Tulum vs Chichen Itza: Which Mayan Ruins are Best? (2023 Guide)
Are you visiting Mexico soon and can’t decide between the Tulum and Chichen Itza Ruins? You’ve come to the right place!
I’m a travel blogger that lives in Playa del Carmen, and I’ve been to both archaeological sites many times and am here to help!
In this ultimate Tulum vs Chichen Itza Ruins guide, I’m outlining everything you need to know about visiting these ruins including an overview of both Mayan ruins, pros and cons, how to visit, and common comparisons.
Read on to find out which Mayan ruins are right for you!
Tulum vs. Chichen Itza Overview
Let’s start with an overview of the Tulum and Chichen Itza ruins:
About the Tulum Ruins
Located just outside of Tulum’s city center, the Tulum Mayan Ruins were originally built as an oceanside fortress and are the only beachfront Mayan Ruins in the state of Quintana Roo.
The most notable feature of the Tulum Ruins is the oceanfront location with the ruins elevated at a height of about 12 m (~39 feet), offering spectacular seaside views of the brightly colored Caribbean Sea.
At the Tulum archaeological site, many basic structures remain including El Castillo (The Castle) and many different temples. The site also offers a one-of-a-kind public beach access area to cool off after visiting the ruins.
About the Chichen Itza Ruins
Located further inland on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Chichen Itza is one of the largest Mayan ruins and one of the most visited archaeological sites in North America.
It is even considered one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
While visiting Chichen Itza, you’ll get to see and learn about the many different structures that remain, most notably the main Kukulcán pyramid, the temple of Warriors, the Observatory, and the Ball Court.
Tulum vs. Chichen Itza Location
Tulum Ruins Location
The ruins in Tulum are located on the Caribbean coast of Mexico just outside the city center of Tulum. Driving times from nearby destinations are as follows:
- Tulum to Tulum Ruins: 10 minutes
- Playa del Carmen to Tulum Ruins: 1 hour
- Cancun to Tulum Ruins: 2 hours
- Merida to Tulum Ruins: 3 hours
- Valladolid to Tulum Ruins: 1 hour 30 minutes
Chichen Itza Location
Chichen Itza is located further inland on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico near the colonial town of Valladolid.
Driving times from nearby destinations are as follows:
- Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Cancun to Chichen Itza: 2 hours 50 minutes
- Tulum to Chichen Itza: 2 hours 15 minutes
- Merida to Chichen Itza: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Valladolid to Chichen Itza: 45 minutes
Tulum Ruins or Chichen Itza: Who are the ruins best suited for?
Who are the Tulum Ruins suited for?
The Tulum Ruins are probably best suited for those staying in Tulum or Playa del Carmen and want a more abbreviated cultural experience.
If you’re more attracted by the sea and being near the beach, then the Tulum Ruins offer some stunning oceanfront views and give you the opportunity to head to the beach afterwards.
If you’re not a huge history buff but are still intrigued by visiting the ruins, then the Tulum Ruins are a great opportunity since there won’t be as big of a time commitment.
Who are the Chichen Itza Ruins suited for?
As Chichen Itza is one of the most famous Mexico landmarks, it is best suited for history buffs and culture seekers.
Chichen Itza has the most sophisticated structures that are more well preserved and will transport visitors back in time for a glimpse into ancient Mayan history.
With its multiple structures and widespread site, there is definitely a tremendous amount of history to be learned at Chichen Itza.
It’s best for those truly interested in cultural experiences as it will be a larger time commitment.
Tulum vs. Chichen Itza Ruins: Pros and Cons
Next, let’s look at some of the pros and cons:
Pros of Tulum Ruins
- Closest to Playa del Carmen and Tulum
- Oceanfront views with beach access
- Easy to visit without a tour
- Less expensive
Cons of Tulum Ruins
- Smaller ruins
- No pyramids
- Lots of crowds
- Not as well preserved
Pros of Chichen Itza Ruins
- Largest site and pyramids
- One of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World
- Nearby cenotes
- More widespread
Cons of Chichen Itza Ruins
- Furthest away
- Full day commitment
- Very touristy
- More expensive
Tulum vs. Chichen Itza Ruins: Quick Comparison Chart
|Ruins||Distance from Playa del Carmen||Entry Fee||Can climb ruins?||Oceanfront?||Pyramids?||Recommended Tour|
|Tulum||1 hour||$90 MXN |
|Chichen Itza||2.5 hours||$533 MXN |
Tulum vs Chichen Itza: How to Visit the Ruins
Here’s how to visit each of the ruins on your own or by booking a tour:
How to Visit the Tulum Ruins
The ancient ruins of Tulum Mexico can be visited fairly easily on your own or you can book a guided tour for the added convenience of roundtrip transportation with pickup from your hotel in Playa del Carmen.
On Your Own
If you decide to visit on your own, the easiest way to get to the Mayan ruins in Tulum Mexico is by driving or renting a car.
It is a little less than an hour drive south of Playa del Carmen, driving directly south on the main highway 307. Parking is available on site for an additional fee.
By public transportation, you can also get to the Tulum Mexico Ruins from Playa del Carmen by taking a colectivo (shared van) or the ADO bus.
On a Tour
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of driving or figuring out public transportation, then I would recommend booking a Tulum Ruins tour.
Most tours will include all entrance fees, a knowledgeable tour guide, and roundtrip transportation with hotel pickup.
In addition, many tours also include snorkeling and visits to nearby cenotes, which are hidden swimming holes that can only be found in the Yucatan peninsula.
With these added activities, you get more bang for your buck and a hassle free booking option.
Travelista Tip: If you have a larger group or are looking for a more personalized experience, consider booking a private Tulum Ruins tour.
🌴 Related Reading: 10 Best Cancun Tours to Tulum
How to Visit the Chichen Itza Ruins
As Chichen Itza is much further away, I would recommend booking a tour to eliminate the hassle of transportation, parking, and entrance fees. However, it is possible to visit on your own if you have a car.
On Your Own
If you have a rental car and don’t mind the drive, Chichen Itza Mexico can be visited on your own by driving from the nearby tourist towns. Parking is available on site for an additional fee.
By public transportation, it’s also possible to take the ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza but it takes about 4 hours each way.
👉 For a hassle-free experience, book your car through my favorite rental service Discover Cars by clicking here!
On a Tour
If you don’t have a car, then I would definitely recommend booking a Chichen Itza tour which is fairly inexpensive and includes roundtrip transportation.
This will be your easiest and most hassle free option with the added benefit of a knowledgeable tour guide so you don’t miss out on any of the unique facts and history of Chichen Itza.
Most tours include a visit to incredible cenotes near Chichen Itza, a visit to a Mayan village, and a stop in the quaint colonial town of Valladolid.
I personally went on this tour which includes a visit to the stunning Ik Kil Cenote and had a great experience. You can read more about my Chichen Itza tour experience in this post!
Or consider a private tour to Chichen Itza for the most personalized experience.
Tulum vs Chichen Itza: What are the ruins like?
Here’s what to expect when visiting the ruins:
What are the Tulum Ruins like?
The Tulum Ruins are located on a large site with an arrival area, the main archaeological site, and stairs leading down to the public beach access.
Once you pass through the stone tunnel at the entrance, you are free to explore the ruins at your leisure. The ruins are all roped off so you can’t walk on them and just have to view them from a distance.
There are small informational plaques in front of each structure (written in English and Spanish) that provide tidbits on the history and how each building was used.
Inhabited by the Mayans in the 13th century, the ancient city of Tulum ran as a sophisticated operation which included sacrificial temples, a castle, watch towers, and trading posts.
The most notable buildings that remain are “El Castillo” (The Castle) and the “Templo del Diós del Viento” (Wind God’s Temple) overlooking the Caribbean Sea, which is one of the most photographed structures in Tulum.
The best views can be found from the top of the Tulum site overlooking the Caribbean Sea. This is where everyone is fighting for photo ops and also where you can access the wooden stairs leading down to the public beach.
The ruins are widespread so be prepared for a lot of walking and some steps to get up to the top. There is little shade on the main site so be prepared for the heat as temperatures in Tulum can be very hot all year round.
What are the Chichen Itza Ruins like?
Once you arrive at the ruins at Chichen Itza, you’ll make your way through the main entrance of the archaeological site.
The land that Chichen Itza sits on used to be owned by a wealthy Mexican family but in recent years was taken back by the government and opened to the public.
While exploring the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, you’ll see various buildings including the main pyramid (Kukulkan), the Temple of Warriors, the Observatory, and the Ball Court.
The main Kukulkan pyramid is so impressive, much larger in size than how it looks in pictures!
This pyramid was designed so that twice a year on the Equinox (March 21 and September 21) the sun illuminates seven triangles on the side of the pyramid creating an illusion of a feathered snake descending the pyramid.
The remains at Chichen Itza are very well preserved and you’ll see many intricately carved structures and stone figures.
All over the site, vendors are allowed to sell souvenirs and memorabilia so it feels a bit commercialized. Be prepared for many vendors!
Tulum vs Chichen Itza: Common Comparisons
Here are some common comparisons between the two ruins:
Which one is bigger – Tulum or Chichen Itza?
The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are undeniably larger in size as well as square footage of the overall site.
At 30 meters (~98 feet) high, the main Kukulcán pyramid is incredibly impressive and you will be amazed by its size and magnitude once you see it in person.
Tulum vs Chichen Itza: Which ruins are more impressive?
While the Tulum Ruins have that “wow factor” of overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the sheer size and magnitude of the Chichen Itza Ruins are in my opinion much more impressive.
Tulum vs Chichen Itza: Which ones can you climb?
Unfortunately you are not able to climb either the Tulum or Chichen Itza Ruins. Both ruins have been off limits to tourists and are roped off to protect and preserve them.
Tulum vs Chichen Itza: Which one is more popular?
As one the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, Chichen Itza is definitely more well known and attracts over 2 million visitors each year from all over the world.
Which one is cheaper – Chichen Itza or Tulum?
The Tulum Ruins entrance fee is around $90 pesos (~$4.50 USD) per person for visitors.
On the other hand, the Chichen Itza Ruins entrance fee is much more expensive at around $533 pesos (~$27 USD) per person for visitors.
If you are planning to bring a GoPro or video camera, you are required to pay an additional photography fee (around $45 pesos).
Tulum or Chichen Itza: How much time does it take?
Depending on where you’re coming from, the Tulum Ruins can be visited in about 1-3 hours.
On the other hand, visiting Chichen Itza will pretty much be a full day time commitment.
It takes about 2.5 hours each way to travel to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen and then you’ll likely spend 2-3 hours walking around the ruins.
In total, that’s about 8 hours without any additional stops. Most Chichen Itza tours from Playa del Carmen include added activities and will take about 12 hours in total.
FAQs about the Tulum vs Chichen Itza Ruins
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Tulum and Chichen Itza ruins:
What are the opening hours?
- The Tulum Ruins opening hours are currently daily from 8:00am – 5:00pm.
- The Chichen Itza Ruins opening hours are currently daily from 8:00am – 5:00pm with the last entrance at 4:00pm.
When is the best time to visit?
The main rule of thumb when visiting the ruins is to not go on a Sunday.
At both Chichen Itza and Tulum archaeological sites, entrance is free to Mexican citizens on Sundays so it will be much more crowded.
In addition, it’s always best to arrive at the ruins as early as possible so you can beat the crowds and get the best pictures.
What should you wear to the ruins?
Both ruins are widespread and will be VERY hot so it’s best to wear light breathable clothing and comfortable walking shoes.
I would also bring a sun hat or visor to protect your face and shoulders from the sun’s intensity.
Wear a swimsuit under your clothes if you plan to swim at the Tulum Ruins or visit one of the cenotes near the ruins of Chichen Itza.
What should you bring to the ruins?
Both ruins have little shade so you’ll want to be prepared for the heat and bring a sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and water bottle.
In addition, don’t forget to bring a camera or GoPro to capture some fun photos around the ruins.
If you plan to swim or visit a cenote, you’ll want to bring a swimsuit, towel, water shoes, and change of clothes.
Final Thoughts: Chichen Itza vs Tulum Ruins
In conclusion, here’s a summary of the main points to help you decide between Tulum and Chichen Itza:
Is it worth going to the Tulum Ruins?
If you have limited time and don’t want to take a full day of your vacation to see the ruins, then I would recommend visiting the Tulum Ruins.
This will give you a quick cultural experience but you’ll still have time to hit the beach or do other activities afterwards.
Is it worth seeing Chichen Itza?
If you have more time and are really into culture and history, then definitely take the time to visit the Chichen Itza Ruins. They are undeniably impressive and one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World.
And if you still can’t decide between the ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza, then take 2 days and see them both!