza began to falter, but historians speculate that a catastrophic drought, sometime between the 12th and 15th century, caused the city’s inhabitants to flee and abandon the city.
While locals knew of this city’s existence, the enormous stone structures sat in the jungle, falling into ruins and becoming forgotten about by the outside world. In 1841, though, two explorers heard of Chichen Itza and went to see the ruins for themselves . They published about the incredible structures that lay hidden deep within the Mexican jungle and ever since then, these magnificent ruins have sparked the wanderlust of history geeks and travel enthusiasts the world round.
In fact, the world is so captivated by them that Chichen Itza was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1988 and was voted to be one of the New Wonders of the World in 2007.
Can you visit Chichen Itza on your own?
Of course you can! In fact, the last time that I visited Chichen Itza, my husband, Justin, and I visited sans guide and had an awesome time.
It’s worth noting that the fastest route from Cancun to Chichen Itza is along a toll road, with RIDICULOUSLY high tolls (about $60 USD for the roundtrip route, at the time I’m writing this!), so remember to bring enough pesos! If you’d prefer to skip these tolls, you can go on side roads through a bunch of small Mexican towns—I’ve driven along this route before and felt perfectly safe during the day, but note that it will add an additional 40 minutes of drive time to your trip.
With all that in mind, there are definitely some serious perks of going to Chichen Itza with a tour:
- Most importantly, you’ll have a helpful and knowledgeable guide with you that can tell you all about the Mayans, their history and culture. Without the necessary context behind what you’re really looking at, Chichen Itza is a collection of interesting-looking stone structures.
But if someone is there to fill you in on the more mind-boggling aspects of Chichen Itza (like, there’s 91 steps on each of the four sides of the iconic El Castillo pyramid, which, including the top step, equal 365 days in the solar calendar!), the entire city is SO much more impressive.
- Dude, you’re on vacation—do you really want to be farting around with figuring out your own transportation and driving around the Yucatan for six hours in one day? On any of these Chichen Itza tours, all of these logistics (including annoyingly high tolls!) will be taken care of for you.
- Listen, the vendors at Chichen Itza are RUTHLESS and will constantly hound you to buy t-shirts and these really annoying whistles that sound like a dying jaguar (yes, they are indeed as bad as they sound). If you’re with a guide, though, the vendors will more or less leave you alone.
- Not only will you be supporting a local guide, but you’ll also get to know them a bit. In my experience, tour guides not only share knowledge about the Mayans, but also their day-to-day life, living in Mexico and the Yucatan. And isn’t learning about others one of the very best parts of travel?
I hope you have a better idea of which one of the Chichen Itza tours from Cancun is right for you. Do you have any questions about these tours of Chichen Itza? Let me know in the comments below!