Chichen Itza is one of the most famous Mayan sites in Mexico. It's within easy distance of Cancun and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is one to visit. It's also great to visit with kids. They will love the history, the bit of gore and some of the little secrets that it holds. But before you go here's some of the top things we wish we had known before we visited Chichen Itza with the Kids for the first time.
Visiting Chichen Itza with Kids
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Nothing will compare to seeing the pyramid, or Kukulcan Temple, at Chichen Itza as you walk from the main entrance into the grand plaza. Unlike the other Mayan Sites near Cancun Chichen Itza in the central area has been mostly cleared.
The kids stood in awe looking up at the pyramid. It was the first time they had ever seen a historical building intact outside of the UK and their mouths literally dropped when they saw it.
I must admit that I was a little gobsmacked as well.
#1 -> Get an Official Guide
There is so much to see at Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins and although I saw people wander around and others with guide books I can tell you our experience with the private guide we hired at the site was amazing.
After paying our entrance fee the official guides wait around and you can hire them. There is a set fee for English Speaking Guides. When we visited it was 1000 pesos for the group.
Our group was just the 4 of us and the guide was amazing.
He bought the knowledge down to the kids level and really made it come alive for them.
#2 -> Clapping
If you don't hire a guide as you wander around the pyramid and the ball stadium you may wonder at everyone clapping!
It's to show 2 different features. In the ball game stadium, it shows how the echos go back and forward and to give you an idea of the noise. In the central part, there are 8 echos between the walls of the pitch.
By the pyramid at the bottom of the stairs on the left-hand side as you look from the entrance to the archaeological zone it's to show you the magic of the stairs!
It transforms the sound of the clap into sounding like a Quetzal bird. A sacred bird of the Mayans. And it really does make a bird-like squeak when the clap echoes back to you!
#3 -> You can't Climb the Pyramid
This was a bit of a disappointment to the kids because they had been told by a relative and some friends that the best bit of visiting Chichen Itza was climbing the pyramid.
It was stopped a few years ago though because of the damage it was doing to the steps the same as the visits to inside the pyramid stopped as well.
However, if your kids do want to climb pyramids then there are 3 that are fun to climb on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Coba which is near the Riviera Maya and an easy day trip from both Playa Del Carmen and Cancun.
Kinich Kakmo which is in Izamal and is free to climb it's also the 3rd largest in Mexico and the views from the top are amazing also the yellow city.
The last is the temple at Uxmal. This was a real highlight of visiting what we considered the best of the Mayan sites in Mexico. Like Chichen Itza, it's also a UNESCO World Heritage site but it's a lot less crowded due to being further away.
#4 -> It Is a Long Day
To put it honestly it is a long day, Chichen Itza is about 121 miles (196.6 km) and takes around 2hrs and 14 minutes from Cancun.
If you take one of the many Chichen Itza Tours available in the resorts yes the kids would be able to sleep on the coach journey to and from.
However, this also puts you arriving in Chichen Itza at the busiest time of the day. When all the coach tours and cruise ship tours arrive.
Instead, you could do what we did on our Mexican Road Trip we stayed at Valladolid the night before and were able to get to Chichen Itza arriving early just after it opened with only a 43-minute drive (45 km or 40 miles) from the hotel in the centre of the city.
Check out these hotels in Valladolid if you would like to follow in our footsteps and stay a night closer so you can make it to Chichen Itza before the crowds.
#5 -> Don't Skip Visiting the Cenotes
There are two sacred cenotes in Chichen Itza Archeological Zone neither of which you can swim in.
But, the Magician's Well the cenote that gives rise to the name Chichen Itza was really beautiful.
Our guide explained the sacrifice practices of the Mayans and the bones that were discovered in this Cenotes. How no live bodies or bodies with flesh were thrown in. Instead, all of the bones were cleaned before being thrown in.
Makes sense, when you think that the water from this cenote was also a source of drinking water as they cenotes are all connected.
If your kids do want to swim then Cenote Ik Kil, which is just 8 minutes drive away, is a great place to go with steps down into the cenote so that you can easily swim or snorkel with the children.
#6 -> The Street Vendors
To be honest this was the worst thing about the Mayan ruins here. The Street Vendors!
Unlike at every other site we visited, within the actual Archeological park, they allow street vendors to set up stalls along the paths.
They have some merchandise that is specifically aimed at kids - a little souvenir that makes the sound of a jaguar. Yes, it's cool! Yes, the kids loved it.
BUT... every single stall sells it and they all want you to buy it.
We just walked on by. It's the one thing that we had wished we'd known before as we could have prepared the kids to either have some spending money or to ignore them completely.
#7 -> Get Away from the Central Plaza
Yes, the pyramid is AMAZING. So is the ball stadium and the platforms around Kukulcan Temple.
But, follow the paths. The observatory is down one of them and unlike the main plaza, it's not been cleared as much as you really feel like you are walking up to it and discovering it for the first time.
If you can't get to Uxmal or Coba then this is a good hint of what experiencing those Mayan sites is like.
A walk through the temple of a thousand columns is also really worth doing with the kids. It's amazing how they held up a whole second floor.
In fact, when you head to the observatory don't miss seeing the structure at the end of the temple.
#8 -> Bring Water
It is a long day, it's hot, there's a fair bit of walking and I don't remember seeing any places to get water once you were actually in the ruins.
Instead, pack a refillable water bottle or two for everyone and the kids and then drink those.
On the way out we left as the tour groups were arriving which meant that we could get a seat at the cafe/restaurant by the entrance easily and have a cool drink.
#9 -> Check your Entrance fees Carefully Kids get a discount and Maybe Free
So, in all of the other Mayan Ruins sites, we visited the kids were free!
However, they were charged at Chichen Itza. When we asked a guide at a different site he suspected it was because our youngest is so tall and our eldest looks like he could be of age to pay!
#10 -> Expect to Pay if you have a Video Camera or GoPro
Something we weren't aware of was that if you have a video camera or a GoPro then there is an additional fee of $45MPX.
It's paid for at the entrance and you will need to keep the ticket with you as you could be asked to show it. This was common at the other sites as well.
Didn't matter that it was the kids holding it or the fact that my DSLR which didn't need a ticket takes video as well. We had to pay to cover using it in the Archeological Zone.
Bonus Tip From The Kids Themselves -> Hunt for Iguanas
Don't miss hunting for Iguanas. They are there on the ruined buildings but not as easy to see in other places so you have to look hard for them.
I hope that gives you some tips for visiting Chichen Itza with kids before you go. If you have any further to add please leave them in the comments below and we'll add them in too.