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sddbb Feb 29th, 2008 06:37 AM

driving from cancun to chichen itza
we are planning to visit chichen itza in may but feel that the bus tour takes up too much time for us. so we would like to drive on our own but wonder if it's easy and safe.

how long does it takes to drive from cancun to chichen itza on the highway? i read that the highway is paved but is there police patrolling on the highway? will it be safe to drive there early in the morning? also, are guides available at the site if we plan to arrive there early?

any suggestions and comments are appreciated. thanks in advance.

sylvia3 Feb 29th, 2008 07:01 AM

It's a safe, easy, but expensive (~US$20 each way)toll road; from Cancun, I think about 90 minutes (from the airport turnoff?). Kind of boring, vegetation on each side pretty much blocks any views much of the way.
You really don't need a guide; just bring along a pamplet (or Fodors!). You'll enjoy wandering about and seeing things at your own pace (it's not all that large, after all). Get there early, and bring water, it can be hot. (I remember a lovely, reasonable lunch at the Hotel Archeologico near there; at least, I think that was the place).

MikeT Feb 29th, 2008 08:53 AM

I've driven the highway there and then taken the non-toll road through the towns back. It was a perfect combination. The toll highway was a little like driving on my own, personal road. Never saw any police.

zootsi Feb 29th, 2008 10:47 AM

If you take the toll road, make sure you have lots of gas - there is virtually nothing - no exits, civilization, etc for a good 80 miles or so. Very easy drive, however.

sylvia3 Feb 29th, 2008 01:37 PM

Easy, except for avoiding children and dogs in innumerable small towns, and having to slow to a crawl for the many topes (speed bumps); also watch for your roads when you get toward Cancun, it's easy to get lost in the city proper, outside the hotel zone (and the traffic is unnerving). Much more interesting than taking the toll both ways.

colokid Feb 29th, 2008 02:44 PM

The toll road doesn't have the problem with stopping for topes, kids, towns, etc. The Coba road that goes from Tulum to Chichen Itza does go through many small villages but it is ok too. From Cancun it would be easiest to go on the toll road.

Otis_B_Driftwood Feb 29th, 2008 06:25 PM

"are guides available at the site if we plan to arrive there early?"

How early do you plan to arrive? Driving before daylight is not a good idea in Mexico, even on the toll road. If you are doing this as a day trip, you might be better off with a bus tour. Also, the bus tour will provide you with a guide.

If you want to drive, consider spending a night or two at Chichen Itza and then you will have the better parts of two days to see it at your leisure. It's a big place and it can get very crowded in the middle of the day and also very hot. If you stay in the hotels there, you can relax in the pool during the hottest part of the day. The best time to tour the grounds is in the late afternoon and early morning. There's also a night time Sound and Light show to enjoy.

You could also visit Ek Balam on your way from or to Cancun. This site actually has a taller pyramid than Chichen Itza and is much less developed and less visited.'_Balam

colokid Mar 1st, 2008 06:45 AM

I love Ek Balam too. It is much smaller than Chichen Itza but quite amazing itself. Chichen Itza opens at 8 and the tour buses usually arrive around 10 or 11. That's also when the heat really starts in. Chichen Itza is a very large site and I've always arrived when they first open. I usually leave around 5:30 or 6 and it's light then. I don't drive a whole lot in the dark down there. The guides are there when they open.

sddbb Mar 1st, 2008 06:48 AM

thank you for all your constructive suggestions! :)

lamogood Mar 2nd, 2008 07:26 PM

Just another reminder to fill up the gasoline tank on your rental car before driving from Cancun to Chichen Itza on Hwy.180D (cuota / toll road). I traveled this road recently, and it is basically a desolate road cut through a jungle. You will also pay a 194 peso toll ($18.15 as of March '08) at the Quintana Roo border, and another 113 peso toll ($10.57) at the Chichen Itza interchange.

globetrots Mar 2nd, 2008 08:11 PM

I'm surprised that nobody mentioned the other option: take a 1st-class public bus. You can go direct from the downtown Cancun bus station and two of you will spend far less in the end, without having to worry about directions, tolls, or gas. It's dead easy and quite comfortable.

colokid Mar 3rd, 2008 03:42 AM

They are very comfortable and easy to use.

Katie_H Apr 7th, 2009 12:16 PM

sddbb-- I'm trying to contact you and not having much luck. Can you drop me a line at [email protected] when you can?

Katie (Community Manager)

JackiZom Jun 3rd, 2009 06:39 AM

I will refresh this topic now that a year has gone by and things surely will have changed. My husband, 5 yr old son, and I are going down to Cancun next Sat, June 13th and staying at the Royal Sands. We are thinking of renting a car to get more flexibility, and also to avoid my son saying he's too bored, etc, with a group tour. So do you recommend renting a car, and if so, where are some good ones near our hotel? How long does the drive take, I have heard 3 hours, is that right? And the tolls, do they still cost about $20 us each way?

Thanks for your help!

jw2 Jun 3rd, 2009 12:34 PM

"a year has gone by and things surely will have changed"

How did you find your experience last year? That would have a lot of bearing on how "on your own" and footloose you can stand to be this time around.

We usually stay at the Royal Sands with maybe a day or two at the beginning / end of the trip at the VCI (now that they have a lot of day by day vacancies and good rates since the "turn over" of the interval ownerships).

Anyway - we would probably be bored without a car. Usually take at least 2 or 3 day trips to Playa, or over to Isla, or down to Akumal. But then we don't mind Cancun traffic, aren't paranoid about strange towns, topes, or small tiendas nwith primitive toilet facilities. If any of those tend to apply, I'd recommend sticking with cabs in Cancun and take a driver / van or bus for more extended trips.

I do think the car rental is extravagant and I occasionally feel momentarily guilty when the rental just sits in the parking lot for most of a day (you can ride a lot of cabs and get a lot of van transportation for what it costs to rent for even a single day).

If you are at the Royal Sands - you can pick up a rental from Avis at the Isla Mall just north of the property.

I do NOT recommend using the rental agency (don't remember which "brand" with desks at the Royal Resort). three years ago they rented us a mini-van with noisy brakes and a constantly "on" check-engine-light. They refused to credit us for the day we got but did not use the vehicle which I was not about to pack my grand=daughters into and drive around Q Roo, because we "reported the problem too late" - i.e. as soon as it happened - and they did not have a replacement available. Since the car rental is a concession, the Royal management was not interested in intervening - the only instance of getting snubbed and hosed by Royal Resorts I have had in 13 years of staying at their properties. The same surly agent is at the same rental desk as of three months ago.

Driving to Chichen takes about 3 hours. The "old" highway through Valadolid and some smaller towns is much more fun and interesting - but probably stressful if you are uptight about unfamiliar circumstances. I've never found it other than enjoyable. DO NOT attempt at night. Too many cows, or possibility of leaving a transmission or oil pan on a speed bump (actually a real risk even in the daytime, as the signage is usually no help until you have ALREADY lost anything hanging off the bottom of your vehicle). - really, just really pay very close attention when approaching and while driving through any place with buildings on both sides of the road!!

The Cuota (toll road) is about $20 (haven't checked current x-change) and boring-boring-boring but - no topes and no cows, usually, but note that there are also no greater chances to get petrol than there were last year or the year before. NEVER get on without a full tank).

MrShort1 Jun 4th, 2009 05:18 AM

"Chicken Pizza" was our first Mayan ruin that we saw about 4 years ago. We unfortunately took the bus and were herded in and out way to fast. Since then we have went to over 20 different sites in Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, spending hours and hours looking at evrything you can imagine. Chichen Itza deserves at least one full day. We have several sites to go to this winter including a return to Chichen, including a rental car and several other sites from Palenke to Merida. Mayan ruins are addictive. Thanks for the info about the tolls and the top of my head knows all about the topes.

BaltoTraveler Jul 2nd, 2009 05:15 PM

We'll be staying on Isla Mujeres for a week, and are thinking of doing an overnight at Chichen Itza when we first arrive... before we even get to Isla.

Here's the tentative plan: Our plane gets into Cancun Airport around 1:00, and we would get a rental car and head off on the toll road. Get to Chichen and check into one of the close-in hotels. Tour the ruins as the group tours are leaving. Tour again for another couple hours in the morning. Take off around 10:00 a.m., perhaps on the non-toll road, stopping for interesting things along the way and touring Ek Balam for certain. Return the car at the airport in late-afternoon and get a shuttle or taxi to the ferry dock to go over to Isla.

Does this sound reasonable? Anyone have recommendations for interesting things to see and do on the way back from Chichen? What about the best bet for lodging there?

jw2 Jul 6th, 2009 12:09 PM


Give yourselves a break and overnight in Valladolid!

You will not get through <Immigration / Bag Claim / Customs / car rental wait / and traffic> to the Quota (toll road) much before 4:00 PM, and I wouldn't expect to hit Chichen until after 7:00. By that time you will have very little daylight left for touring (I don't recall when the ruins officially close but it can't be much later than 7 - except for the light show). The nearby town zips up pretty early, and my experience has been that the hotels near the ruins are deader than the Hotel California (where you can never leave).

You would have to be up pretty early to see much of the ruins before 10:00 AM the next day.

Consider: take a leisurely drive to Valladolid and spend the night there - there's certainly more to see and do there than at Chichen in the evening hours. Then get an early start to the ruins, and plan to leave Chichen Itza closer to noon or even 2:00 PM. - then see Ek Balam on the way BACK to Cancun.

If you beat the crowds getting into Chichen Itza, you will be in more distant parts of the ruins at noon where the tour groups have not penetrated or never get to.

BaltoTraveler Jul 6th, 2009 12:54 PM

Ack! You figure 3 hours between arrival at the airport and getting on the road? How depressing! (We arrive on a Wednesday, which I hope will make a difference in the level of airport craziness.) I understand that the ruins at CI open at 8:00 a.m., and my 10:00 calculation for departing CI was premised on having gotten a good preliminary dose the day before. Since Ek Balam is near Valladolid, I had figured we'd get lunch in the town before continuing on to the ruins, and then back to drop off the car at Cancun Airport and the rest of our vacation on Isla Mujeres.

I did a quick check of the lodgings in Valladolid and am inclined to stick with my original thoughts of staying at one of the lodgings that are quite close to the CI ruins (e.g. Hacienda Chichen).

jamie99 Jul 6th, 2009 01:51 PM


How long it takes to get through Immigration (Customs is not usually so long as IM) totally depends on how many planes land around the same time. In May, I got through in 5 minutes, but it was at the height of the swine flu scare and only about 35 people on the plane. In 2008, 3 other planes landed around the same time as ours (on a Monday) and it took 1.5 hours to get through Immigration.

Have stayed at Hacienda Chichen twice, although last time was in 2007 and enjoyed the place very much, beautiful grounds and nice pool for cooling off in.

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