If you’re heading to Mexico and planning to rent a car in order to drive to Chichen Itza, keep reading. Driving to Chichen Itza from Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen is super easy (and fast, too); however, there are some things you need to know.
If you’re new to this blog, hi, we are Liza and Jose, a millennial couple based in London, UK. Jose (long for Pepe) was born and raised in Mexico; hence, as you can imagine, we travel to Mexico quite often. This year was our third time visiting Cancun & Riviera Maya, and this time, we also managed to stay in Playa del Carmen for a bit longer. Interested in more posts about Mexico? Check our Mexico blog posts category!
Here’s what you can expect to find in this post:
Driving to Chichen Itza vs taking a tour?
Most of the people who would like to visit Chichen Itza face a harsh dilemma: drive to Chichen Itza yourself or simply buy a tour? Well, there is no easy answer and you should definitely pick whichever works best for you. There are pros and cons when it comes to either of those options. Taking a tour is certainly much more straightforward and hassle-free. Everything will be taken care of for you and you will even have a lunch box provided for you. However, most probably, if you were only interested in the tours to Chichen Itza, you wouldn’t be reading this post. So let’s talk about the pros and cons of driving to Chichen Itza yourself.
Pros and cons of driving to Chichen Itza
Here are the main pros and cons of driving to Chichen Itza yourself
– Flexibility – you can decide when do you want to go there, when you want to have lunch and what do you want to see
– Price: it’s certainly much cheaper to drive to Chichen Itza yourself even when taking into the account hiring a car, gas and tolls (unless you’re hiring a 4×4, which you definitely don’t need as the roads are great)
– Comfort – it’s much more comfortable to be in your own car as opposed to a bus
– Timing: you can arrive before the tourist buses and have Chichen Itza almost empty in all photos
– It’s around 5h driving to go to Chichen Itza from either Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen both ways: it’s a lot of driving
-You need to hire a car and if you aren’t planning to go anywhere else in that car throughout your holiday, then it might not be worth it
As we generally love road trips, driving to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen was a no-brainer for us; however, I can that it might not be the case for a lot of people.
If you decided that self-driving to Chichen Itza is not for you, you can check out these lovely tours to Chichen Itza:
However, if you decided to opt-in for driving to Chichen Itza, keep reading!
Where to rent a car in Cancun / Playa del Carmen / Tulum
If you’re wondering where to rent a car in Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen, it’s probably the easiest to rent a car when you arrive at the Cancun International airport. However, if you don’t need a car for the entire duration of your trip to Mexico, then you can hire a car directly in Cancun or Playa del Carmen. If you’re staying at a large resort, I’m sure that they can help you to arrange a car rental. Otherwise, you can take a taxi or a minibus (collectivo) and go to either Cancun or Playa del Carmen / Tulum (whichever is the closest) and hire your car there.
We always hire cars through Rentalcars.com as they have great affordable insurance. Recently, Expedia also introduced a full insurance policy, and the price is great, so make sure to check it out! You can also get Expedia points when renting a car and spend it on activities or hotels later (read my post about Expedia Rewards and whether Expedia Gold Status is worth it).
Driving from Cancun / Tulum / Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza: things you need to know
Alright, if you’re reading this, it means that you decided that you’d like to drive to Chichen Itza. Great! It’s really not that complicated and the road quality is great! Here are some of the things you need to know before driving to Chichen Itza.
Bring a lot of water with you, as there are not many stops along the way.
Most of the road is located in the jungle or passes some tiny towns (with the exception of Valladolid, however, you would need to leave the highway and spend some extra time going to Valladolid).
As you can imagine, there are limited shops and restaurants on the road and those that exist can be a bit underwhelming (depending on what you’re used to). Make sure to bring a lot of water with you and some snacks as well. If you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort, you can request a lunch box in advance and you can just take it with you!
Bring cash for the toll road, souvenirs and sometimes even entry to Chichen Itza
The toll road that leads to Chichen Itza is known to be the most expensive toll road in Mexico! Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact amount we paid for this road, however, it was something like 800 MXN both ways ($40). The odd part is that this road doesn’t accept any cards, so make sure to bring cash with you!
However, if you’re driving from Tulum to Chichen Itza, in this case, most of the road will be free, you will only need a small amount of pesos to pay for the last bit of the road (shouldn’t be more expensive than $10 return). However, you can also take an entirely free road to Chichen Itza from Tulum and pay nothing.
The cash machines at Chichen Itza also didn’t work for us (they only work with selected foreign cards as we established), so we were glad that we brought enough cash with us. Naturally, if you want to buy souvenirs, you also need to pay cash. For the tickets to Chichen Itza, you don’t have to pay cash, however, it’s safe to have the ticket price in cash on you just in case they won’t be able to accept cards on that day.
Bring a full tank of fuel
Make sure to visit a gas station and fill your tank with gas before driving to Chichen Itza – there won’t be pretty much any gas stations unless you go to Valladolid. There might be one next to Chichen Itza, however, that’s 2.5 hours driving away from Playa del Carmen.
There is a confusing 1-hour time difference
Yes, there is a time difference between Playa del Carmen and Cancun and Chichen Itza – Playa del Carmen and Cancun are 1 hour ahead of Chichen Itza. The time changes when you pass the border of 2 states: Quintana Roo and Yucatan.
There is a police checkpoint at the border of 2 states
At the border of Quintana Roo and Yucatan, there is a police checkpoint. According to Tripadvisor, some people report scams there (e.g. depending on the policemen in charge, I guess). We found it odd that they stop every car and ask for ID/driving licence, but it’s safer to have the ID (passport) on you.
You don’t need to pre-register to go to Chichen Itza
At the same border mentioned above, there is a stall that would ask you to pre-register to go to Chichen Itza and tell you that they queues are massive and you won’t be able to get in unless you pre-register. They will also try to sell you a private tour with a guide. Don’t believe things you’ll hear – you don’t need to pre-register, and most definitely, nobody will check your pre-registration in Chichen Itza.
Don’t stop when people in vests wave at you and show their ID in a stretch before Chichen Itza
Finally, the last thing you need to know about driving to Chichen Itza is that you don’t need to stop when people wearing special vests and showing their IDs to you are waiving at you. They might look like archaeological site staff that wants to communicate something important to you, but no, they are actually guides trying to sell you their services!
It can get a bit annoying as they come up with creative ways to stop you and you might think that it’s a security or a police person, but no, it’s the same old guides. I must admit that they tricked us twice and we stopped thinking we would hear some crucial piece of information. However, we were offered a private tour each time.
Unless you want a private tour, don’t stop when people wave at you in the area just before Chichen Itza.
Summary of driving to Chichen Itza yourself: Cancun / Tulum/ Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza in a rental car
As I mentioned before, driving to Chichen Itza yourself in a rental car is fairly easy from both Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It takes about 5 hours 20 minutes return to get there and back (so around 2 hours 40 one way) from Cancun (Zona Hotelera) and just under 5 hours (2 hours 20 minutes one way) from Playa del Carmen. It’s going to be under 4 hours 30 minutes if you drive to Chichen Itza from Tulum and in this case, the road will also be free (otherwise, prepare $50 or around 850 MXN just for the tolls).
Make sure to bring some snacks and water with you and don’t forget to fill your tank with fuel before embarking on a trip to Chichen Itza!
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. Should you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram – you can find us at @lizatripsget!