One of the biggest reasons I wanted to visit the Yucatan peninsula was so we could take the kids to Chichen Itza. Tours are so daunting – spending several hours on a bus, arriving at midday to the ruins, and potentially having a tour with a large group. No thanks. I wanted to do Chichén Itzá with kids as easily as possible, but preferably without doing a day tour from Cancun. Here’s how we did it!
2018 Guide to Planning a Trip to Chichen Itza Without A Group Tour
I’ve included the approximate cost for our trip, commentary on all of the the things that related to visiting Chichen Itza. We visited in March, 2018, with our 5 year old son and 4 year old daughter. I’ve included tips from what to wear and bring to how to lower your costs further, too!
This is how to visit Chichen Itza with kids, without taking a day tour from Cancun, Tulum, or anywhere in between.
➜ If you do want a tour, consider the Best of Mexico tour (affiliate link, see below) from Intrepid Travel! It is for ages 15 and up.
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Decide What Kind of Vacation You Want to Have
Researching this trip caused me to have decision fatigue. Which ruins do we see? Do we stay at an all inclusive resort in Cancun? Playa del Carmen? Or maybe Tulum? Wait, what other ruins can we visit? Should we rent a car? It was excruciating!
Instead of a beach vacation, we would have a sightseeing vacation. I knew I wanted to see Chichen Itza and I didn’t want to wait in line for hours with the kids. When I discovered there were affordable hotels around Chichen Itza, I knew that would be the easiest and most convenient way to see the Mayan ruins.
We flew into Cancun airport, rented a car, and drove to Piste, Mexico. Piste is the town where Chichen Itza is located. I chose our hotel because it had a private entrance to Chichen Itza. It was also affordable, as it was $94 USD per night, even during spring break.
I envisioned perfection. We wake up and walk to the beginning of the line at 7:30 am and dance merrily in exactly at 8 am. We would dance through the site, with flower petals blowing all around us, with huge smiles on our faces. I have a wonderful imagination, don’t I?
The Morning of our Visit to Chichen Itza with Kids
It didn’t happen exactly like that, but it was close. We hired a guide (guides are available for around 9 languages and at the time of our visit, the cost per guide is 900 pesos or around $50 USD). We met her in our lobby at 8 am. There was no magical line-skipping and we did have to wait in line for around 10 minutes. This put us behind (my) schedule. However, I needn’t have worried. We still had plenty of time before it got too hot and the day-tripping crowds arrived.
I recommend bringing water, hats, and sunscreen into the park with you. Additionally, make sure everyone is wearing comfortable clothes and shoes.
The Private Tour of Chichen Itza was great!
Purchasing a private tour of Chichan Itza was a great idea for us. Our tour guide, Monica, was with us for a little over two hours and without her, we’d have quickly wandered through the site and learned nothing. Okay, I admit it, I’d have run to the Pyramid of Kulkukan and ignored everything else. Yes, the kids got a little antsy after around an hour. It was hot and at times, it was a little boring for them. They did really well, though it was the first time in a long time where I wished I’d brought a baby carrier (or in our case, a toddler carrier).
I Recommend the Ice Cream Place Across from the Cenote
Across from the sacred cenote of Chichén Itzá, we stopped and bought them ice cream. We chose fruit popsicles and I was surprised they were a reasonable 25 pesos ($1.37 USD in late March, 2018). I had to very happy kids during the walk back up the Mayan road (it’s a gradual ascent, but still noticeable). Along this raised road (not open to vehicles), I purchased a bright blue Kukulkan pyramid. It is the only souvenir I purchased during our 8 days in the Yucatan.
One note: In this area and where there are other vendors, you’ll hear “everything $1” and “almost free” from everyone. I only bought one smaller item and it cost more than $1, for your information! I love it and I’m happy with my purchase.
There’s so much more to Chichen Itza than the Pyramid of Kukulkan
Even though the Pyramid of Kukulkan exceeded my expectations, there is so much more than that at Chichen Itza. This is another reason I recommend hiring a guide. There is so much we wouldn’t have understood as we gazed up at the ancient buildings. I’m not sure we would’ve found the sacred cenote on our own.
The hotel next to Chichen Itza
We stayed at the Mayaland Suites and Bungalows. From our hotel, we could see the observatory of Chichen Itza. I chose it due to it sharing a private entrance with its sister hotel. The place was beautiful with three pools, several bungalows, and a hotel. Our room was surprisingly spacious (the website pictures didn’t do it justice) and reasonably priced. However, the food prices were really high (even for US prices). The price of water was downright outrageous (normally, the size we bought would cost 16-20 pesos or $1 US and the hotel charged 58 pesos or over $3 US). If you choose to stay there, consider stopping for some water at an OXXO before arriving. We had a car, but we didn’t realize early enough in the evening about the high prices to go look for cheaper options.
I would consider staying there again, because the convenience was great, but I’d bring my own water and more snacks. The convenience outweighed the costs for our family.
More Ruins Nearby
Roughly an hour’s drive from Chichen Itza are the ruins of Ek Balam. Ek Balam was in my original itinerary, but we ended up skipping it due to an unfortunate event. If I were to do this trip over again, I’d have planned to go to Chichen Itza early in the morning, then drive to Ek Balam and see those ruins in the afternoon. The ruins there are much smaller and likely don’t need as much time to explore it. After that, I’d head to the next destination. In our case, Tulum!
Your flight costs will vary, depending where you are traveling from and when. If you’re in the US, there are multiple services you can use to find great deals to Cancun Airport. It will likely be the cheapest option from the states, too.
If you chose to stay at the Mayaland, the price of the rooms without a view of the Mayan Observatory are reasonably priced. I paid $111 total with all the fees (it was advertised at $94 per night) for a family of four. There are several other options in Piste and if you don’t mind getting to the main entrance to Chichen Itza early, one of those may work better for you.
➜ Check prices at the Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows
Food and water prices at the Mayaland were much higher than I expected! In 2018, the buffet was advertised at 295 pesos per person ($16.25 USD at the time of writing) and didn’t include drinks. We ate at the other restaurant and ordered off the menu. Including drinks, our meal was around $70 USD. The food (and alcoholic beverages) were good, at least! While this was a lot more than I expected to pay for food, it was the price of bottled water that shocked me. We paid $3 USD for a 1 liter bottle of water. The same water would cost less than $1 in my town. No other water was available.
You can also bring along a reusable water bottle and purifier, like this one from GRAYL. It’s not just for hikers, but travelers, too! Just remember to wait until you are through airport security to add water.
We paid a whopping $1100 USD to rent a car for 8 days. I expected to pay less than half that. I left the car rental situation up to my husband, so I didn’t include that in my initial plans when budgeting. I’ve read of other travel bloggers renting a car in Mexico for really, really cheap, but I don’t know if they purchased insurance. For US residents, check with your car insurance provider and see if you are able to add a rental car in Mexico temporarily to your plan. My husband told me he’d done that before and it would’ve saved us around $600 USD. We don’t currently own any cars in the US, so we didn’t have the option. Also, I strongly recommend full coverage in Mexico. The roads are better in the Yucatan (mostly) and people drive a lot better there, too, but that is not the case throughout Mexico. It is very easy to get the car dinged up.
Entrance fee to Chichen Itza 2018
Mexico residents get discounts to sites like this, so if you are a resident or have your fm3 card, present it at the ticket counter. It wasn’t clear if we’d get a discount or not based on our status, and we did! For foreigners, the total is 242 pesos. Children under 13 are free (I cannot verify if this applies only to Mexico residents or not). You have to pay this at two different counters. One part of the fee is paid to the federal government and the other part is paid to the local government. You must pay both and have two tickets per person to enter.
Additional Mayan Sites
Being able to use a car seat and seat belts are some important advantages to renting a car in the Yucatan. Another great reason is to be able to include other awesome places in your itinerary. The area has so many cenotes and ruins to see! Close to Chichen Itza is the site of Ek Balam. Another hour or so and you can see the Coba Ruins (which are my current favorite, with Chichen Itza being a very close second). There are lesser known cenotes dotting the Yucatan and visiting those will cost less than the beautiful, but touristy Grand Cenote in Tulum.
We didn’t have time to visit any cenotes during this trip. I didn’t include any in the itinerary, because our kids are just learning how to swim. I hope to have an opportunity to see one or five on our next trip!
Uxmal is another important Mayan site another two hours west of Chichen Itza. You’ll have to drive through Merida to get there, another worthy destination. The Yucatan peninsula is rich with places to see and unusual things to do. I’d forgotten about the pink lakes in Mexico, and they are in the vicinity, too. Renting a car, even with the high cost, may still be the least expensive way to see so many things during your trip.
There is So Much To Do in the Yucatan Peninsula
As you can see, there is so much to do and see in the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s worth including a stop to Chichen Itza when you’re in the area. Go forth and travel. And take the kids!
Have you visited Chichen Itza with kids? How did your visit go? Did you do a day tour from Cancun/Riviera Maya or on your own? Are there any tips you’d add?