Playa del Carmen, along Mexico’s Caribbean coastline, is known for its stunning beaches, glitzy all-inclusive resorts, and laid back vibes. But if you’re looking to get a deeper understanding of this country’s colorful culture and rich history, consider diving into its past by taking a trip to Chichen Itza, a Mayan city so incredible that it was named one of the Wonders of the World! Here’s 6 of the best Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen, to make your visit to this ancient city as epic as possible.
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Chichen Itza is located in the center of the Yucatan Peninsula, which sits at the southeastern tip of Mexico. While it’s awesome that this ancient city is so close to many popular destinations in the Yucatan, like Tulum, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen, it’s still far enough away to be a bit of a challenge to get to (i.e., two and a half hours from Playa del Carmen).
Not to worry, though- there are several awesome Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen, so you literally don’t have to think about getting there on your own.
Let’s get into it!
Best Chichen Itza Tours from Playa del Carmen
On this tour, you’ll get picked up from your hotel and make your way to the famed ancient city. Here, you’ll be led around all of the most important sites by a knowledgeable guide, whose enthusiasm for the Mayan culture is straight up infectious.
After Chichen Itza, you’ll head to Cenote Saalam, a stunning open-air cenote that just so happens to be off-the-beaten tourist path. Beyond not being overrun by tourists, the cenote also has a surprisingly yummy buffet lunch that you’ll get to tuck into as well!
Afterward, you’ll head to the nearby colonial city of Valladolid. I LOVE this city’s colorful, colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and main square, bustling with lots of good food vendors- be sure that you save some room during lunch!
One of the best things about this tour is how the guides have struck a perfect balance between guiding you around these incredible sites and allowing you time to explore on your own. This is one of the most popular Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen and it’s easy to see why!
While many tour itineraries include roughly the same places, I love that this one includes a couple of under-the-radar stops, where you likely won’t see other tour buses. You know that we love off-beat travel experiences here!
You’ll start the day by visiting Chichen Itza, where you’ll receive a guided tour of some of the most impressive structures, like El Castillo, the iconic pyramid, and El Caracol, an ancient observatory where the Mayans tracked the sun, the moon, and the planets.
Next up- Hubiku Cenote. This cenote is sunk deep underground, but has an opening in its roof that lets in beautiful light rays and a few stray vines from the jungle above. It’s the perfect place to take a break from the hot Mexican sun. And bonus- you’ll also get a delicious lunch here of local Yucatanian food.
Finally, the last stop of the day is Ek Balam, which, similar to Chichen Itza, is another magnificent Mayan city, but this time, built all the way back in 100 AD (!!!) and without all of the crowds. But my favorite thing about Ek Balam? You can totally live out your Indiana Jones dreams and actually climb up several of the pyramids!
Beyond the off-the-beaten path stops on this tour, I love that you get a small group experience, with no more than 10 participants per tour. You gotta love tours where you can actually hear your guide!
Want something a bit more one on one?
On this private Chichen Itza tour from Playa del Carmen, you’ll have the benefit of not having to stop at a bunch of different hotels to pick up other guests on your way to the ruins in the morning—meaning you’ll actually get to the site bright and early before the massive crowds descend. You’ll get an interesting tour from your guide, with all kinds of interesting information regarding the architecture of the city and the people who once lived here hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
From here, you’ll head to Cenote Oxman, a cenote that is not typically on the tour bus route. Here, you can enjoy the tropical setting and the cool, blue water of the cenote, without a bazillion other tourists around.
You’ll then head into Valladolid, to enjoy lunch at a local sit-down restaurant. Most group tours stop at buffets located at cenotes, which, while tasty, is probably not the most authentic experience you could possibly have. So one of the huge benefits of going on a private tour is getting to enjoy a more real and personalized experience with Yucatanian food.
Afterwards, you’ll have the opportunity to stroll around Valladolid’s cobblestone streets and get some shopping in before heading back to Playa del Carmen.
On this private tour from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza, you’ll arrive at the ancient city, right as it opens, so you’ll get to enjoy it before all of the humongous tour buses arrive. You will be shown around by one of the company’s engaging tour guides, who are seriously excellent storytellers and obviously incredibly passionate about the Mayans.
This tour is one of the only tours that I’m aware of that stops at Hacienda Chukum, a really unique cenote. Up until very recently, the cenote was solely used as a well, as they were unable to figure out a safe way to access the cenote, which sits 130-feet underground.
After years of working at it, though, they engineered a way to climb down to its crystal clear water, using a series of tunnels and stairs. Now, Cenote Chukum is one of the best cenotes near Chichen Itza for adventurous travelers, with several platforms to jump off and even a zipline (just make sure you include a good, supportive swimsuit on your Mexico packing list, so you don’t accidentally flash someone while you’re here!).
After your adrenaline rush is over at Chakum, you’ll head to Valladolid to eat lunch at a local restaurant. If you have any dietary restrictions or just are a picky eater, the patient and friendly guides will help you find the right restaurant (and even dish!) so you have the perfect Yucatanian lunch.
This is consistently one of the highest rated tours from Playa del Carmen and is perfect for travelers, who are short on time or who want a tour that’s tailored more for their needs, like a family with little kids or senior travelers. The guides are super in tune and happy to adjust the tour to your needs!
You’ll be whisked away from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza on this private tour and shown around by a knowledgeable guide. This company does an excellent job of balancing time with your guide to provide you with all of the historical and cultural context to appreciate this incredible site, while also giving you time on your own to explore (and, of course, take allll the pictures!).
From here, you’ll head to Cenote Saamal, an open-air cenote with a platform for jumping into the cool blue water.
Valladolid is your next stop, with time to shop its charming downtown for Mayan chocolate, to find some authentic tequila, or even for a street taco or two.
The tour ends with a stop at a small Mayan village, where you’ll feast on homemade (and SO delicious) Yucatanian food. Somehow, it’s a scientific fact that tortillas just taste better when they’re hand-made and cooked over a fire right in front of you. While Chichen Itza is a Wonder of the World or whatever, the lunch here is kind of the showstopper of this tour!
On this Chichen Itza tour from Playa del Carmen, you’ll arrive early at Chichen Itza. One of the best things about this tour is how friendly and funny the tour guides are, regaling you with interesting anecdotes about the Mayans throughout your time onsite.
After Chichen Itza, you’ll have your pick to explore a couple of different cenotes, including Cenote Samula, Cenote Xkeken, or Cenote Oxman. None of these cenotes are on the typical tourist path (I’m looking at you, Cenote Ik Kil), so you’ll be able to enjoy the water at the cenote of your choice with hardly anyone else around.
Finally, you’ll head to Valladolid for some lunch at a local restaurant and, once your tummy is full of delicious Mexican food, you’ll have the opportunity of walking off that food baby by strolling around the cobblestone streets of this charming city.
Frequently Asked Questions about Chichen Itza
What is Chichen Itza?
I assume, if you’ve made it this far into the article, you probably know what Chichen Itza is.
But, just to be on the safe side, Chichen Itza was one of the mightiest Mayan cities, built somewhere between 400-600 AD. It was one of the most prosperous ancient Mayan cities, serving as a hub for trade and commerce, and, at its height, was home to around 50,000 Mayans.
It’s believed that the ancient city’s strength was, in part, due to its proximity to a massive cenote. The cenote provided the Mayans access to precious fresh water for drinking, as well as cleaning, agricultural, and religious purposes. In fact, “Chichen Itza” roughly translates to “at the mouth of the well of the enchanter of water.”
It’s not clear what exactly caused the demise of Chichen Itza, but the most credible theory is that the surrounding area experienced a catastrophic drought, sometime in the 12th to 15th century, which led its inhabitants to desert the magnificent city.
The ruins sat for centuries in the jungle, being largely forgotten by the outside world, until two explorers stumbled upon it in 1841. They published about their experience with the unbelievable structures, which eventually led to Chichen Itza sparking wanderlust in the hearts of history geeks and travelers everywhere (*raises hand*).
The impressive ruins were named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1988 and were granted the title of a New Wonder of the World in 2007.
Can you visit Chichen Itza on your own?
Absolutely! All you need is a rental car and two and a half hours of drive time from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza by yourself. In fact, I’ve personally visited the ruins by myself in the past and had an easy time navigating to and around Chichen Itza, sans tour guide.
That being said, there’s definitely some major perks to going on a Chichen Itza tour from Playa del Carmen.
- Most important of all, you’ll get the historical and cultural context behind the impressive buildings, platforms, and statues that you need to truly appreciate this impressive city. Without having someone explain all of the very mind-boggling aspects of Chichen Itza (like, for example, that there’s 91 steps on each of the four sides of the iconic El Castillo pyramid, totaling 365 for each day in the solar calendar!), it’s kind of hard to appreciate all of the incredible history and engineering that went into the city so many years ago.
- You’ll have to figure out transportation by yourself. On the other hand, if you go on one of the Chichen Itza tours, you can take a good ol’ early morning nap on the two and a half hour drive to the ancient city (reason enough for me to book a tour instead!).
- Listen, the vendors at Chichen Itza are RUTHLESS, but will more or less leave you alone if you’re with a tour guide.
If you go there without a tour, steel yourself for lots of pushy vendors blowing jaguar whistles (which sound like yowls of a dying cat) in your face. Yes, it is indeed as annoying as it sounds.
- You’ll be supporting and getting to know a local, which is kind of one of the best parts of travel, right?
I hope you have a better idea of which one of the Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen you’re interested in joining. Do you have any questions about the tours above or visiting Chichen Itza? Let me know in the comments below!