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Visiting Chichen Itza and Ik Kil with Kids

The magnificent Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula were named one of the new 7 wonders of the world in 2007. When our family travels took us to Mexico in 2022, visiting these ruins seemed like a can’t-miss.

Would a historic archaelogical site in the tropical heat be a good fit for our 7 year old, 3 year old and 10 month old travel companions? Like I always do, I did my research and then took a leap of faith.

I’m pleased to report back that I’d definitely recommend Chichen Itza for other family travelers as well, even for those with babies and toddlers. The wide open spaces to explore and roam were kid-friendly. Even little ones could appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the ruins.

That said, there are a few things to know if you plan to visit Chichen Itza with kids in tow. Here’s what we learned that will help you make the most of your visit.

Tips for a Successful Visit to Chichen Itza with Kids

1. Bring your Guidebook or Hire a Private Guide

My family usually like to travel independently, and always on a budget to save money. So hiring a private tour guide is almost never on the cards. This was no exception during a post pandemic cost of living crisis, so we bought a guidebook for the occasion and I’m really glad we did. We would have likely missed a good Fresca or two as well as missing out on a level of appreciation and understanding (particularly for the mesoamerican ballgame!) if we hadn’t had some knowledge of what we were looking at. There was no signage or information about any of the structures in the complex.

2. Go Early

The early birds always get the worm at crowded tourist destinations, and Chichen Itza is no exception. Because we rented a car, we were able to make a speedier and better executed trip to the site and beat the giant coach tours arriving for the morning. Crowds were light and we were able to easily make our way through many different sections of the ruins without being overwhelmed by other tour groups and get some great empty looking photos. By the time we were done, around 10:30ish the crowds were HUGE with massive queues at the ticket office. Arrive at 8:30!

3. Persevere with Parking at the Complex Itself, Avoiding Scams

When we were within 2km or so after a long 2 hour drive starting at 6am, we were directed into a scrubby car park big enough for 4 cars at best, with a tent complete with two men in blue shirts. We got out and were told that parking at the site was expensive and difficult post covid and that we needed to park externally and walk 1.5km in the burning heat. But they could help us with a special ticket which got them into their friends car park, closer than the only official car park open. We would need to drive around to the other side of the complex.

A bit bewildered but smelling a rat we reluctantly took their driving directions around to the other side of the complex/road. We saw a number (15 or so) of third party car parks all with men in blue shirts beckoning us to park there. I decided that we didn’t have anything to lose by trying to get to the official one. If it was too busy or closed then we would drive back, park in one of these and walk up. Thankfully this paid off as the official parking was only 60 pesos, right outside the ticket entrance and no trouble at all. It is on the small side so I can imagine it might be tricky if you arrive late, but if you follow tip #2, the official parking will be perfect.

4. Use the Toilets in the Ticket Office

There are no other toilets in the entire complex much to my disappointment and surprise! Use the ones at the very start to avoid an uncomfortable visit!m while drinking so much water!

5. Be Prepared for the Climate

There’s another reason you want to go early – to beat the heat. The weather at Chichen Itza can be super-hot and you want to get out of there before the heat of the day. The tropical sun is definitely a risk for everyone no matter what time of day, but young kids are exceptionally vulnerable. I strongly recommend packing hats, sunglasses, umbrella if you can and lots of sunscreen or sun-protective clothing. Bring lots of water and deet as well.

6. Bring the Stroller

If you have little ones of stroller/push chair age, you can go for it and bring it along with you. The advantage of the rental car is that we always bring the pushchair and the carrier and then observe which we think is best when we arrive (or sometimes just lug both around). Most of the paths around the ruins themselves are flat dirt and in-between are open fields covered in flat grass. Our baby zen yo-yo handled it just fine and saved our sweaty arms.

The complex is definitely spread out, but it is the kind of place that most visitors stroll through casually. The only tricky part is getting to the sacred cenote. This is a relatively short walk (5 mins) but the “road” is very rocky and bumpy. We did manage to drag the stroller backwards across it but folding it/using the carrier would have been better for this part.

7. Be Prepared for the Vendors

Local vendors are all over Chichen Itza and they can be a tad aggressive. If you have the kind of kids who beg for souvenirs, be prepared. We told our 7 and 3 year olds they could select one item after we had finished all our touring for the day, and that seemed to limit the stress.

If you are inclined to make a few purchases, I actually feel that the deals are pretty good when compared to tourist shop prices. The vendors don’t have the overhead of Cancun real estate when selling at Chichen Itza and items are priced accordingly.

8. Schedule a Stop at a Cenote

As I’ve previously explained, after literally weeks of research, we had selected Ik Kil has the cenote of choice for semi-open air style. Cenotes are large naturally-occuring underground sinkholes found all over the Yucatan Peninsula. The views and the swimming experience is like no other and Ik Kil, just five mins drive from Chichen Itza is huge, beautiful and has vines draping down from the ground level giving the whole place and enchanted vibe.

Many Chichen Itza tours include a stop at a cenote at the end. Ik Kil is a common stop because it has plenty of infrastructure to handle visitors, including a restaurant and changing room facilities. It gets crowded at Ik Kil in the afternoons after everyone leaves Chichen Itza, but don’t let the crowds deter you. It’s definitely a little touristy, but having the infrastructure of a “tourist stop” with young kids was helpful. We were there by 11am and I guess there were around 15-25 other people in and out while we were there.

You’ll likely need a locker to store your gear while you swim, so I recommend bringing as little as possible with you. They do provide these included in your ticket. We took just our towel and phone for photos down the stone steps to the cenote, and we had them store our pushchair behind the desk.

Some might find the water was a bit chilly but we all loved it. Life jackets are mandatory (provided free with your ticket) which is a shame as they rode up so much without the undercarriage straps that spoilt the fun a bit as Quinn always has her arm bands anyway. The highlight of our visit was watching our fearless 7 year old climb the stairs along the wall of the cenote and jump into the water from about 15 feet up, over and over and over again, shaming all the adults who were hesitating when they got to the top and looked down!

We stopped at the next town (didn't see a name, but it was 5 mins back the way we came and the only obviously place for restaurants for quite a while after that!) for lunch and a short stroller. We managed four dishes for $18 which I call a win to finish up an excellent day out and about in Mexico with the kids!

Have you been to the Chichen Itza or the Yucatan with kids? Share your tips and experiences in the comments or via the contact page.

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