You can get to Chichen Itza by bus or car via the MEX 180 from Mérida (1.5-2.5 hours; 116km/72mi) or Valladolid (1 hour; 42km/26mi).
An air taxi service is also available.
We got there from Merida and were there in the afternoon. It was rather hot in this time that’s why staying in the Chichén Itzá area allows visitors to visit early in the morning, out of the hot sun.
You can watch my 1 min 39 sec Video Mexico Merida-Chichen-Itza out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
Piste is the closest city to Chichen Itza, but it doesn't have much to see or do there. And the hotels can be quite pricy. The best option is to stay in Valladolid and then catch a second class bus from Valladolid to Chichen Itza. The bus ride is about 45 minutes and costs less than $5. It is worth it because Valladolid is a very cute city and worth a visit of its own. Be sure to take the second class bus though, it is a much better deal than the first class and the bus is just fine.
Taking the bus from Valladolid to Chichen Itza is simple and quick. Second class Oriente buses leave from the bus terminal at Valladolid starting at 7:15am. There's a bus approximately every 30 minutes. The ride costs 20 pesos and takes about 45 minutes.
Getting back is slightly trickier. Buy your ticket at a small ticket counter in the back of the main gift shop in the welcome center at Chichen Itza. Returning buses seem to leave less frequently-- approximately 1 per hour. Once you have your ticket, make your way to the grassy circle in the middle of the parking lot to wait for the bus to pull up. Ours was quite late, but came eventually. If you're going back to Valladolid, you'll probably get on a bus that says Cancun in the window-- it stops at Valladolid on the way.
The road to Chichen-itza from the Cancun area is really good, flat and straight (see pictures).
It is a paid highway. You enter it and in about half way between Cancun and Valladolid exit, right on the border between Yucatan and Quintana Roo there is a toll booth where you pay about $20. Next toll booth is right when you will exit to Chichen-itza and you will pay additional $5 (see our pictures).
Highway is very nice and clean, sometimes you can see some road kill bot nothing big. You will also see along it local people picking up the wood. But they are minding their own business and are aware of the fast moving cars and are not getting in a way.
The opposite line is divided from you with a small strip of jungle, so no worry about any head on collisions.
There is also one rest stop on the longer stretch and another rest stop and gas station on the shorter stretch. We used this gas station on our way back to fill up. REMEMBER ALWAYS TO FILL UP YOUR CAR AS THE GAS STATION ARE RARE IN MEXICO. NEVER GO BELOW HALF TANK!!!
Honestly I live in New York City area, I have travel by car in Crete, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Germany. Mexico is one of the nicest places I have driven in, comparable to Germany. Everybody stays to the right, if you need to pass you go to the left. No cutting off, no tailgating, no threatening other drivers like it happens around New York.
Do not think twice about renting car in Mexico, JUST RENT IT.
From Cancun: from the Cancun Bus Terminal in downtown, there are several 1st Class via ADO and then 2nd Class from Oriente (and others I believe). I took a 2nd Class bus on Oriente for 94$MX because it was the next available bus. The 2nd Class bus was fine, had air conditioner, although not as plush as the ADO 1st Class but it was still comfortable. The only downside was that it tended to stop for anyone along the route, going through a few small towns and essentially became the local bus. This can be good if you want to be dropped off at a hotel along the way or at the ruins entrance. It stopped in Valladolid for about 10 minutes before heading on to Piste.
To Valladolid: To get to Valladolid by bus, you can book an ADO bus from Piste or you can easily wave down an Oriente bus along the highway. I waited a few minutes outside my hotel (they told me about when the buses usually passed) and when I saw a bus coming down the highway, I simply stood up and held up my hand to hail (kind of like a taxi). I confirmed that it was going to Valladolid by asking the driver and then put my bags in the storage. Cost: 17$MX (really inexpensive). Collectivos and taxis go to Valladolid frequently or as arranged.
I personally find it more convenient to just rent a car and drive 2 something hours west of Cancun. It came out a lot cheaper and saved us a lot of time. We left our Cancun hotel around 7, got there almost 10 ish, stayed for a couple of hours and made it back to our hotel before sunset (which is a must)- any travel blog suggest so. This is all compared to being in a group tour, because not only do they pick you up too early, they also have to pick everybody up from every hotel and drop them off the same way which I think is a total waste of time. As far as the cost is concerned, it will come out almost the same if 2 or more are traveling. Cons? We got a little intimidated at the check point (right after the toll gate)- they had us step out of the car and they inspected the car thoroughly, i mean THOROUGHLY. But otherwise, the drive was relaxing over all.
I personally find it more convenient to just rent a car and drive 2 something hours west of Cancun. It came out a lot cheaper and saved us a lot of time. We left our Cancun hotel around 7, got there almost 10 ish, stayed for a couple of hours and made it back to our hotel before sunset (which is a must)- any travel blog suggest so. This is all compared to being in a group tour, because not only do they pick you up too early, they also have to pick everybody up from every hotel and drop them off the same way which I think is a total waste of time. As far as the cost is concerned, it will come out almost the same if 2 or more are traveling. Cons? We got a little intimidated in the check point (right after the toll gate)- they had us step out of the car and they inspected the car thoroughly, i mean THOROUGHLY. But otherwise, the drive was relaxing over all.
If you are travelling from Cancun, then there are many buses leaving every hour. If you are staying at one of the major hotels, then there should be a trip arranged by the reps, as they was for us. This leaves early in the morning and comes back mid afternoon. The trip included a stop off on the way at a shop and then for lunch on the way back where we got to see traditional dancing done by local children.
Chichen Itza is on the main highway 180 between Merida (2½ hrs away) and Cancun (1½ hours away) If you take the 'autopista' from either city and enter the village of Piste from the north. When you come to the old Highway 180 turn left and there are signs from there.
Take care if you are reaching Chichen Itza from Cancun, because there are so few buses who go there and only in 2 or 3 different schedules. If you can not catch them (usually early in the morning) go to Valladolid and from there takeanother bus to Cancun.Even the distance is very short, you will take more than 2 hours to arrive there then plane with time your arrival there.
In Cancun go to Bus satation (ADO) close to downtown,also from Merida you could arrive there.
The walk from Piste (the town next to Chichen Itza) is only a kilometre or two, but if you've spent a whole day wandering around the ruins, it can seem like a fairly big trek. Getting from the ruins into town is no big issue - there are always a few taxis in the carpark. However, if you're going in the other direction, taxis can be something of a problem.
We found ourselves having to just make the trek, and wait for an unoccupied taxi to drive past... which took about 15 minutes. If you're coming from your hotel, obviously you can get the reception to dial up a taxi for you, but otherwise, it can be a long and frustrating experience.
Valladolid is a great base to explore the surrounding villages and Mayan ruins. Chichen Itza and Coba are very close. You can also get to Cancun, Merida, Izamal, Tizimin, Tulum, and Chetumal from here.
There are two bus terminals at Valladolid. The older, more convenient one is two blocks from the main park, Parque Francisco Canton Rosado on Calle 39 and Calle 46. The newer one is about seven blocks from the park on Calle 45. From Cancun you will probably be dropped off here and have to walk in the main part of town which is not too bad.
Cancun 170 km 2hours (go first class)
Merida 170 km 3.5 hours
Chichen Itza 40 km 40 minutes
Coba 60 km 1 hour
The best way to go to Chichen Itza is to take a colectivo that leaves right outside the old bus station near the central park. It will get you there faster and at the same price. They leave around 7 am which is good because you want to get to Chichen Itza early when it opens at 8 am.
i would highly suggest getting a rental car from cancun to chichen itza IF you plan to visit on your own and not on a tour. i wanted to drive there myself so i can take my time and have stopovers on the way (in Valladolid Nature Wells or Cenotes). rentals normally cost $80-$100 per day (inclusive of taxes and insurance). you can book rentals at your hotel.
make sure you understand the map to chichen itza. there are two highways to get there, the faster one gets you there in 3 hrs..the other (local) is an addl half to 1 hour with more sightseeing. the signs are a bit confusing so pay attention.
oh and GAS UP before you leave!!!
We have visited Chichen Itza twice, one by bus tour from Cancun and once by bus tour from Playa del Carmen. There are many ways to book these tours, I think the cheapest is to find a travel agency outside the hotel to book it.
Our hotel's activity desk in Playa del Carmen (December 2003) listed the bus tour as $75 US, we paid $42 US by booking through an agency in town.
It is about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza, shorter or longer depending on how many hotels they have to stop at to pick up passengers.
Get to the bus early. They will normally pick you up at the hotel main entrance. First ones on can pick their seats and it is better to sit at the front of the bus to hear the tour guide than at the back near the bathroom. Make sure everyone has had their bathroom break before they get on the bus.