Chichen Itza is one of the modern wonders of the world and an epically awesome place to visit as a family. I must admit that I had been apprehensive about visiting Chichen Itza with the kids for a long time. I would look wistfully at the pics of other families or friends traveling there and thought that I would not be able to take a trip like that for a long time.
We headed to Riviera Maya in January 2017 and decided that this year we would just do it. We felt our girls were old enough at that time (5 and 8 years old) to not only weather the trip but also enjoy it and learn from our time there. Chichen Itza is a solid 2 and half hour drive from Cancun and Playa del Carmen and we wanted to make sure the time was right for us before taking this (costly) journey.
We had an awesome, stress free day and I wanted to share some tips on what made our day work out so smoothly.
Tip 1: Prepare for the long drive to/from Chichen Itza. As I stated above, the average drive from Riviera Maya is about 2.5 hours. There are a variety of ways you can get there. The highways are easy to maneuver and despite the occasional tolls, it seemed that the trip was smooth and easy to navigate. We chose to do a private tour (8 passenger minivan to ourselves) through Canada Transfers which was an excellent choice for us. As we drove we could see many tourists on the highways in rented cars as well as mega tour buses.
However you decide to travel, be sure to prep the family for what to expect. While the ride is somewhat scenic younger travelers will definitely need something to occupy their attention and keep them entertained. We brought our Amazon Fire tablet, which had a movie downloaded onto it, as well as carrying books and snacks.
Please, do not forget to bring snacks! Our pick up that morning was at 7:30 am (which is the typical recommended pick up time for most tours headed to Chichen Itza) so breakfast was early that day. Shortly before we arrived at Chichen Itza the kids were asking for a snack and I was happy that I had packed granola bars for them. Our tour provided us with a full cooler of bottled water so we were set for the day; if your tour does not include beverages, plan to bring at least a couple bottles with you for the journey.
Tip 2: Plan your arrival as early as possible to avoid crowds. We arrived at Chichen Itza around 9:30 am and the parking lot was already full with vehicles, cars and buses alike. Despite the busyness, our tour guide assured us that we were still early and had beat the heaviest of crowds! Our tour included our entrance fees to Chichen Itza and the nominal video camera fee ($2-3 per camera). While we waited for our guide to obtain our tickets from the booth we milled around the main plaza area which had a restaurant, clean restrooms and a snack bar area with drinks, popsicles etc. We had to wait for a few minutes and I was happy that we had beaten most of the tour buses as our wait would certainly have been longer.
Tip 3: Hire a tour guide at Chichen Itza: It’s worth it!! Most tour packages will let you know that hiring a tour guide for the day is highly recommended and a separate fee. The going rate during our visit was $70 for an expert guide to walk us through the archaeological site.
We were absolutely happy with our guide and would highly recommend hiring one when you visit. Our guide was a local, descendant of the Mayans, and was the best person to guide us around the site. He held a wealth of knowledge and knew how to engage all of us, even our kids. I totally think the money was well spent.
Tip 4: Dress and plan your day at Chichen Itza according to the weather. We were fortunate to visit during the month of January and the weather was just about perfect, averaging about 83 degrees. The sun was strong, though, and I could certainly see that in the summer months it could be unbearable. There are trees and shade in some areas of the site but as you tour you will spend a lot of time in the direct sun.
When dressing your family and packing for the day, be sure to wear light colored. clothing and comfortable shoes. We found the site easily walkable and I’m sure, even a jogging stroller could make it’s way through the site. Hats are also a must; we all had hats the day we visited and, even though the heat wasn’t at it’s worst, the hats were absolutely necessary.
Sunscreen is important as well as bug spray. Some of the ruins require a trek through well beaten jungle paths and protection from bugs will spare you and the kiddies from nasty mosquito bites. A few cheap rain ponchos would be a good idea to throw in your day bag as well; with the vastness of the site, during the rainy seasons it would be easy to get caught in a passing shower and be totally soaked!