When visiting Mexico, one thing that should be at the top of your travel itinerary is visiting ruins from the ancient Mayan civilization. Hundreds of Mayan temples, statues, and buildings have lasted over 4,000 years and many of them are open to visitors to explore. One of the most famous sites for Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is one of the New Seven World Wonders: Chichen Itza.
But what about some of the other sites in the area? When visiting Merida, Mexico last spring, I found that there were several other Mayan ruins close by, that were cheaper to visit and drew in fewer crowds. But would they hold up to that same World Wonder status of the famous Chichen Itza?
To find out, I visited both Chichen Itza and the Uxmal Ruins to see which site was better to visit. Judging based on several factors such as ease of transportation to and from the sites, the costs, and the quality of the ruins themselves, here is the ultimate Chichen Itza vs Uxmal Ruins showdown!
Chichen Itza vs Uxmal Ruins: An Introduction
As one of the largest cities in the entire Mayan civilization, Chichen Itza certainly deserves its spot as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is believed that the Mayans lived in the city from around 750BCE to around 1200CE, and at its peak, was home to around 50,000 Mayans. The name Chichen Itza means “Into the mouth of the well of Itza” which comes from the large cenote in the city that the Mayans used to send their gods offerings of gold, jade, and human sacrifices. Yikes.
Today, the city has been well preserved and sees roughly 2.5 million tourists every year. The site can be found in the north-central region of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, with the closest bigger city being Valladolid.
Uxmal is another large Mayan city, which was home to around 25,000 people and reached its peak between 600 and 900CE. Because the site had no natural water source, rain water had to be collected in large cisterns. Many of the city’s temples were built to honor Chac, the god of Rain, to help keep these cisterns full.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996, Uxmal is another popular destination to visit in the Yucatan. However, it does not receive near the number of tourists as Chichen Itza. Uxmal Ruins are located in the north-west region of the peninsula, about 80km south of Merida.
Cost to Visit
Despite my research before going, I actually found that Chichen Itza and Uxmal Ruins were pretty comparable in cost for entry. At both of these locations, you will have to purchase two tickets at two separate windows in order to gain entry.
At the time I visited, entry to Chichen Itza cost 70 pesos at one window, and 172 at the second, for a total of 242 pesos ($12.36USD). Entry to Uxmal Ruins cost 70 pesos at the first window, and 164 at the second, for a total of 234 pesos ($11.95USD).
However, it was recently announced that Chichen Itza will be doubling its entry fee to 480 pesos ($24.51USD) in 2019. This change makes it cost significantly more than visiting Uxmal Ruins. We will just have to wait and see if Uxmal and other Mayan ruin sites will follow suit and raise their prices as well.
Ease of Transportation
When deciding if you should visit Chichen Itza vs Uxmal Ruins, the ease of transportation is definitely a factor you’ll want to consider. Because the two sites are in different areas of the Yucatan, the ease of transportation will differ depending on where you are staying.
I stayed in the city of Merida during my week in Mexico and found it an ideal place for day trips to both Chichen Itza and Uxmal Ruins. However, visitors staying in Cancun and other places along the coast may find it more difficult to reach Uxmal.
Getting to Chichen Itza
Self-Drive: Chichen Itza is a little further from Merida, and takes about 1.5-2 hours to drive there depending on city traffic. If you rent a car and self-drive, it’s a pretty easy straight shot to Chichen Itza, but be aware that the road has a toll of 95 pesos each way. From
Public Bus: If you don’t want to rent a car you can also take public transportation to Chichen Itza from Merida. You can get a second-class bus for around 70 pesos each way, or a first-class ADO bus for around 150 pesos each way. The bus journey shouldn’t take much longer than self-driving. Make sure to check the schedule before departing to ensure you can get a place on the bus returning to Merida at the end of the day.
From Cancun, there is an ADO bus that leaves the city at 8:45am and departs from Chichen Itza at 4:30pm. This bus ride takes around three hours and costs around 228 pesos each way.
Shuttle Buses and Tours: Because Chichen Itza is such a popular spot, you can also reserve a spot on a shuttle bus that will take you to and from Chichen Itza. If navigating public transportation isn’t a strong suit for you, I recommend going this route. Shuttle buses tend not to be much more expensive than public buses either. You can also book yourself on a Chichen Itza tour that includes round-trip transportation. This way, everything from getting there and back and having a guide around the site is taken care of as soon as you book.
Getting to Uxmal Ruins
Self-Drive: Driving to Uxmal Ruins from Merida is an easy drive on well-maintained roadways. The drive should take just over an hour, and does not require additional tolls. From Cancun, the drive to Uxmal is over four
Public Transportation: Getting a bus from Merida to Uxmal is really easy. Buses leave from the second class TAME terminal and cost 65 pesos each way. The ride to Uxmal from Merida is only about an hour and a half. Be sure to ask what time buses return to Merida to ensure you are by the road waiting when the bus is due to arrive.
Taking public transportation from Cancun to Uxmal will take over 6 hours. Unless you are visiting Uxmal and staying overnight in Merida or around the ruins, it’s probably best to just cross it off your itinerary and find some ruins that are closer to Cancun.
Tours: There are also a few tours that will take you to Uxmal from Merida. The upside to visiting on a tour is that you will have a guide, transportation, and may even get to see another nearby attraction as part of your tour. The downside is that tours take away a bit of freedom and you won’t be able to roam about as you wish.
If you’re in Cancun and just have to see Uxmal, there is a day tour available where you can visit Uxmal, Merida, and a local cacao farm.
What to See
Chichen Itza and Uxmal Ruins are distinctly different. Each has their own unique sites to see, with different architectural styles and buildings that served different purposes.
What to see at Chichen
Chichen Itza is often seen as a city with two different parts. The first part was built between 800 and 1000CE, and has the distinctive Mayan “Puuc” architecture style. This style is typically characterized by scattered and wide-spread placement of buildings, as well as the intricate carvings and designs along the facade of the buildings. The second part, built between 1000 and 1200CE, is built in the Florescent style with buildings in
The most famous structure at Chichen Itza is the Kukulkan Pyramid (also sometimes called the El Castillo Pyramid). At this site, you can often find groups of visitors clapping at the base of the pyramid, only to hear the sound waves bounce off the structure and return a chirping sound. Some other notable sites at Chichen Itza include the ball court, The Temple of Jaguars, The Temple of Skulls, the Sacred Cenote, and the Observatory.
What to see at Uxmal
While the buildings at Chichen Itza have a varying style of architecture, the buildings at Uxmal were all built in the Puuc style. But the main difference in visiting Uxmal vs Chichen Itza is that you can actually climb on many of the structures at Uxmal!
Though it’s one of the few you cannot climb, the most notable of structures at Uxmal is the Pyramid of the Magician. This pyramid was built with an elliptical-shaped base, which is not very common in Mayan architecture. Some other popular sites at Uxmal include The Great Pyramid, which holds a great view at the top, the House of the Turtles, the Temple of the Doves, and the Temple of the Phalluses (it’s okay…I giggled too.)
Crowds and Best Time to Visit
Because of Chichen Itza’s title as a World Wonder, it brings in significantly more tourists than Uxmal. There are hundreds of different tours to Chichen Itza on a daily basis, and its fairly central location on the Yucatan Peninsula means that visitors can easily come from several major destinations and cruise ports. This means that Chichen Itza can get very crowded, particularly between the hours of about
Uxmal see its fair share of tourists as well. There are also tours that bring groups to Uxmal between the peak hours of 11 and 3. While these crowds may not get as big as at Chichen Itza, you may still have to wait your turn to take an iguana pic. To avoid these crowds, try to get there in the early morning, around
You may not want to leave these sites without purchasing a cool souvenir to remember your visit. Both Chichen Itza and Uxmal have opportunities to shop, but the experiences are vastly different. Because of the crowds that Chichen Itza draws, there are vendor tables set up all throughout the site, with people calling out to get you to buy their wares. It can be a little frustrating when you’re trying to enjoy the site and people are coming up to you playing jaguar whistles in your face.
At Uxmal, there are no vendors out among the ruins, which makes the experience much more serene. If you’d like to purchase a souvenir there are a few artisan shops at the front of the site, near the admissions windows. However, these shops are not as open to price haggling while shopping as the vendors at Chichen Itza.
So Which Mayan Ruins Should I Visit?
When it comes down to whether you should visit Chichen Itza vs Uxmal Ruins, it really depends on what you want to get out of the experience. On the one hand, Chichen Itza has such great prestige with its World Wonder status and beautifully intact Kukulkan Pyramid. But the crowds and touts can be overwhelming, and the visitor price has gone up tremendously.
On the other had, Uxmal is quieter and less frequented by tourists. It’s a great place to explore and get up close to some incredibly ornate Mayan carvings. But it doesn’t hold the same status as Chichen Itza and can be more difficult to reach if you’re not based on the western side of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Based on my personal experiences with each site, I have to say that I enjoyed my time at Uxmal more. Without the crowds or the constant calls from souvenir vendors, I enjoyed just taking my time and exploring the ruins at Uxmal. I climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid and sat for a while, looking over the whole site of Uxmal. I even got to find a shady place to enjoy my packed lunch while I watched a few iguanas sunbathe. Chichen Itza was much too busy to have done this.
In all honesty, the best way to determine which Mayan site is better is to just visit them both. They both have their ups and downs and neither one is especially expensive to visit. While I enjoyed my time at Uxmal more, I certainly did not regret my visit to Chichen Itza. Chichen is just more of a “go once to enjoy the site say you’ve been there” kind of place. Whereas Uxmal…I’d definitely visit again!
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