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Driving to Chichen Itza from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum: FAQ

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DRIVING TO CHICHEN ITZA FROM CANCUN, PLAYA DEL CARMEN OR TULUM: FAQ
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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. 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

Pros: 

– 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

Cons:

– 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).

If you prefer renting from a supplier directly, I always recommend AVIS and last time, we used Sixt in Mexico and it was good as well.

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.

Cancun to Chichen Itza

Distance-wise, Cancun is circa 200 km away from Chichen Itza. Driving from Cancun to Chichen Itza would take at least 2 hours 40 minutes each way & the entire road from Cancun to Chichen Itza is a toll road. I will talk about the prices for the toll road as well as the things you need to know before driving to Chichen Itza yourself below.

Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza

Playa del Carmen is located circa 180 km away from Chichen Itza and driving from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza would take around 2 hours 20 minutes each way.

Tulum to Chichen Itza

Tulum is actually the closest town to Chichen Itza (compared to Cancun and Playa del Carmen) – it’s located “just” 150 km away. It takes about 2 hours to drive from Tulum to Chichen Itza and its the only town that has no toll road all the way to the pyramids – it means that driving to the Chichen Itza yourself will cost you significantly less money (the toll road Cancun – Tulum is the most expensive toll road in entire Mexico).

Tips for driving from Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Cancun 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.

Is there a large queue to buy tickets for Chichen Itza?

On busy days, there is a large queue to buy tickets for Chichen Itza. You can buy them online in advance, so you don’t need to queue for the ticket office (sometimes the way could be 30-60 minutes). You can check the prices and availability of online tickets for Chichen Itza here >

If you’re interested in buying a ticket + tour guide combo, you can also check the prices and availability here >

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!

Some other posts you might like:

Cancun vs Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen and Tulum): what are the differences?

Driving in Mexico City: things you need to know

Coyoacan – the best district in Mexico City

  1. Wojtek says:

    thank you so much liza for sharing valuable info ! However i still don’t know which road from tulum should we choose in order to get to chichen itza for free ? i can see at least two: no. 109+180 and 307+195. could you please advise ?

    PS sorry if capital letters display, the comment box ignores caps-lock for some reason.

    1. Liza says:

      Hi Wojtek! I would say 109 + 180 – it’s the fastest route! There is also road 180D after Valladolid, but it’s a paid one.

  2. Eillen Ford says:

    Hi Liza and jose:
    Your blog is great. I am wondering if you have recent information about traveling to playa del carmen during the pandemic, and regulations about wearing masks and social distance, limited capacity at the arqueological sites, etc.
    We are planning to drive but also considering to get a tour. The only thing is holding us back to get a tour is becuase none is able to tell us how small is a “small tour”…10 people? 8 people?
    We are a group of 4.

    Best
    Happy Tica

    1. Liza says:

      Hi Eillen! Thank you! The last time we went to Riviera Maya was this January, but I’m not sure if the rules have changed much since then. Back in January, it was still mandatory to wear masks even outside on the streets, however, probably only around 50% of people followed the rules. It was much stricter when visiting archaeological sites – masks were enforced. As for social distancing, well, most resorts were at 50-70% capacity, however, restaurants looked pretty full!

      It’s really hard to say how small is a small group really. I think it would probably depend on the provider of the tour – in this case, it might be written somewhere in the tour description on Viator or Get Your Guide. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful!

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