Chichén Itzá opens every morning at 8. If that’s when you arrive, you’re already too late. Get there earlier, seriously. We know getting up super early to get there before 8 may sound like a real chore, but believe me, it is well worth it.
Not to generalize, but vendors at Chichén Itzá can be super aggressive and really get in the way of one’s enjoyment of this ancient wonder. There are some artisans selling their wares, but there are also tables with cheap Chinese knockoffs and lots of tacky resin figures made from molds — not handmade. One common scam at Chichén is when vendors hold out crafts and say “one dollar, one dollar.” Then when you take it to look they say “it’s one dollar to look,” and then do not want to take it back, strong-arming you into buying it for much much more.
Getting a guide is a great way to learn about this incredible site and really come away with some knowledge. But of course, I would say that I am a third-generation certified guide. Right away, guides will start to call you over to offer their services. It’s a law that guides at Chichén Itzá — and all archaeological sites in Mexico — need to have a special license. You can’t believe the knowledge required to pass the exam and get a license. The noncertified guides might give you blatantly false information or pressure you to “visit their cousin’s shop,” or end up overcharging you.
Never buy your tickets for Chichén Itzá ahead of time unless you are 100% sure you are using an authorized seller. There are tons of scams out there, and it really stinks to get to the site only to be told that the ticket you purchased is not valid and that you have to pay for a new one. In recent years, there have even been cases of unscrupulous vendors selling hot-air ballon rides at the site, a service that does not even exist.
On occasion, security guards at the site will walk around asking visitors to see their tickets. This does not happen all that often, but if it does, you better have your ticket. Otherwise, you may get kicked out of the site or asked for a bribe, which is a sad state of affairs. This does not happen all that often but it certainly does happen. So make sure to keep that ticket.
Earlier: A new way of looking at Yucatán’s famed Chichén Itzá
Professional cameras, drones, tripods, and Bluetooth speakers are banned at Chichén Itzá. After you pass the security checkpoint, your bag will be inspected and if you have either of these items you will be forced to leave them in a locker at your own expense (50 pesos, or about US$2.50). If you do somehow smuggle in a drone or a pro-camera/tripod kit and decide to use it, you can get into some serious trouble and incur an extremely steep fine, and will maybe end up spending a night in the lockup.
Like much of Mexico, Chichén Itzá is home to a good amount of stray dogs. Despite the authority’s best efforts, these pups seem to continually sneak in. Though these guys can be quite cute, refrain from feeding them. If you are caught by security you may very well get reprimanded or kicked out. It is also not a good idea to venture off into the jungle alone, especially in flip-flops, as there is a good deal of bugs and even snakes in the area… it is a jungle after all.
It’s been a long time since visitors to Chichén Itzá have been allowed to climb the pyramids and temples. But once in a while some crazy visitor ignores the rules and goes up anyway. Doing so will almost certainly get you arrested and in for a big fine. If you really want to climb temples, maybe try nearby sites like Ek-Balam and Izamal instead.
If you get to the site late, you are likely to find all official parking spaces already taken. You will notice lots of people park on the side of the highway, but this puts you at risk of getting your vehicle damaged or towed away. And you don’t need me to tell you that this is a bad thing.
Exploring Chichén Itzá takes a minimum of two hours of trekking around in the sun, so it’s super important to stay hydrated. With temperatures often surpassing 100 degrees, it is extremely important that you drink plenty of water. Bring your own. Bottled water at the site is expensive. Also make sure to apply sunblock and bring along some shades and a wide-brimmed hat. You may look a little dorky, but it’s better than getting a sunburn.