You have reached our full day-by-day account of our trip to Yucatán, day 1. If you would like to read the story from the beginning, including our itinerary and planning guide, start here.
In order to maximize our short holiday weekend, we took the earliest flight out of Miami to Cancún. We only had a few hours of sleep when we left for the airport. Perhaps that’s why I mistakenly entered “Miami” as the destination in my Uber app and not “Miami International Airport”. Half asleep I only realized my mistake when I saw all the condos. Apparently the driver was just going to drop us in the middle of downtown. Who knows what he thought we were up to at 5 am. Luckily, even with this 20 min delay, and the long holiday travel lines, we made it on time to our flight.
Perhaps due to our early arrival in Cancún, there was no wait at passport control. The plan was to take the ADO bus to Cancún, then a bus to Valladoid and finally a colectivo to Chichen Itza.
The first thing we needed was to find an ATM to get cash. The single ATM in the arrivals lounge was out of service. As we exited the terminal, we noted a row of booths with bus, car rental and hotel information. Be careful, this is where they try to get you to sign up for time share presentations!
How to get to Cancún from the airport
The ADO desk was closed, with a sign directing you to go to the bus stop to buy tickets. As soon as you step outside the terminal you will see the buses. There was a ticket agent there, but only cash was accepted, so we had to go inside the departures terminal to find an ATM.
After getting some cash, we walked back to the bus stop and got our tickets. Buses to Cancún are very frequent, but you will stop at all the other airport terminals before heading out to the Cancún bus station, so be patient.
How to get to Valladolid and Chichen Itza: The hard way
The tickets to Valladolid can also be purchased at the Cancún airport. However, that particular day the next 2 departures were sold out. We didn’t know that the buses that go to Valladolid are small vans instead of the usual 50 passenger buses. We could have booked tickets online, but we didn’t want to commit to a specific time in case that the flight was delayed or that we took longer than anticipated to reach Cancún. In retrospect, we should have bought tickets for a bus leaving at least 2-3 hours after our arrival.
After reaching the Cancún bus station, we noticed that there was an Oriente bus that traveled to Valladolid and continued to Chichen Itza, our intended destination. The bus even departed earlier than the ADO bus to Valladolid. So we bought tickets (cash only) and got some snacks at the convenience store in the bus station. Note that there is a Church’s Chicken and a few other restaurants one block from the station if you want to grab a quick bite.
Turns out using the Oriente bus was not the smartest idea.
The Oriente bus is a second class bus and only gets a passing mention in most blogs. We thought that meant that the buses were not new or slightly uncomfortable. Oh no. What that means is that it stops in every small village along the way. So our bus ride lasted 4 hours!!! That’s 2 more hours than taking a combination of the ADO bus to Valladolid, then colectivo to Chichen Itza.
I have to say that we did enjoy the ride. We got to see may of the small villages. Vendors came in and out of the buses selling panuchos, elotes and baked goods. I wish I could have tried some! But you know, it was a long bus ride….
How to get to Valladolid and Chichen Itza: The easy way
Book your ADO bus ticket online from Cancun to Valladolid ($180-250, 2hrs). Choose a departure at least 2-3 hours after arrival.
Once in Valladolid, walk 2 blocks to the colectivo stop to Chichen Itza ($40, 40 min, Calle 46 just north of Calle 39).
If you want to know more about colectivos in Yucatán, read our Ultimate Guide to Public Transportation and Colectivos.
A few tips to discover the secrets of Chichen Itza
We finally arrived in Chichen Itza an hour before closing time. We had enough time to visit the entire complex and take way too many pictures. The only thing we missed was the Cenote Sagrado.
TIP: Valladolid and Chichen Itza are 1 hour behind Cancún, Tulum and Coba.
If you arrive late, start with the area of the Observatory (take the road on the right when facing El Castillo) and then the Cenote Sagrado (take the road on the left when facing El Castillo), then the ball court and then the main pyramids. The first areas are roped off at closing time, but you can still walk around the remainder of the site for at least 10-20 mins while the attendants try to clear the site.
Chichen Itza was the most powerful Mayan city in Yucatán, and is rightfully one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This complex has an impressive number of well-preserved ruins, with interesting carved motifs within the rock walls. The main pyramid, known as Kukulkan or El Castillo, was built on top of a pre-existing pyramid. A red jaguar statue was at the top of the smaller pyramid. If you could still climb to the top, you would see some preserved ceremonial paintings.
Most people visit Chichen Itza as a day tour from Cancún, with most buses arriving around 10 am and departing around 2 pm.
TIP: To avoid crowds, visit at opening time or in the late afternoon.
Now, the best kept secret of Chichen Itza is the amazing light show Noches de Kukulkan. The light show starts in the early evening and is displayed on the main pyramid. The show narrates the history of the creation of the earth as per the Mayan tradition. We truly enjoyed this experience!
Read our Ultimate Guide to Noches de Kukulkan for more information.
Where to stay in Chichen Itza?
As we were arriving directly from the airport to Chichen Itza and then going to the light show, we decided to stay in a hotel close to Chichen Itza. There are 4 hotels in the immediate area, ranging from luxury to mid-range properties. If you are on a budget, there are a few options in the nearby town of Pisté.
The Mayaland Hotel and Hotel Villas Arqueológicas have a direct entrance to Chichen Itza. (Why? The owners of Mayaland are also the owners of the land where Chichen Itza is located, while the complex of Chichen Itza is owned by the government.) However, this entrance is not open at night.
To reach Chichen Itza at night, you must take a taxi ($80 MXD per trip). You cannot walk from the hotel to Chichen Itza – it is very dark and there are no sidewalks. Just ask the front desk to call a taxi. After the show there will be many taxis waiting.
We picked the Mayaland Hotel as it not only has beautiful bungalows, but it was affordable considering we traveled in peak holiday season. The bungalows are very spacious and nicely decorated.
The grounds of the hotel are also magnificent – it feels like a resort, with ponds and forested areas. You could hear the birds in the morning. Truly a great value for the price.
Dinner and breakfast were served at the hotel restaurant and we were not disappointed. The poc chuc (pork marinated with bitter oranges and chile) we had here was the best dish we had our entire trip.
Breakfast buffet was plentiful, with many hot and cold options. Prices were a bit higher than in the surrounding towns (as expected), but the quality of the food was worth the expense.
Our first day in Mexico was exhausting, but we loved every minute of it.
To continue reading our full day-by-day accounts of our trip, go to day 2 here. Get notified by email of new posts- click on the Follow button at the end of this post to subscribe.