One of the Seven World Wonders. A World Heritage Site. A Landmark of the region. The fact that the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá are a unique magnet for visitors goes without saying. The good news though: There is a secret tip to escape the mass crowds – and that’s called sunrise.
Whilst during the day, people are climbing up each other’s feet – you have one of the World Wonders almost exclusively to yourself at sunrise. We are still speechless when we look at the photos of our sunrise tour. Not in a hundred years would we have expected this experience to be so magical.
However, since the area officially opens its doors only at 8am, it takes a little preparation to see Chichén Itzá before everyone else. In this blog article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting Chichén Itzá at sunrise.
1. Mayan Ruins Chichén Itzá: Info & Overview
Chichén Itzá is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and is also one of the most important Mayan sites of all times. The photos are a bit deceptive: The highlight of the staircase pyramid called El Castillo, is just one of many attractions that awaits you in Chichén Itzá.
Unfortunately, the pyramid (like all other ruins in Chichén Itzá) can not be entered anymore. The climb of the pyramid was still allowed many years ago, but is now strictly prohibited.
By the way: if you don’t speak much Spanish (like us) and wonder how “Chichén Itzá” is actually pronounced, it basically sounds like “Chit Itzá” – with an emphasis on the “a”.
Where is Chichén Itzá and where should I stay?
Chichén Itzá is located in the interior of the Yucatán peninsula, near the tiny town of Pisté. It takes about two hours by car from Tulum or Playa del Carmen, 1.5 hours from Mérida and 45 minutes from Valladolid (the next largest city). So theoretically, you can easily stay overnight in one of the above listed cities and visit Chichén Itzá as a day trip.
You notice: we say “theoretically”. In our opinion, we think that it is definitely worth staying overnight near the ruins.
There are some hotels located between Pisté (the nearest town) and the archaeological site. Some are so close to the entrance of Chichén Itzá that you can even walk to it.
We chose Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows – the closest hotel to Chichén Itzá. Best decision ever! The hotel even has a separate entrance to Chichén Itzá. We were able to look out from our room (#301) to a view of the observatory (El Caracol). You can find more information about the hotel at the end of this article.
How much time should I plan for Chichén Itzá?
We recommend you to plan about three hours on site for your visit to Chichén Itzá. Of course you can also do it in less time, but there are some other buildings to see aside from the main pyramid (El Castillo). Three hours is rather generous, so two hours would also be fine.
What are the main attractions in Chichén Itzá?
The most important and most photographed building in Chichén Itzá is the Pyramid of Kukulcán, also called El Castillo. The pyramid is also the first ruin you pass during your tour. It is 30 metres high, has 365 steps and was used by the Mayans as a calendar according to current knowledge. Crazy, right? If you find someone who claps his hands in front of the ruin site, there is a reason for this: Those who clap loudly with their hands, creates the sound of a bird with the echo.
Twice a year at El Castillo, there is a special spectacle for the visitors: in spring and autumn, on a particular day and night, the sun shines on the pyramid at a special angle. This creates a shadow figure, reminiscent of a crawling snake. Warning: On these two days, you have to prepare for the fact that Chichén Itzá is going to be crazy busy.
Northwest of the Kukulcán Pyramid lies the Gran Juego de Pelota, the former sports ground of the Mayas. Apparently, they played their very own ball sport here. On the walls of the square are some temples and the most well-known one is the Templo de los Jaguares (Jaguar Temple).
The grand Templo de los Guerreros (warrior temple) is another highlight, with the Grupo de las Mil Columnas (hall of the 1000 columns) right next to it. There are some very impressive structures to admire.
And then of course there’s El Caracol (the observatory), which you can see in the photo below. We were lucky enough to have a view of the observatory directly from our room.
When is the best time to visit?
The absolute worst time you could visit, is during lunch time hours. By 10 am latest, it starts to become crazy hectic. This is when the the buses of the cruise-guests, as well as the visitors of the Riviera Maya reach the area and the sightseeing becomes a park of tour groups and souvenir stands.
We did not have lunch here ourselves, as we had seen Insta Stories of Chichén Itzá during this time and were pretty shocked – to put it nicely. Kathi’s dad was also there around lunchtime last year and advised us from the beginning, not to make the same mistake.
One way to avoid the big crowds is to visit at 8am, which is when the area is officially open and you can experience Chichén Itzá before the big crowds – which tend to fill up the area relatively quickly.
That’s why we started looking for alternative times to visit and found what we were looking for: supposedly at sunrise, you can have the archaeological zone to yourself. We researched, decided, and booked. So, that you can also experience Chichén Itzá at sunrise, we’ll share with you our experience in the next section below.
2. Sunrise at Chichén Itzá: Our Secret Tip to Beat the Crowds
About one year ago, they opened up the Chichén Itzá for visitors at sunrise. However, this new tour is (still) not heavily advertised. Every website that we researched in advance, stated only that the official opening hours were from 8 am to 5 pm. Only when you read in a little more detail, do you realise that some talked about a sunrise visit.
We also get the feeling that the sunrise tours are not entirely ‘official’ for some reason. Why? First of all, only a few select tour guides pass through the area and our own guide even confirmed that just a few have this special permission. Whether it’s true, we can not say – but our guide was very familiar with the guards. When asked if he knows all the people here, he replied “I know everybody here.” We assume that the guards get a certain “tip” for allowing tourists into the area so early.
A sunrise tour is an expensive venture. We researched for a long time and still found no way to get the tour to less than 1,500 Pesos per person (almost 70 Euros).
Important Information & Tips for Sunrise Tour at Chichén Itzá
Where can I book a Sunrise Tour and how much does it cost?
Option 1: Through the Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows. This was the place we stayed at and upon check-in, we were asked if we might be interested in a sunrise tour. The price for this was 1,500 Pesos per person.
Note: we had previously contacted the hotel via email and enquired about doing this tour. Somehow, we received a ridiculously high quote of $384 USD per person. No idea which (drunk?) staff member was behind this response – or perhaps there was a typo? The fact remains, that we were offered the same tour at the hotel for 1,500 Pesos each (roughly $78 USD)
Option 2: About our guide “Abel”. We did some research on the internet and found the contact number of a guide named Abel in one of the forums. Then we simply wrote to him via WhatsApp and he responded within a few minutes. His price: 1,500 Pesos per person. Only later did we realise that he is also the guide for the hotel we were at – so we would have gotten the same person anyway.
Abel has worked for decades as a guide in Chichén Itzá. He was very friendly and extremely experienced. There was really nothing he did not know. However, we can not leave a certain aspect unmentioned: we got the feeling that he really knows how to “sell things” well. For example, we contacted him via WhatsApp, requesting a private tour (and were promised it would just be the two of us). We had specifically requested for this, because from our experience, we know that we need much more time for photos and videos than other people do. On the morning of our tour, we were suddenly four people, but the price remained the same. Unfortunately that left a negative impression. Nonetheless, we would still recommend him. He is very trustworthy and have no doubt that he will show up and deliver what he promises.
Can I go to the area without a guide?
No – at least not to our knowledge. You can of course try your luck at the entrance, but we are unsure that the security guards will let you through.
How long does the sunrise tour take?
The tour start at about 4:45 am and goes until roughly 8 am, so in total about three hours. At the beginning of the tour it is still pitch black and with luck you can see a beautiful starry sky. Then it starts to dim down quite quickly, before gradually becoming brighter. The exact timing of the sunrise varies slightly. During our visit (December) the sun rose at around 6:15 am.
You can definitely stay longer in this area if you like, it’s no problem. But we felt that after three hours, we had seen and captured what we had come for – and it certainly didn’t disappoint!
3. Around Chichén Itzá: Cenote Ik Kil
Besides Chichén Itzá, the other attraction, which gets a lot of attention from visitors in this region is: the Cenote Ik Kil. And when we say “a lot of attention,” we really mean it. It is true that most tour operators combine the visit of Chichén Itzá and the Cenote in their itinerary. Therefore, the Cenote is completely overflowed by 11am at the latest.
So our masterplan was to drive with the rental car to the Cenote Ik Kil, right after our sunrise tour at Chichén Itzá. The Cenote opens its doors at 9 am. We were the very first guests along with two other boys, so we basically had the Cenote for ourselves!
We have often read reviews of people being very disappointed in the Cenote Ik Kil. Granted, that’s totally understandable given the size of the crowds that come here in the afternoon. Nor does it help that the area of the Cenote is reminiscent of some sort of amusement park. As we had the luxury of enjoying the Cenote in peace, we found this place very impressive. With the lianas hanging down, the mood here is simply magic.
Information about the Cenote Ik Kil
Admission: 80 Pesos per person
Hours: 9am to 5pm (our tip: come at 9am!)
Arrival: approx. 5 minutes by car from Chichén Itzá
4. Our Hotel Tip: Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows
We stayed one night at the Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows, which we can highly recommend. You can’t find a place closer to Chichén Itzá than this. The hotel is located almost directly on the area of Chichén Itzá. More specifically, it only takes you about 5 minutes to walk from the hotel entrance to Chichén Itzá. By the way, this is a separate entrance for hotel guests only, which means you do not have to queue at the main gate because you can easily reach the World Wonder via this side entrance.
Our room was on the third floor in the main building (no elevator, room number 301). The decor is not exactly of modern standards, but still of very high quality. In any case, we felt very comfortable. The best part was our balcony, from which we had a direct view across to the observatory (El Caracol), located on the same site as the ruins.
The hotel area is expansive, well maintained, had a tropical garden with several pools, bungalows and other buildings. Breakfast is served à la carte in one of the outdoor restaurants. We also dined here the evening before and found that the staff was very friendly and accommodating on both occasions.
Conclusion: We would definitely come back here again and this place comes highly recommended, especially if you want to see Chichén Itzá at sunrise or visit early in the morning.
Transparency: Affiliate Links
This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we will receive a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. A million thanks from the both of us!
Have you also visited Chichén Itzá? What was your impression? We look forward to your comments on this article, below. Thank you so much!