Updated: Feb 16
Are you looking to tour Chichen Itza, but want to avoid the crowds? In this post travel writer, Claire from Claire’s Itchy Feet shares her experience taking a private Chichen Itza tour with us.
This wasn’t my first time at Chichen Itza, I actually came here when I first arrived in Playa del Carmen with some friends. We hired a car and drove ourselves and it was a bit of a nightmare… but more on that later!
Why Tour Chichen Itza?
Chichen Itza was up there on my Riviera Maya bucket list, along with swimming with Whale Sharks, and Sian Ka’an. As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World it was somewhere I was really excited to visit. The reason so many people flock to Chichen Itza each year is simple, it’s impressive! It is also one of the few Mayan Ruins in the area that has received the investment required to properly excavate and restore it. Some of the other Mayan Ruins like Coba and Ek Balam haven’t had so much care and attention. You can’t visit this area and not tour Chichen Itza!
How to beat the crowds at Chichen Itza
The only way to beat the crowds at Chichen Itza is to either get there before everyone else, or to get there after everyone else has left. Everyday coach loads of tourists arrive to explore the Mayan Ruins, with most of them arriving and leaving around the same time. So the only way to avoid being there during peak hours is to avoid the big group tours so you can arrive as the site opens at 8 am. Alternatively, you can also aim to arrive after 3 pm, The park does close at 5 pm through so you may feel a little rushed choosing this option.
Private tour, group tour, or go it alone
Okay, truth time. I’m not really an organized tour person. I much prefer going it alone so I can take my time and not feel pressured by tour leaders and other people on the tours. So the idea of sitting on a bus full of people on one of the Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen is my worst nightmare!
That said my first trip to Chichen Itza was a bit of a nightmare too. We took the slow road so it took us hours longer and we got conned into buying a premium parking ticket which cost us 400 pesos ($20 USD) EACH extra. Plus we didn’t arrive until just before 4 pm so we only had an hour in the site before it closed. The whole experience was pretty stressful and by the time we paid for car hire, petrol, tolls (we found the toll road on the way back), and the entrance fees, we didn’t even save enough money to warrant the stress of the day.
The only saving grace was that I got a great shot for Instagram (See above) without any people in it! But as we didn’t have a tour guide to show us around and share knowledge about the site and its history it all felt a bit empty and pointless. Like I just went all the way there for a photo!
Then your third option is to do one of the Chichen Itza private tours from Playa del Carmen. With the private tour you can have control over when you leave, how much time you spend in Chichen Itza and you can also ask to go to a different cenote to avoid the horrendous amount of people trying to swim in Ik Kil (trust me you do not want to go there during the day!). Obviously you will pay more for this option, speaking as someone who has done it on my own and as a private tour, believe me when I say it is worth paying the extra.
My Experience with Kay Tours
Going on a Chichen Itza Tour with Kay tours meant I had to get up pretty early! This isn’t mandatory, you can request a later pick up, but if you want to get there first you need to leave Playa del Carmen by 6:30 at the latest during the winter and 5:30 during the summer. Getting into the spotlessly clean van to be greeted with a pillow and blanket for the journey was the perfect welcome and really set the tone for the entire day.
Our guide Juan was the ultimate professional, attentive and knowledgeable, while still leaving room for us to enjoy the day without being bombarded with information or rushed. As our small group had all visited Chichen Itza before we were interested in really digging into the history and asked a lot of questions.
I quickly realized that on my first visit to Chichen Itza I actually missed half of the site! That’s what happens when you go without a guide and are rushing because you don’t have much time though I suppose! So taking extra time to explore and learn about the site was well received by all. As promised we arrived before the crowds and were among the first to enter the site.
Another thing that I loved was that the guide has a professional camera and spent the day snapping pictures of me and the other guests. Who needs an Insta husband! As a solo traveler I either have to rely on asking someone to take my picture, most of the time they have no clue what they are doing, or I have to set up my tripod. And it gets better, the images are all included in the tour. Within 24 hours of the tour ending I had access to all of the images on Google Photos.
I’m a travel writer and I’ve been hopping around Latin America doing tours for two years now. It takes a lot to impress me, so when I say I was impressed by the service I mean it. From the blankets and pillows and the way the snacks were displayed in the van, to the plastic-free lunches, it was clear to me that Kay tours not only cared about my experience but also the environment. Two things that are most important to me when choosing a tour company.
Visiting Chichen Itza has the potential to be a bit underwhelming, especially without a professional guide who can bring the history to life for you. Luckily this tour to Chichen Itza with Kay Tours completely changed my opinion of this world wonder.
So, if you want my honest opinion if you want to visit Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen I would recommend taking a tour, over traveling there alone. And if you want to beat the crowds, avoid spending 4 hours on a coach, and being rushed around, I would recommend a private tour over a group tour.
Don’t be put off by the cost, when you break it down it really isn’t that much different especially when you include images, snacks, and drinks. Plus if you are traveling solo or in a small group you can post in the Community Forum with the dates you want to go and join up with other travelers to bring the price down!
For more information about Claire and her travels, you can find her over at Claire’s Itchy Feet. As she is now based in Playa del Carmen while she travels Mexico we will be asking her to write the occasional guest post for our blog, so keep your eyes out for more from her in the future.