Mayan Ruins-Know Before You Go, Part 1

Mayan Ruins throughout Mexico and the Caribbean are a very popular excursion for those staying at resorts or cruising.  Through this two part series I will give you my tips for visiting five of the Mayan Ruins I’ve had the privilege of visiting.  In this blog post I will cover Chichen-Itza and Tulum.  In part two, I will provide an overview and tips for visiting Coba, San Gervasio, and Lamanai.

First, it is important to know that these sites are considered sacred.  Many of the remaining buildings are temples or hold significant cultural value.  It is a privilege to visit these sites, so please show them the respect that they deserve.  Many dollars are spent to preserve these ancient buildings so be sure to pay attention to signage and any instructions you receive from your tour guide or personnel at the site you are visiting.


The ancient ruins of Chichen-Itza are located on the Yucatan Peninsula and see up to 8,000 visitors per day in the high season.  There is very good reason for such a high volume of tourists flocking to this site!  It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the ruins are quite large and the main stepped pyramid, El Castillo (also known as the Temple of Kukulcan) is iconic.  There is also a ball court and several other temples and buildings on the grounds.

Chichen-Itza was built near two large cenotes (sink holes).  The proximity to sink holes was purposeful as they provided a source of fresh water to those who lived there.  Now, tourists can enjoy nearby cenotes during a tour and they are a popular stop along the route for a quick swim, so be sure to check with your tour company and plan accordingly!

Tourists who are staying in Riviera Maya or cruising to Progresso are in proximity to visit the ruins.  Whether you are visiting by land or by sea, it is a long drive!  If you are taking children with you, you will want to take snacks, water, and some activities for the drive there.  Most likely they will sleep on the drive back!

Know before you go:

  • Use a reputable tour company.  This is a long ride-you don’t want to be stuck on an old rickety bus!  Work with your travel agent on this.
  • In my two tours to Chichen-Itza, I did not encounter mosquitoes but it would be prudent to take repellent with you as you are in the jungle.
  • Check your tour-if a cenote is part of the excursion, you may want to take a swimsuit.
  • This is a cultural and religious site.  Please treat it accordingly.
  • You will need sunscreen and water.  If you forget either, you will be able to purchase some there.
  • There are many vendors there selling trinkets and souvenirs on the grounds of the site. This is how they make their living and support their families.  If you’re not interested in purchasing anything, say “no thank you” and keep moving.  One vendor did follow myself, mother, and sister and was insistent. We continued with firm “no thank yous” and kept moving and she gave up.
  • It can turn from sunshine to rain and back again very quickly.  A cheap poncho in your bag could be very handy!  Chichen-Itza is in the jungle, so it is hot and humid.
  • Tip your tour guide and your bus driver.  It’s not required, but it is appreciated.
  • It’s a 2hr 15min drive from the city of Cancun.  If your resort is outside of the city, it is even longer.  Be prepared for a long (but exciting!) day.
  • Walkways are not paved and can be uneven or muddy and there is a lot of walking on this tour.  This is a consideration if someone in your group has mobility issues.



The beautiful ruins of Tulum.  If you’re in the area and have the opportunity you will not regret visiting.  Situated on the sea, it is believed to have been a port and center of sea trade.  It is surrounded on three sides by a thick wall and faces the ocean on the fourth side.

Excursions to Tulum are available from Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and many resorts in the Riviera Maya region.  While Chichen-Itza is almost always a full day excursion, Tulum can sometimes be completed in a half day depending on the tour company, resort location, and tour you select. Those staying in Cozumel at a resort or porting while on a cruise can also visit Tulum, but keep in mind that your tour will start with a ferry from Cozumel to the mainland and will add time to your excursion. Many include a “sea break”-opportunity to take a quick swim at the beautiful beach that the ruins sit on.

Know before you go:

  • You may want to take a swimsuit as many excursions include a sea break.
  • This is often a shorter excursion than Chichen-Itza and so may be a better choice for families with children.
  • In my experience, vendors are less aggressive than at Chichen-Itza and are not allowed into the grounds of the site.
  • You will need sunscreen and water.
  • This is a significant cultural site. Please treat it with respect.
  • Use a reputable tour company-your travel agent can help you with this!
  • Tipping your tour guide and bus driver is not required, but it is appreciated.
  • Some walkways are paved and some are uneven and rocky.  This is a consideration if someone in your group has mobility issues.  There is a lot of walking on this tour.


Planning a trip?  Contact me I can help and there are no fees for my services!

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