Chichen Itza Visitor Guide
Arriving in Yucatan
Cancun is designed for turistas. English is widely spoken. There are ATMs where you can get cash (although I always forget until after I get the rental car, so I end up driving back to the airport terminal). There are regular shuttles to the car-rental agencies. Also, plenty of taxis to take you to local hotels.
Merida International Airport is not as oriented for tourists as Cancun. English, though prevalent, is not spoken as widely. Services tend to be closed in off-hours, so if your flight arrives late, you may not have ready access to food or other amenities. Car rental agencies may not be open. Taxis are readily available to take you to your hotel.
Getting to Chichen Itza
By rental car
This is my preferred way to get around. A few words of caution. I always purchase full liability insurance, even if my credit card covers it. One reason is that police will require proof of insurance in an accident, and if you don't have said proof, they will take you to jail. When I get the insurance I make sure to get a toll-free number to call in case of an accident.
TIPS FOR DRIVING IN YUCATAN
Drive defensively. It bears repeating. Drive defensively.
Think carefully before driving at night. I've never had a problem getting behind the wheel after dark in Mexico, but many friends and acquaintances think I'm crazy. As this might be true, you might want to listen to what they have to say.
Watch out for topes (speed bumps). Every village has a series of speed bumps. This includes major highways (except the Cuota, the toll road between Cancun and Merida). It is no coincidence that you frequently will see a tire repair service near a tope. Go over one too fast and you will blow a tire.
Be careful using your left-turn signal. For some odd reason, Mexicans in Yucatan use the left-turn signal on the open highway to tell the person behind them it is safe to pass on the left. If you are not paying attention, you may find the fellow behind ramming you as you make your left turn.
Don't let fuel get too low. Gas stations can be few and far between. When I start to get below half a tank, I usually refill. They take cash.
Gas station attendants may cheat you. While most gas station attendants are hardworking, honest folk, there are more than a few who are not or will suspend their ethics when a gringo is a customer.
For some reason, I seem to attract attendants with a lack of ethics, usually meeting one of these people at least once every trip. Over the past six years, I think I have pretty much seen or heard everything. There are several cons to watch out for:
- Restarting the pump con. The attendant restarts the pump with the amount from the previous customer. When this happened to me, the attendant pulled the hose from the pump on the side opposite my car so I couldn't see how much already was on the pump. You end up paying for two fill-ups. It's usually a good idea to get out of your car and watch the attendant to make sure he is on the up and up.
- The pump ran out of gas con. As they are filling your tank, the pump will stop. The attendant will explain that the tank on that side ran out of gas and go to fill your car from the pump on the other side, out of your range of vision. This is a case where the total far exceeds the sum of the parts. The first time this happened, I fell for it. The second time, I refused to let them put the other hose in and drove to another station to finish my fill-up.
- The never-ending pump con. At some stations, you will pull up to a pump used by a customer who just left and be directed to another pump. The reason for this odd behavior is that the new pump may be one that dispenses liters of gasoline that are smaller than those at other pumps. The locals all know to stay away from that pump like the plague.
- Shortchanging. Count your change. Attendants may be counting on your unfamiliarity with Mexican currency.
- Bill switching. You hand the attendant a 200-peso note and abra-cadabra! It becomes a 20-peso note. He tells you that you owe him more money. An attendant at a Valladolid station pulled this on me with sleight-of-hand worthy of David Copperfield.
- Stealing your gas cap. An attendant will hide your gas cap or fail to replace it. He then tells you you are missing the cap, and coincidentally, has one to sell that will fit your exact model of car.
- Liters for Pesos. You are told you owe 530 pesos, but in fact the pump reads that you received 53.0 liters and the actual cost is much less. Honest mistake? I think not. (Thanks to Mexigringa on TripAdvisor for this one.)
These cons almost always happen at stations run by only one or two people. The larger stations, in my experience, don't have the time or inclination to put up with this nonsense.
Here are steps you can take to avoid getting swindled:
- Get out of your car. When you pull up to a station, get out of your car and watch the attendant carefully.
- Don't engage in a conversation with the attendant. One of the biggest tip-offs that the attendant is a crook is that he will try to engage you in conversation, especially asking you questions about where you have been going, where you are from, is this a rental car.
- Make sure your gas cap has been put back. If you forgot to check this, don't hesitate to stop your car and check. I did this on my last trip, and found the cap had been left on top of the car.
- Ask for a specific amount of gas. Don't fill the tank, instead ask for a specific amount, either in liters or in pesos.
- Don't pay until the pumping is over. Once the money leaves your sight, you are at the mercy of the attendant. After the pumping is completed, carefully count out your money and the change you receive.
Mexico has an excellent bus system. You can take buses from Merida and Cancun to Piste, the town next to Chichen Itza. The bus terminal in Piste is a couple of kilometers from the archaeological zone, and you may be in for a walk once you get there if a cab isn't available.
For information about tickets and schedules, as well as bus stations, click here.
I've never taken a bus tour, but for convenience you can't beat it. Your hotel can arrange a tour for you.
Directions to Chichen Itza
From Merida. Getting out of Merida is the challenge, and the route changes so frequently due to construction, hurricane damage, and a variety of other unexplainable reasons, that every visit it is different. Try these directions at your own risk, but be sure to bring a map.
If you're brave, and you're leaving from Merida's Centro district (where most of the hotels are), head south to Calle 65. Turn left and drive to the end. What if you can't turn left because it's one-way? Take Calle 67 until you can't go any further, then turn left and rejoin Calle 65, which should be two-way by that time. Stay on that road, even though it changes names a few times, and follow the signs to Cancun. At one point you'll go under a huge overpass. We'll pick up those directions in a second, but first I'm going to give you the route that never fails for me. With you, of course, there could be a first time.
Another route out of Centro. I drive to Paseo de Montejo, a large boulevard that everyone knows, and strike out north for several kilometers, ignoring rotaries and other attempts to get me to turn the wrong way. Eventually I'll see a large overpass crossing above the road I'm on. I take the exit right before that overpass, and that puts me onto a freeway with the ten-dollar name, Anillo Periferico Lic. Manuel Berzunza. The important thing is that it's always at least three lanes wide. Follow the signs to Cancun. Eventually you'll come to an exit that passes below the freeway. Follow the signs to Cancun and you're now heading the same direction as the folks who dared to use the paragraph above.
From here, it's pretty easy to Chichen. Stay on the road until eventually you will come to important fork. My recommendation is to take the left fork, which signs will tell you is the Cuota (the toll road, Route 180D) even though many find it expensive. If you want to travel through quaint villages, take the Libre road (Route 180). If you take the free road, you're on your own. Pick up the directions in the next paragraph.
For those of you rich enough to take the toll road, relax. The signage is terrific and you won't have any problem finding the Chichen Itza/Piste exit. Get off the Cuota (don't forget to pay the toll) and you are now heading south toward Piste. Be careful, because there are several topes (speed bumps) ahead. Eventually you'll come to a stop sign and a"T" in the road. On your right will be the town square and church that looks worse for wear. Take a left.
You've now joined the folks who took the free road. Drive carefully, watching out for topes. Eventually you'll come to a fork in the road. To the right is the main entrance to the archaeological zone. You're almost there. Don't forget to pay for parking, which at this writing was $10 Mexican (less than a dollar US and Canadian).
From Cancun: Head toward the airport. If you're coming from Cancun proper, you'll be heading south. If you're in the resort zone, you will head south and, at one point, west. Eventually you'll come to the overpass that leads to the airport. You now want to be heading south, toward Tulum. If you're coming from Cancun proper, stay the course and go under the overpass. If you are coming from the resort zone, go over the overpass and take the first left. If you're coming from the airport, take the first right before the overpass.
Now we're all heading the same direction. Go south a kilometer or two. You will see signs for an exit to Merida and Route 180. Take it. You are now heading west. Follow the signs to the Cuota (toll road), unless you want to take the charming Libre (free) road. If you are one of those people, you're on your own. We'll catch up with you at Chichen Itza.
Once you are on the Cuota, sit back and relax. A four-lane divided highway and the driving is easy. You'll go through a toll at X-can. Pay up and continue on your way. You'll pass the exit to the Valladolid. A few kilometers later and you're at the exit to Chichen Itza/Piste (Make sure you get in the correct lane, otherwise you'll be getting off in Merida). There's another toll. Pay up and get off. You are now heading south. Be careful, because there are several topes (speed bumps) ahead. Eventually you'll come to a stop sign and a"T" in the road. On your right will be the town square and church that looks worse for wear. Take a left.
Drive carefully, watching out for topes. Eventually you'll come to a fork in the road. To the right is the main entrance to the archaeological zone. You're almost there. Don't forget to pay for parking, which at this writing is $10 Mexican (less than one dollar US and Canadian).
Getting into the archaeological zone
There are two entrances. The main entrance is from the west. There is a smaller entrance from the east next to the Mayaland Resort. Visitors who are staying there, or the Hacienda Chichen or Club Med will use this entrance. The fee is the same at both. As I tend to stay at the Hacienda Chichen, I use that entrance. But either is just fine.
Hours of operation. Gates open at 8 a.m. and the park closes at 5 p.m. It reopens again at 8 p.m. for the light show (7 p.m. in the winter), which requires a separate admission, and closes directly after the show.
Fees and other charges. The cost to enter the archaeological zone is $111 Mexican. That's less than $10 US and Canadian. If you want to bring in a video camera, there is an additional $35 Mexican fee. If you want to stay for the light show, it's another $30 Mexican. And it's cash, not credit cards. No, I don't know if they take American money.