Chichen Itza is one of the new 7 wonders of the world, so it was on our must-do list during our stay in Playa del Carmen.
It’s quite a long trip from Playa to these ancient ruins, so the best way to get there is either going by the ADO bus or through a tour. After carefully evaluating both options we came to the conclusion that a group tour would be best, although in general we’re not a big fan of doing these generic bus tours.
The bus tour we chose featured had the following itinerary:
- Early departure from Playa del Carmen
- Visit a Mayan crafts village
- Stop at a beautiful cenote
- Have a traditional Mayan lunch close to Chichen Itza
- Guided tour of Chichen Itza ruins
- Short stop in Valladolid
- Return back to Playa del Carmen
If we had chosen to go by bus, we would have been forced to skip everything in between Playa and Chichen Itza, and once at the ruins we would have had to hire a guide there to take us around and explain the history of the place. So when compared the bus tour ends up being the best deal. Most tour operators will offer this same trip, so it shouldn’t matter too much from where you buy the day tour to Chichen Itza. If it’s around the price of $50 then you’ll probably have more or less the same itinerary as that described in this post.
Luckily we had two fantastic tour guides on the trip who spoke very good English. They oozed passion when talking about Mayan culture and made the whole trip very enjoyable.
The trip from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza takes around 3 hours, but the stops along the way coupled with the entertaining lecture about Mayan culture provided by our guides made it pass very quickly. We were planning on catching up on some sleep during the bus trip to the ruins since we woke up very early, but we had to leave that for the return leg. Not a bad thing mind you, I’d rather spend time learning about the majestic Mayan culture and their traditions rather than sleeping.
Visit to the Mayan Crafts Village
On the way to our first stop at the crafts village, the two guides recommended that we buy two items. One is a Mayan hand made parchment on which the artisans draw a date which is important in your life (for example a birthday or a wedding anniversary). As you might know, the Mayan calendar is different than the one we commonly use, and they have special symbols/drawings to show a particular date. Their way of counting is also different to the Julian calendar. We rather liked this piece of craftsmanship and decided to order one depicting our wedding date. The cost was 360 pesos ($27).
We really liked our calendar and plan to hang it prominently at our house whenever we get around to buying one. The guide took the time to explain to us how we could interpret the drawings, but the calendar also comes with a sheet explaining all this in English, so once back home we can quickly read it and impress any visitors with our knowledge of Mayan history and practices 🙂
Second, they recommended a pendant with our initials in the Mayan alphabet. This was also charming but we didn’t go for that since we don’t usually were necklaces anyway.
The guides passed papers around on which we could write down our orders. They would then give the orders to the artisans at the crafts village and we were told that we would collect our calendar or pendant on the return leg.
Soon after we arrived at the crafts village, where you could find any Mayan artefact under the sun. Really, you could spend days browsing around the huge collection of souvenirs for sale here. We didn’t buy anything from here although I recommend it for those of you who want to bring some souvenirs for your friends and family back home. The prices were good (maybe a bit more expensive than in Playa) and the products looked genuine.
After about 40 minutes at the crafts village we were off again, this time to visit the Suytun cenote.
Visit to the Suytun Cenote
There are hundreds of cenotes in this part of Mexico, but this one didn’t disappoint. Around the cenote you can find a traditional Mayan dwelling with a woman dressed in authentic Mayan dress. She was cooking tortillas and offered us a free sample. You can also buy some if you wish.
Further in you will find the opening to the cenote. The guide explained that in Mayan times only the priest and his assistants would be allowed to go into the cenote, and they would be lowered through this big whole in the ceiling of the cavern. They would perform rituals for a few days and then be pulled up again. Nowadays there is another opening with a comfortable stairs from where you can descend.
The cenote is huge and consists of one round pool of crystal clear water. Expect the water to be very cool, but we went in anyway, it was very refreshing to bathe in this fresh water pool. This is of course a prime photo spot, so do take the time to take a few shots here, although lighting might be a problem, it’s quite dark down there. We were given around 40 minutes to explore the cenote, so after a brief swim around we went back up and made use of the comfortable showers and changing rooms to get back into our normal clothes and walk back to the awaiting bus.
Next up, we were taken for lunch. Nothing to write home about here, it was a limited buffet of average quality, and drinks were not included. Nonetheless, it was good to eat up and go to Chichen Itza with our tummies full 🙂
Finally after just a few minutes of driving from the restaurant, we got to the Chichen Itza ruins. We were given around 4 hours here, and we spent most of the time with our guide who delivered a lot of information about Mayan culture and the history of the place itself. Apparently the ruins here were discovered by during the Spanish conquest and passed hands a number of times before finally being turned into the tourist attraction that we know today.
The ruins cover quite a large area but without a guide you would really be missing out, so make sure you go with a tour or hire a local guide who can really explain things and help you appreciate what you are seeing. The temples offer a great photo backdrop so make sure you get the customary photo with the main temple in the background.
Apart from the main temple which you’ll see on every postcard of Chichen Itza, there are a number of other sites such as the stadium for the Mayan ball game. Think of it as an ancestor of soccer consisting of two opposing teams whose aim was to get the ball through a hole high up on the side wall, with the dark twist being that winner ended up decapitated. Strange eh?
We had a really great time at the ruins and could have stayed there a couple more hours, but it was soon time to go back to our bus, time really flies when you’re having fun and are engaged in what you’re doing!
Our trip back consisted of one more stop, Valladolid. This is a colonial Spanish city with a very nice cathedral and main square. It is now a major university town with many students living there. Unfortunately when our guide gave us the opportunity to go out and have some photos most of the other tour companions said they were too tired and asked if we could continue on our way back home, so we just went for a short roundabout with the bus and were on our way out of this city.
And that’s it, this was a real full day trip and we were back in Playa del Carmen at around 8.30pm, as you can imagine very exhausted but thankful and happy to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful sacred site.
Have you been to Chichen Itza? Share your experience with us! We would like to hear from you!