Is Chichén Itzá really worth a visit? I’ve never been a huge fan of so-called must-see destinations. However, I’m human and when I see all those beautiful pictures on the internet, I’m certainly attracted to them, too. In some cases, I was wrong with my doubts. This was definitely the case with the Iguazú Waterfalls in Brazil/Argentina which were an amazing experience.
When I arrived in Mérida one month ago, I was fascinated by how many archaeological sites are easily reachable by bus. I started with Uxmal and it was fabulous.
Chichén Itzá is the most famous Maya site, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the New7Wonders of the World. Therefore, I expected it to be a crowded place. More than 1 million people visit Chichén Itzá every year, that’s quite a bit. However, it has 90% 4- or 5-star ratings on Tripadvisor and all those people can’t be wrong, can they?
Well, for me, it was an experience I wouldn’t want to repeat and in this article, I’m going to explain what I disliked about Chichén Itzá and why should think carefully and then decide if it’s really that important for you to visit the place or if you just want to cross it off your bucket list.
Arriving in Chichén Itzá
I had come by bus from Mérida which took longer than expected (about 3 hours for 120km/75miles, costs 99 pesos from ADO TAME in downtown Mérida) and was a little worried I wouldn’t see when to get off as we stopped in many small places and the bus driver never announced anything. Well, my worries were totally unfounded. Unless you’re sound asleep, missing Chichén Itzá is absolutely impossible. There’s a huge parking lot full of tour buses.
Once you leave the parking lot, people will try to sell you a hat. They didn’t bother me because I was already wearing one but found it quite funny because unlike in Peru, I don’t see a lot of people wearing hats in Mexico. Well, at least not in Mérida, may be different in other places
Quite a few people had obviously purchased their tickets online, so the line at the ticket counter wasn’t very long. The ticket cost 254 pesos (app US$ 12) and there were no long lines at the entrance, either. Good start.
Unfortunately, this good start didn’t last long. Basically, there are three main reasons why I disliked Chichén Itzá:
1. Chichén Itzá is a souvenir market
After entering Uxmal, I was greeted by the majestic Pyramid of the Magician. When visiting Chichén Itzá, the first building is also a pyramid – the Kukulcán Pyramid we all know from postcards and pictures. However, before you get to it you have to pass along a long line of souvenir vendors. “Hola amiga”, “only one dollar”, “los precios más economicos” etc.
And it doesn’t stop, they’re everywhere, all over the place. At one point, I got so aggressive that I hissed back at someone and told him to leave me alone. It wasn’t the poor guy’s fault. In general, Mexicans are not extremely pushy when they try to sell you something. In the case of Chichén Itzá, it was simply the pure amount of them which made it unbearable. I even wonder how they are able to make a living working in that place. They all sell more or less the same and there are so many of them.
For me, it was a nightmare. I need a quiet surrounding and also prefer to visit such sites on my own. I love to dive mentally into history and imagine what the place was like hundreds of years ago but that’s not possible with all those vendors around.
2. Buildings are not accessible
Perhaps I was spoiled by Uxmal where you could even climb many of the buildings. I totally understand that this is not possible in Chichén Itzá with so many more tourists. Because of security reasons and because the buildings need to be protected.
However, the buildings were roped in in a way that made it impossible to get a bit closer and have a look at the architectural details. For someone who is as interested in the history and culture of the Ancient Maya like me, this was a huge disappointment.
3. Lack of organization and information
Unless you choose to join a guided group, you’ll easily get lost. There are some signs which tell you where you are and where the exit is but I would have expected a bit more in such a well-known place.
You will also find that a round tour is not possible. You will always reach a dead end up somewhere and realize that you need to go back – always along the lines of vendors, of course.
I already found it a pity that so little information was displayed in Uxmal and it was the same in Chichén Itzá. Yes, there were some tables with information in Spanish and English but it never went much into detail.
I listened to some of the guides when they passed by with their groups and they seemed to do a good job explaining things about the actual life of the Mayas and other pre-Hispanic people during the time when Chichén Itzá was the most powerful city in the region. So perhaps they want tourists to join the guided tours? I don’t know, I just know that I prefer to explore such places on my own.
So is Chichén Itzá really worth a visit or should you just skip it?
When I came back, I had a headache and was so tired that I went to bed for a short nap at 8 pm and only woke up the next morning. It was also a result of the bus ride and the extreme heat, of course.
I had nice moments in Chichén Itzá and yes, seeing the ruins of this old Maya town which used to be the most powerful city around the 10th century, was special.
However, Chichén Itzá is not a place I’d ever go back to and if you only spend a couple of days in the Yucatán Peninsula, I’d recommend visiting another archaeological site like Uxmal when you’re in or near Mérida or Tulum when you’re in or near Cancún or Playa del Carmen.
Do you want to know more about the Yucatán and the Mayas? Check out my recommendations:
- Lonely Planet: Cancún, Cozumel and the Yucatán
- A Yucatan Kitchen: Regional Recipes from Mexico’s Mundo Maya
- A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
Have you visited Chichén Itzá? Do you agree with my observations or did you perhaps absolutely love the place? I’d like to hear from you in the comments.
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