Two boys sit on the grass in the shade in front of El Castillo, the largest pyramid structure at Chichen Itza

Visiting Chichen Itza, Mexico with kids (2024)

When planning our family travel adventures in Mexico, visiting the legendary Chichen Itza with our kids was right up near the top of the list. There are lots of reasons to visit the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico with kids – sunkissed beaches, clear azure seas, fab food and culture. And then there is also some absolutely world class history at Chichen Itza.

This felt like the perfect place for us to do some world schooling on the history of the Mayans. And a pretty much unmissable stop on our Mexico itinerary.

Where is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza is located in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, about an hour from Valladolid (the nearest town). We opted to book in a few days in Valladolid to make the trip to Chichen Itza easier. I’ve written a separate blog post here with info on where to stay and what to do in Valladolid. If you’re heading to this part of the world it’s a lovely little town to stay in for a couple of days and well worth a visit in it’s own right.

If you do choose to visit Chichen Itza in a day, it takes around 3-hours on the bus each way from Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

Two boys jump in the air in front of El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza
Family of four stand in front of El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza

How do you get to Chichen Itza?

If you are staying in Valladolid (highly recommended) then the trip to Chichen Itza should take under an hour. You can opt to take a taxi or a collectivo (a shared mini van, a common form of transport in Mexico) from the centre of Valladolid.

Taxis are obviously the more expensive option but offer you total flexibility on what time you leave for Chichen Itza. Plus of course total flexibility on what time you come back.

We opted for the collectivo as this was much cheaper than a private taxi. The collectivos for Chichen Itza all leave from the same small parking lot, starting from 7am. The parking lot is about a 5-10minute walk from the main square in Valladolid. If you search on Google Maps for ‘Chichen Itza collectivo’ it will show you the exact location.

In total, the collectivo cost us £15 for a return ticket for the four of us. For the return journey they show you where they will pick you up from. You simply wait there when you’re ready to leave until the next minivan turns up.

We opted for the 7am minivan as we wanted to be at Chichen Itza before the crowds and the heat!

You can also do Chichen Itza as a day trip from elsewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula. You can either organise it yourself and take an ADO bus from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen or join an arranged tour. As a family we felt that this would be too exhausting to do in one way (as the travel alone is around 3-hours each way). The other disadvantage of this option is that you are likely to be at Chichen Itza when it’s at it’s busiest AND hottest. So bear this in mind!

Small carved pyramid structure at Chichen Itza with carved jaguar skull

How much are the tickets for Chichen Itza?

You can buy your tickets on the gate at Chichen Itza. In total, we spent £49.50 on the entrance tickets and a further £17 on the compulsory visitor tax. Children only pay the visitor tax; there is no entrance fee charge for them.

There are dozens of independent tour guides waiting outside for business. Our collectivo driver recommended one of them and they did offer to do a small group tour for us with the other passengers. However, our budget just wouldn’t stretch to this. Whilst I think they definitely add value, be aware that it is hot, dusty and a LOT for the kids to take in. Personally we wanted to be able to move around at our own pace. If you want more detail on the site though a guide would be a great addition!

What to expect at Chichen Itza

All the top tips for Chichen Itza involve getting there before the midday tour buses and the heat of the midday sun. This was definitely the case. When we arrived there were only a few dozen people and the stall vendors were still setting up for the day. It was a great chance to take a few pics at El Castillo (the main pyramid in all the famous shots of Chichen Itza) before the tour buses unloaded.

Image of low wall carved with skulls

Whilst we didn’t opt for a tour guide, I had done a bit of advanced prep. I had found some brilliant self-guided tour PDFs online via the Free Range Family blog here that I’d downloaded. These were great at adding context and background to the various areas of the site. The background info on Chichen Itza on the blogpost is also really interesting. I would highly recommend giving it a read!

It is amazing in-person – the structures, the carvings, the way that astrology and maths is woven in to everything…and the tales of human sacrifices. This was the bit that the boys were most interested in, particularly the giant Pok-ta-Pok stadium, where the losers of the ancient ballgame would apparently be sacrificed to the gods at the end. According to one of the tour guides (who I definitely WASN’T listening in on!) the game and the stadium inspired JK Rowling’s creation of Quidditch (though I’m pretty sure there’s less of the human sacrifices bit in Harry Potter). 

Image of carved hoop high on an old wall at Chichen Itza, that was used as the goal for Pok-ta-Pok games

We all also loved standing at the base of El Castillo and clapping – you’ll see lots of tourists doing this! The structure was built to echo the sound back to you as it bounces off the steps. It’s designed to sound like the Quetzal, the native Mexican bird that was considered very special to the Mayan people.

How long do you need for a visit to Chichen Itza?

We spent about 3hours at Chichen Itza in total. With two kids this was plenty of time. This included a good half hour or so sitting in the shade chatting about Mayan history, reading the self-guide notes I’d downloaded and writing down facts for their fact files when we got home. In this time we wandered around the whole site, investigating the various structures and soaking it all in.

The sun was blazing down by the time we left around 11am and I don’t think the kids (or us!) could have lasted much longer. 

EL Castillo, largest pyramid at Chichen Itza

The verdict

This is one amazing place you do not want to miss! You might have seen the pictures but experiencing all this history first-hand is an awe-inspiring experience. And in terms of world-schooling – it’s hard to imagine a better history lesson.

Even including the collectivo there and back, this was a real steal for a day out at one of the Seven Wonders of the World! A visit to Chichen Itza with kids should be on any Mexico family holiday itinerary.

Top tips for a visit to Chichen Itza with kids

  • Get there as early as you possibly can. The later in the day you leave it, the hotter and busier it will get!
  • Make sure you take/buy plenty of water as it is a sweaty walk round
  • Download the self-guided tour from the Free Range Family blog before you leave so that you get an idea of what all the buildings are and the history of them
  • If time allows, stay over in Valladolid the night before/after. It’s a tiring day out, and having a hotel with a pool to cool off in when you get home will make everyone’s day better!

Planning a family travel adventure to Mexico with kids?

Check out our other posts on what to visit, where to stay and what to do on a family trip to Mexico:

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