Guide To The Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

The Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins are Mexico's #1 visited archeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage site. And in 2007, it was voted in a global survey as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Each year 2.6 M people visit; can they and UNESCO be wrong? Probably not. But if you are going to visit, you need to be prepared to make the most of your visit. Fortunately, we've done all the work for you with our comprehensive guide to Chichen Itza! Find out why the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins are the most famous site in Mexico and how you can make the most of your visit. And, receive your essential Chichen Itza infographic free to help you along the way.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins infographic
Free Chichen Itza Infographic

What Are The Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins?

The town of Chichen Itza was first established around 435-455 AD. Located close to two Chichen Itza cenotes, which provided the town's water. The name Chichen Itza in Mayan means "At the edge of the well of the Itza." Throughout its 1,000-year history, different peoples left their mark on the city. This sacred site was one of the most important Mayan centers of the Yucatán peninsula.

So much so that in 1988 UNESCO designated the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins a World Heritage Site. This means it is an area of outstanding international importance. And so deserves special protection. While Mexico has many ancient sites, the Chichen Itza archaeological site is the most impressive of the over 4,400 Maya sites in Mesoamerica.

Riviera Maya Vacation Rentals

Being the most stunning Maya site in Mexico makes it a popular destination for visitors. What makes it even more popular is its location close to Mexico's largest tourist destination, Cancun. This results in over 2.6 million visitors a year. On average, that's over 7,000 visitors a day. And during the high season, likely double that. It's one of the reasons you definitely need a quality guide to show you around the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins with the minimum of fuss.

Planning To Get To Chichen Itza, Mexico

Before visiting the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza, there are a few things you should consider. For example, where its located and what mode of transportation to take to get there. Also, are you going on an organized tour, a smaller private tour, or going to do it yourself? Let's start with how to get there.

Where Are The Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins?

The Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins are located in the Yucatan Peninsula. The closest major city is Valladolid, 40 km to the east. Further to the east is the state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Akumal, and Tulum. To the West of Chichen Itza is the city of Merida.

Fortunately, good highway infrastructure to Chichen Itza, Mexico, makes it possible to visit and return on a day trip. It takes between 2 and 2 ½ hours to get to the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Ocean Breeze Akumal, and Tulum. From Merida, it is only 1 ½ hours.

How To Get To Chichen Itza, Mexico

While getting there is straightforward, deciding on how to get there is more complicated. You have a few options to consider, each with their pros and cons.

Rent A Car

If you've already rented a car, then this is definitely the best way to get to the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza. Even if you haven't, you should consider renting a car. The driving is easy, and if you use Google Maps, you'll get great directions and won't get lost. Parking, once you arrive, is relatively straightforward and inexpensive (~ $80 pesos, or ~$4 USD). Some people instead park along the side of the busy road before you get to the Chichen Itza archeological site. But while you save $80 pesos, you run more risk of your car getting dented.

A toll highway along the route costs $190 pesos (~$9.50 USD). I recommend taking the toll 180 road as it is quicker, and the no toll 180 also has lots of speed bumps (Topes). MAKE SURE; however, you bring pesos for the tolls as they do not accept credit cards or USD.

Book A Group Tour to the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

One way to go is to book a group tour and travel with a large busload of people. The advantage is that you don't have to drive. But, one disadvantage is it takes much longer. The bus will stop at many hotels to pick people up, which will add at least an hour to your journey each way. Secondly, the cost per person (including the taxes) is about $80 USD per person. 

Archeologists Are Still Making Discoveries At the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza

Archeologists are still making discoveries at the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza. For example, National Geographic recently reported a stunning discovery. While hunting for a sacred well underground, a trove of more than 150 ritual objects was discovered, and these had been untouched for more than a thousand years. Adding another layer of understanding about the history of Chichen Itza.

Picture of the Chichen Itza archeological site

This does include the entrance fee, which is ~$24 USD per person but is still about $42 USD more for one person. Or for 4 people, it's ~$210 USD more than compared to taking your own car. The Chichen Itza tour also includes a guide, but you can hire your own guide for around $50 USD. And you don't have to share the guide with 65 other people!

Another disadvantage of going with a group tour to the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins is that you arrive with many tourists simultaneously as all the other tour buses. By either taking your own car or by going on a private tour (below), you can plan to arrive before the tour buses. Thus, avoiding the majority of the crowds. We believe there are better options than a group tour.

Book A Private Guide to Chichen Itza

If you don't want to drive yourself, you also can book a private tour guide to Chichen Itza. If there are 5 of you, it works out to be about the same cost as booking a group tour to the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. The costs for the transportation and guide are typically $300-350 USD (not including the entrance fee). A private tour can accommodate up to 14 people comfortably. So, if you have a large group, it's quite inexpensive. For 10 people about $30-35 USD each, for 14 people $21-24 USD each.

There are several added advantages of taking a private tour guide of the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. Firstly, you can arrange to leave at a time to arrive well before the group tours arrive. So, you get to see the Chichen Itza archeological site before the large masses of crowds descend on it. Secondly, if you decide you'd like to stop for lunch, you can arrange that with your driver. Or you could go to the Chichen Itza cenote. Or go shopping outside of Chichen Itza, and you aren't beholden to the large group. Thirdly, since you don't have to stop to pick up at many locations, your travel time will be about an hour less each way. And lastly, traveling in a comfortable vehicle with friends is often a lot more fun and convenient.

Traveling by Bus

You can travel to Chichen Itza, Mexico, by ADO bus. And it might be worthwhile doing this if you are traveling from Valladolid. However, the trip takes far too long if you come from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, or Tulum. While the cost is inexpensive at $386 pesos (~$20 USD), the journey takes about 4 hours each way. That's a long time on a bus, especially adding in 4 hours at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. The ADO buses leave at 8 am from Playa Del Carmen (while we regularly update the information in this guide to Chichen Itza, we advise checking the ADO website to confirm times, tickets, and departures). It then leaves the Chichen Itza archeological site around 4pm, getting back around 8pm. A rather exhausting day.

When To Visit The Mayan Ruins Of Chichen Itza

Yet, no Most people won't arrange their travel dates around timing a trip to the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. But if you can, go outside of the high season (mid-Dec – end of March) as fewer visitors will be there from April to early December.

matter what time of the year you visit, you can choose what time to arrive. This guide to Chichen Itza recommends that you go early. While you might not arrive at 8am when it opens, you should definitely come before 11 am. Although the Chichen Itza archeological site doesn't close till 5pm, the earlier you arrive, the better. But why arrive before 11 am? Because that's when the large group tours begin arriving!

Riviera Maya Vacation Rental image

Assuming it takes 2 hours to get there (by car or private tour), if you leave at 8 am, you should arrive at 10 to 10:30 am. But if you are coming to the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins from the state of Quintana Roo (Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, etc.) in the high season, then you are in luck! Quintana Roo doesn't change the time for daylight savings, whereas the Yucatan does. It means that if you leave at 9 am in Quintana Roo, that's still only 8 am in the Yucatan. Thus, you gain an hour. In high season you can leave at 9 am (Quintana Roo time). After 2 hours of driving, you can arrive at the Chichen Itza archeological site at 10 am local time!!

The only other time to arrive to avoid some of the crowds is to go much later. If you come around 3 pm, it is often less crowded, but you only have 2 hours to spend at the magnificent Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. This is doable but rushed. Usually, a guided tour takes 1.5 hours. Then after that, it's nice to explore other parts of the site on your own. A good amount of time for most people would be 3-4 hours.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins Infographic
Free Chichen Itza Infographic

Should You Hire A Local Guide?

A guide will be included if you go on a private or a group tour to the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza. However, if you travel there yourself, you then choose whether to hire a guide or not. The cost of a guide at Chichen Itza is about $1,000 pesos ($50 USD). We think it is very worthwhile to hire a guide. The cost isn't that expensive, especially if you split it between a few people. The 1.5-hour tour covers many of the important buildings, the Chichen Itza history, and they'll show you lots of remarkable things. Ones that you would otherwise miss.

If you hire a guide, don't hire one before you get to the Chichen Itza archeological site. The guides outside the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins are not official guides. The ones inside are, and they provide an excellent and informative service.

What To Take With You To Chichen Itza Mexico

Below is a list of things to bring with you that will likely come in useful during your visit to the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. The site is large (5 km2, 2 sq. miles) and only has a few shaded areas, so much of it is open to the hot sun. So be prepared.

  • Good walking shoes
  • Hat
  • Sunblock
  • Water bottle
  • Pesos for the highway toll (if you are driving) and for the guide – you can use USD to pay while you are inside the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza, but the exchange rate isn't great. Also, you can use a credit card for the entrance fee.
  • Camera (note that if you have a go pro or professional camera, you have to pay a small extra fee)

Fortunately, as the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza are very open, there aren't many bugs, so you can leave your bug spray behind.

Other Considerations

Food: You aren't allowed to take food into the Chichen Itza archeological site. But there are a handful of food vendors after the ticket booth. Prices are more expensive due to the location, so you might want to stop for food before you enter.

Vendors: Both outside the entrance and inside, many vendors sell souvenirs and other wares. Be prepared to haggle if you want to buy something. And also realize that you will pay more here than you would in a less touristy place. Some people writing about the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins have stated that the vendors are aggressive. But whenever I have been, that's not been the case. They do ask you frequently if you're interested in buying something as you walk past their stall. But a simple 'no gracias' is all that's required.

Chichen Itza History

The Chichen Itza history spans 1,000 years, and it was probably the most important Mayan center of the Yucatan Peninsula. During its development, many different people occupying the settlement have left their mark. One of the most interesting aspects is the fusion of Maya and Toltec architecture and beliefs. This results in a unique combination of Mayan building techniques with newer elements from central Mexico at the Chichen Itza archeological site.

Development History Of Chichen Itza

The town that was first developed here had several important monuments. These include a Nunnery, a Church, the Temple of the Panels, and the Temple of the Deer. All were constructed between the 6th and 10th centuries in the typical Maya style of the time. This initial settlement is called Chichen Viejo (Old Chichen).

The history of Chichen Itza developed further with a second settlement that coincided with the migration of Toltec warriors during the 10th century. Between 967 and 987 AD, the King of Tula, also known as Kukulkan, took over the city. Following this conquest, a new style developed by blending Maya and Toltec traditions. Many of the buildings and monuments constructed and that can be seen today at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins exhibit aspects from both cultures. But after the 13th century, no major construction continued.

In the 10th century, the city's growth saw it become a regional capital. Controlling an area from central Yucatan to the north coast and extending down both the East and West coasts of the peninsula. This growth of Chichen Itza Mexico coincided with the decline of major Maya centers in southern parts of Mesoamerica (Coba and Yamuna). As one of the largest of the Maya cities, people traveled here from all over Mesoamerica. Giving it a diverse population. This contributed to the variety of architectural styles and to the diverse path of Chichen Itza history.

Feathered Serpent Deity

The feathered serpent is a common deity found in many Mesoamerican religions and cultures. Know as Kukulcan by the Maya, The Aztecs call it Quetzalcoatl. The feathered part represented its divine nature and its ability to fly and reach the sky. While the serpent represents its human nature and ability to creep on the ground with other earthly creatures. Looking carefully at structures throughout the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza, you will see many depictions in stone of the feathered serpent.

Picture of serpent head at Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

The Decline Of Chichen Itza Mexico

From 1100 onwards, the city began its decline. The actual cause of the decline is still debated. Some suggest it was due to warring between Maya peoples. Others state ecological challenges from the inability to support a large population. While the Chichen Itza elite left the city, it still had a thriving local population. Even when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century and stamped their mark on Chichen Itza history. In fact, the high population was a major factor in why the Spanish wanted to locate a capital there.

In 1527 the Spanish invasion of the Yucatan began. Yet, it wasn't until reinforcements arrived that the Spanish took control of Chichen Itza in 1532-33. After experiencing little resistance initially, the Maya became more hostile. In a typical guerilla warfare technique, the Maya cut off the Spanish supply line to the coast and laid siege. After several months and no more reinforcements, the Spanish fled the city in 1534. Ending their period of influence over Chichen Itza history.

More Recent Chichen Itza History

In 1841, the American explorer, writer, and diplomat, John Lloyd Stephens, rediscovered the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. His 1843 book 'Incidents of Travel in Yucatan' recounted his visit and discovery of Maya sites, including the Chichen Itza archeological site. In 1860, the French traveler and archeologist Désiré Charnay surveyed the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza. Taking many photographs that were published in 1863.

Edward Herbert Thompson, the US Consul to the Yucatan, took an interest in the site. Thompson, in 1894 purchased large tracts of land, including those of the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. And he explored the area for the next 30 years. The story of Chichen Itza history took another turn in 1923 when the Mexican Government awarded the Carnegie Institute a 10-year permit to excavate and restore the Chichen Itza archeological site. But, 3 years later, the Mexican Government charged Thompson with theft and smuggling of artifacts. He never returned to the site, and subsequently, in 1944, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled posthumously that Thompson had not broken any laws. The archeological site of Chichen Itza was then returned to Thompsons heirs.

Since the early 1960's Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has overseen the excavation and restoration of the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza. Up until 2010, the Chichen Itza archeological site was privately owned when the Yucatan Government purchased it.

Overview Of The Mayan Ruins At Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, Mexico, is one of the more significant Maya sites covering an area of more than 5 km2 (~2 sq miles). In this area, the architectural buildings are close together. Beyond this area, smaller-scale residences extend for an unknown distance. Now covered by the dense rainforest of the region.

The ground on which the monuments were built was over the main Chichen Itza cenote, which risked potential collapse. So to stabilize the area, it was built up and leveled before the building commenced. The ground level of many buildings at the Chichen Itza archeological site is ~ 2 feet higher than the original level of the land. The Maya was bringing in stone to build each monument and first build up and level the site.

Across the leading archeological site (see map), many restored stone buildings are present. A network of pathways called sacbeob connects them, the local Chichen Itza cenote, and neighboring communities. So far, archeologists have unearthed over 80 Sacbe. Many of them crisscrossing in all directions all through the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza. Originally the buildings would have been brightly colored in red, green, blue, or purple. All the colors were coming from natural pigments.

The architecture of the buildings and monuments here encompasses several styles. The buildings are grouped in sets by an architectural style. For example, the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins of the Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo), the Temple of Warriors, and the Great Ball Court are part of one architectural style. Another is the Ossuary Group which includes the Ossuary Pyramid and the Temple of Xtoloc. Another is the Central group: the Caracol, the Nunnery, and the House of Hidden Writing.

Further south of the Nunnery are several other groups of buildings. This is the area known as Chichen Viejo, but it is only open to archeologists.

What You Must See During Your Visit To The Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

If you arrive before the tour buses, you'll probably spend 45 minutes paying at the entrance, using the facilities, and hiring your guide. After that assuming you take the guided tour, that'll take another 90 minutes. So, at this stage, you'll have spent about 2 ½ hours at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. You can easily spend another 60-90 minutes walking around many of the other remaining structures that your guide doesn't take you to on the tour. So, you should plan on spending 3-4 hours here.

But, if you arrive when it's jam-packed, then getting inside and organized will take a whole lot longer. So you'll have to decide which structures to see. If you go on a guided tour, you'll likely get to see the Temple of Kukulcan/El Castillo, and this should be the #1 Chichen Itza Mayan Ruin on your list. As well, you'll likely see the Platform of Skulls, the Great Ball Court, the Temple of Warriors, and El Caracol. If your guide doesn't show you any of these, then take time after the formal tour to visit each of them.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins Infographic
Free Chichen Itza Infographic

If you have time, the other Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins we recommend visiting are Las Monjas, including the Church, then Akab Dzib. If you still have time left, visit the Ossuary Group. But, if you are short on time and have seen a few cenotes, then you won't visit the Chichen Itza Cenote. There's no swimming there anyway since it's pretty murky and used to contain human remains!

And, don't forget to plan time to browse some of the vendor stalls if you want to bring back a couple of souvenirs.

The Temple of Kukulcan or El Castillo

The Temple of Kukulcan (or El Castillo) is a Mesoamerican step-pyramid that dominates the Chichen Itza archeological site. Built between the 8th and 12th centuries AD, it was the temple to the god Kukulcan – the Maya Feathered Serpent Deity. The temple sits on a pyramid consisting of a base and a series of square terraces made of limestone. The monument's height is 79 ft (24 m), with the temple adding another 20 ft. Each side is 55 m long (181 ft) and has stairways to the top temple. Along the sides of the northern balustrade are sculptures of feathered serpents.

Interestingly the pyramid and each of its 4 sides have a total of 91 steps. When added together and including the top temple platform (the final step), it produces 365 steps in total. Or the total number of days in a year. Is this a coincidence, or was this created at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins by design?

Another interesting aspect of Chichen Itza history is that the pyramid you see is built over an older one buried below it. Also, the pyramid's location sits at the intersection of four underground cenotes: the Sacred Cenote, Xtoloc, Kanjuyum, and Holtún.

Image of Riviera Maya Vacation Rentals

Equinoxes at the Temple of Kukulcan

One of the most impressive sights to behold in all of the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins is spring and autumn equinoxes. In the late afternoon, the sun strikes the northwest corner of the pyramid. This casts a series of shadows against the northern balustrade. Incredibly it creates an illusion of a feathered serpent crawling down the pyramid. (see picture right). This is an extraordinary sight. And illustrates the complex understanding the Maya had of astrology and mathematics. As well as emphasizing the importance of their god Kukulcan.

The Chirping Quetzal Birds of El Castillo

Another incredible thing to experience in Chichen Itza, Mexico, is the chirping staircases of El Castillo (Temple of Kukulkan). The staircases are designed with taller risers and short treads. And this creates acoustical distortions. To hear this stand at the base of the pyramid in front of one of the staircases. Then clap your hands, and you will listen to an echo. But not an ordinary echo. Instead, it sounds like a chorus of chirps that crescendos before fading into silence.

Acoustic studies have confirmed the similarity in the sound to that of the Quetzal bird. Like the snake, the quetzal was considered divine by the Maya. This "god of the air" was a symbol of goodness and light. The headdresses of many important Mayan people contained its tail feathers. But, no birds died during the creation of the headdresses since killing a sacred quetzal was forbidden.

Scientists still argue whether modifying the echo was done intentionally or not. Many believe that it was created through trial and error. And then replicated throughout the many temples and pyramids in the Mayan culture.

A second acoustic phenomenon is when people walk up the stairs of the pyramid. Unfortunately, this is no longer allowed to preserve this Mayan Ruin at Chichen Itza. But the sound created, which you hear at the bottom, is like raindrops on the stone. The Maya created this in homage to one of their most important deities, Chaac, the god of rain.

The Great Ball Court At The Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

Ball courts are common structures found across Mesoamerica. At last count, there are at least 13 ballcourts, but the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins are extra special. It is the largest and most impressive of them all, and it lies northwest of the Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo). The Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza, Mexico, measures an imposing 168 x 70 m (551 x 230 ft). The walls stand 8 m (26 ft) high. Set up high in the center of the walls are stone goals carved with intertwined feathered serpents. This is one of the most impressive structures of the Chichen Itza archeological site.

The ball game was one of the interesting facets of life in the history of Chichen Itza. The game was played by teams of up to 8 players, who competed on either side of a central line. Using a rubber ball, each team kept the ball in play by bouncing it off the walls. And by hitting it high in the air and also rolling it along the ground. The game was like racquetball or volleyball, where the aim was to keep the ball in play. The stone rings/goals were a later addition. As the ball weighed up to 20 lbs, players wore protective equipment to prevent damage by the hard rubber.

As well as entertainment, the ball game gave neighboring cities an alternative to war in settling disputes. And games were played as part of formal rituals. Later in its history, the winners were sacrificed, including at Chichen Itza. At the base of the interior walls of the court are stone panels depicting the ballplayers. In some, the players have been decapitated! 

But in nearby Ek Balam, the rituals were different, and they didn't sacrifice the winners there. It is believed that this practice and its depiction at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins was influenced by the Toltecs from Central Mexico.

Other Structures Around the Great Ball Court

Skull Platform: The skull platform or Tzompantli is a platform only a few feet off the ground. The walls around the platform are covered in sculpted stone skulls. These skills are of war captives and human sacrifices and are common throughout Mesoamerica. And which depict part of the Chichen Itza history and rituals.

The Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars: This is to the east of the Great Ball Court and includes both Maya and Toltec architectural styles. A staircase rises up each of the four sides decorated with panels of eagles and jaguars. This mixing of Maya and some Toltec influences is a unique feature of the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza, Mexico.

The Platform of Venus: North of El Castillo is a platform dedicated to the planet Venus.

Steam Bath: This building consists of three parts. A waiting gallery, a water bath, and a steam room. The steam was created by heating stones and placing them in water.

Sacbe Number 1: This pathway leads to the main Chichen Izta cenote, called Sagrado. This white road is 270 m (890 ft) long and 9 m (30 ft) wide, and it begins a few meters from the Platform of Venus.

Mayan Ruins at Chichen Infographic
Free Chichen Itza Infographic

Chichen Itza Cenote

Most of the Yucatan Peninsula lies on limestone rock, and the area has no rivers or streams. However, under the ground are thousands of caves, or cenotes, where rainwater collects. These, such as the Chichen Itza cenote, enabled the Maya to live in this area. Periodically the ceiling of cenotes collapses to reveal an open-air natural pool.

The Chichen Itza cenote, called Cenote Sagrado, or sacred cenote, was used to sacrifice objects, including humans, as a form of worship to the rain god Chaac. Objects including gold, jade, pottery, flint, obsidian, copper, shell, wood, rubber, and cloth lay in the cenote. And the human remains found have been consistent with wounds from human sacrifices. 

The Chichen Itza cenote is a circular pool 60 m in diameter. From the ground level down to the water, it is 22 m. While the depth of the cenote varies from 6 to 12 m.

Temple of Warriors

The Temple of Warriors is an important structure of the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza. This is a large stepped pyramid surrounded by rows of carved columns. The columns depict warriors. It is like, although more significant than, a temple at Tula, the Toltec capital. At the top of the pyramid's summit leading towards the temple, is a Chaac Mool.

Chaac-Mools are familiar figures symbolizing slain warriors carrying offerings to the gods. The bowl on the chest is to hold sacrificial offerings. Some offerings included tamales, tortillas, tobacco, turkeys, feathers, and incense.

Picture of the temple of Warriors at the Chichen Itza archeological site

Photo by Keith Pomakis

Next to the Temple of Warriors are several other structures depicting the history of Chichen Itza. These include the Group of a Thousand Columns, and these columns once held an extensive roof stretching across 3 buildings. At the southern end of the Temple of Warriors is El Mercado (the market). Initially, it was thought that this large gallery was a marketplace. However, it is now believed it was used for ceremonial purposes.

The Ossuary Group

Travel further south in the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, and you will find several other buildings as well. They are orientated towards another Chichen Itza cenote, Xtoloc. This is the second-largest cenote here. The main Ossuary structure in this group is another step pyramid. Like the Temple of Kukulcan but smaller, this pyramid has a staircase on each of its sides. And it has a temple at the top. But, unlike the Temple of Kukulcan, inside the temple is an opening leading to a natural cave.

Outside the Ossuary Platform is the Temple of Xtoloc, which was recently restored. Named for the Chichen Itza cenote that it overlooks. Xtoloc meaning in Maya, ‘iguana’. The temple contains carvings of people, plants, birds, and mythological scenes.

Other structures located here include another Platform of Venus and a Platform of the Tombs. This complex of buildings is thought to create a social subdivision of "the lords of Chichen Itza."

Heading further south from the Ossuary are two buildings, House of Metates and House of Mestizas. They were both residences for some significant people.

Casa Colorada Group

Leading south from the Ossuary Group are several smaller structures. These are amongst the oldest of those found at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. And Casa Colorada (Spanish for Red House) is also one of the best-preserved buildings. In one of the chambers are carved hieroglyphs, which are essential in our understanding of Chichen Itza history.  Listed here are the names of many rulers, along with a date that corresponds to 869 AD.

In addition to Casa Colorada, there is also a small platform and La Casa del Venado (House of Deer).

Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza Infographic
Free Chichen Itza Infographic

The Central Group

The central group contains some of the most interesting structures at the Chichen Itza archeological site. It is definitely worth a visit.

Las Monjas

Las Monjas is Spanish for 'the Nunnery,' but its use was actually a government building. This complex of buildings was built in the Puuc style of architecture. According to popular legend, the building was named by Francisco Montejo when he attempted to conquer and establish a Spanish city here in the 16th century. Although the Maya defeated Montejo, the Spanish name stuck, illustrating the tapestry of history at Chichen Itza.

To the east of these Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza is a small temple called La Iglesia (The Church). This small building owes its name to its proximity to the 'Nunnery.' The elaborate decoration on its upper façade (see opposite). Looking closely, you can observe large areas of the original stucco on the Grecian repeating design.

Seated in the center of the building is a god or ancestor, and either side is elaborate 'big-nosed masks. This building is one of the best examples of the Puuc style of architecture at Chichen Itza.

El Caracol

To the north of Las Monjas is El Caracol or the snail! This is a very rare building at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins because it is a round building set on a large square platform. The stone spiral staircase inside gives the building its name. Due to the round shape and its position, it is believed to be the observatory at the Chichen Itza archeological site. For example, the doors and windows of El Caracol align with astronomical events, such as the path of Venus as it travels across the universe.

Akab Dzib

One of the last structures to visit at the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza is Akab Dzib or House of Mysterious Writing. It was the home to the Administrator and is one of the most intriguing buildings at the Chichen Itza archeological site, its restoration having been completed in 2007. Firstly, unlike other buildings at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, it is not built on a platform but on level ground. At only 6 m high, it is 50 m long and 15 m wide. And the eastern side of the building faced another Chichen Itza cenote. However, now this Chichen Izta cenote is dry.

Another intriguing aspect of this building is at the south end entrance. Inside the door, it opens up into a small chamber, and the opposite is a second doorway with a lintel above it. This lintel contains many elaborately carved glyphs. The glyphs, however, have not yet been translated, and it is these glyphs that give the building its name.

Image of Riviera Maya Vacation Rentals

Questions To Ask Your Guide

During your visit to the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza, you will be bombarded with many things to see and experience. And your guide will do a great job of pointing out many of the important sites. However, they can't tell you everything in 90 mins. So below are a few questions you might want to consider asking during your tour.

  • Where can we hear the Chirping Quetzal bird sounds from El Castillo?
  • Why does it make that sound?
  • Is there an echo also at the Great Ball Court?
  • Can we see the Skull Platform?
  • Can you show us a Chaac-Mool?
  • How many pyramids are there at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins?
  • Can you show us a carving of a feathered serpent?
  • What were the rules of the ball game played at the Great Ball Court?
  • Where are the Chichen Itza cenotes?
  • What happens at the equinoxes at the Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo)?
  • Who lived in the center of the Chichen Itza archeological site?
  • Why did the civilization decline?
  • Where did they get all the stone from to build these structures?
  • How was Chichen Itza's history influenced by the Spanish?
  • Why did they sacrifice humans? Who was sacrificed?
  • Where did most of the people live at the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins?

The Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins – Final Thoughts

After reading this guide, you now understand the importance of the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. And why they are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site and why it was named one of the new seven wonders of the world. But, in addition, you now know lots of invaluable info about the Chichen Itza archeological site to enable you to get the most out of your visit. And don't forget to download your Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins Visitor infographic too. It's a concise summary that will help you make your trip an experience of a lifetime.

Additional information is available in our articles:

 Mayan Ruins in Mexico

 Why You Want To See The Fascinating Ek Balam Ruins Now - Instead Of Tulum.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins Infographic
Free Chichen Itza Infographic

About Our Blog

Exploring The Riviera Maya is Ocean Breeze Akumal's Blog. Here we explore the diversity of Mexico's best tourism destination to highlight the best beaches, cenotes, restaurants, attractions, Mayan ruins, etc., etc. We provide information to help you explore this spectacular part of the world and give you tips and tricks that only the locals know. Helping to give you the vacation experience of a lifetime.

If you would like to get a notification each time we post a new article enter your email address in the subscribe box at the bottom of this page and we'll make sure you don't miss a post. If you have requests for future blog posts email us at We'd also really appreciate it, if you find one of our posts to be interesting and informative, if you'd like and share it to your social networks.

Contact Us

For information about accommodation, vacation options, or questions about the Riviera Maya, contact us.


WhatsApp + 1 250 538 8159 or + 52 984 168 7244

Phone + 1 250 538 8159

/*** FB Share button **/