The most famous, the most extensively restored and by far the most visited of all Maya sites, Chichén Itzá lies conveniently along the main highway from Mérida to Cancún, a little more than 200km from the Caribbean coast. A fast and very regular bus service runs all along this road, making it perfectly feasible to visit as a day’s excursion from Mérida, or even as a day out from Cancún, as many tour buses do. But both to do the ruins justice and to see them when they’re not entirely thronged with tourists, an overnight stop is well worth considering – either at the site itself or, less extravagantly, in the nearby village of Pisté or in Valladolid, which is both convenient and inexpensive.
Chichén Itzá is also just a few short hours from Akumal and one of the largest ancient Mayan cities in the north-central Yucatan. The first large- scale archaeologial investigations began in 1924 and were conducted for 20 years by the Carnegie Institution. Chichen Itza means “opening of the wells of the Itza”. Chichen Itza has many elaborate structures, the most impressive being “El Castillo”, the Great Ball Court, Temple of the Warriors and The Caracol. Plan to spend the day at this site. Wear your hiking boots and go early in the morning, as it can get very hot and humid later in the day.
Climbing the Great Pyramid of Kulkulkan or El Castillo, is no longer allowed. Neither is climbing up the Temple of the Warriors. The route into the smaller pyramid inside the Great Pyramid is also closed.
Many visitors choose to visit the site as a day-trip from either Merida or Cancun, but this leaves little time to explore the ruins. Also, it means arriving at the hottest part of the day. The trick is to overnight at one of the hotels near the ruins, which means that you get the ruins almost to yourself in the morning!
Visitors to Chichén Itzá have a choice of staying in a handful of more expensive hotels immediately east of the ruins (all but one are on the short access road off Hwy-180, signposted “Zona Hotelera”), or along the main street in the town of Pisté, to the west of the site. In Pisté, most hotels are on the main road, between the village and the ruins, so it’s easy to shop around for the best deal – though quality can be low and occupancy high; the reliable posadas have only a few rooms apiece.