Chichen Itza vs. Tulum

The battle royale of iconic Mexican ruins, Tulum and Chichen Itza have been the stuff of travel articles and Instagram posts for years. The magic and mystery they hold best explain why this region of Mexico is the most visited than any other.
Chichen Itza vs. Tulum

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One is nestled within a jungle while the other one is perched on a cliff, these locales never faded from many of the world’s coveted lists. Fitting for the ever-curious sunseekers, you can even say that it isn’t a matter of which is better, but which one should you see first.

Chichen Itza

Just like Cancun and Tulum, Chichen Itza doesn’t need to have a sound introduction. The ancient ruins are what helped put the entire Yucatan Peninsula on the tourist map. Established at the height of the Mayan civilization, now a new world wonder, Chichen Itza’s grandeur is self-explanatory.

Best reserved for the ever-curious, Chichen Itza is one of the most iconic sites in all of Mexico. The ancient city’s remains have given everyone a glimpse of the ancient world full of wonders, and even oddities. Chichen Itza isn’t a matter of a “yes or no”, but “when” – especially if you’re staying somewhere in the Riviera Maya.

What Makes Chichen Itza Unique?

New Seven Wonders of the World

Just mere images of Chichen Itza, especially the famous El Castillo are enough for you to imagine why it would become a Wonder of the World. Chichen Itza’s charm and mystery, in addition to its architectural spectacle, is one the Yucatan’s most famous selling points.

Chichen Itza was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. These are man-made marvels located in different corners of the globe. These sites best represent the heritage and culture of humanity. The fabled ruins hold a significant concentration of ancient man-made structures. Most of which are already tourist-famous sites, each holding great value.

On top of its beauty and cultural value, Chichen Itza also lies accessible to several other ruins across the Yucatan Peninsula. You can easily visit other ruins if you’re planning to tour Chichen Itza as well. Plus, the many quirky cities near the ruins such as Merida, Piste, and Valladolid offer even an exciting time around the famous site.


Yucatan’s quaint and colorful rustic town, the town of Valladolid is just a mere 30 minutes away from Chichen Itza. Often a short stop for Chichen Itza explorers, Valladolid is a place worthy of staying.

The city is still an off-the-beaten-path destination. So expect to be washed with authentic Mayan culture and scenes that most people often miss. Thanks to this, the city remains untouched by mass tourism and has kept its identity and authenticity making it a special gem. The city is best reserved for travelers who love to get a sense of what the true Mayan-Mexican culture is.

Expect to be taken away by the city’s colorful streets complete with all the classic Mexican charms. You can visit the Mercado, the Cathedral, and various coffee shops by day, after your Chichen Itza tour. And at night, sample the many restaurants and bars.

The Temple of Kukulcan

Also known as “El Castillo”, the ruins’ tallest pyramid is its main structure. The Temple of Kukulcan stands at a height of 98 feet or 30 meters, used to worship the feathered serpent god Kukulcan.

The ancient deity was believed to be one of the three main gods that created the world. Rituals, ceremonies, and many other events are held at the base of the pyramid making it the most valuable part of the ruins.

What makes the pyramid even more interesting is that it served multiple functions other than just worshipping the deity. Accounts suggested that the pyramid was also used as an observatory, and may have been used for ritualistic sacrifices as well.

The Descent of Kukulcan

Thanks to the genius architectural design of the exteriors of El Castillo, it creates an impression of a giant snake descending from the top. With the help of the Equinox sun, this is one of the most alluring features of Chichen Itza.

Also called the Chichen Itza Equinox, the sun creates an effect depicting Kukulcan coming down from the temple.

The effect only lasts a few minutes and occurs when the sun casts a shadow over the stairs. They consist of nine platforms that resemble the serpent’s body and move as the sun moves across the sky. The Equinox phenomenon helps bring the effect to life.

Sacred Cenote

With dramatic measurements and a mysterious vibe, the Sacred Cenotes are considered an important part of the ancient city. The famous Sacred Cenote expands at about 197 feet (60 meters), and a depth of 98 feet (30 meters).

Though mesmerizing and equally mysterious, swimming in the cenote isn’t allowed. You can only stand on the cliff and look over the waters below. Though there isn’t a clear reason as to why. But many people suggested that the area is still being studied and explored.

Archeological efforts have already brought up several objects from the Mayan past. Some items that were discovered were obsidian knives, jewelry, and human skeletons.

Cenote Ik Kil

If you want a nearby cenote to swim in you can easily visit Ik Kil, located just 2 miles (3 km) from Chichen Itza. The pure, soothing waters of Cenote Ik Kil are in fact, 85 feet (26 meters) beneath the surface. This is one of the ideal places for a swim after a day of trekking and exploring the hot ruins.

Long vines cascade from the open rooftop to the water below are what define the most beautiful part of the cenote. The water can reach a depth of 197 feet or 60 meters in some areas and is extremely clear considering its depth.


If you have looked up Mexico’s best, you have most probably come across Tulum with its ruins and beaches. The fabled town south of the Riviera Maya is one of the most famous and iconic destinations in all of Mexico. Thanks to its perfect combination of draws that seem to appeal to a wide audience, you can always find something to behold in the Mayan seaside town.

Imagine having beaches, ruins, and natural reserves by day, and a charming and quirky pueblo by night. Tulum has a little bit of everything you can ever want in a seaside Mexican town, especially one that revels in its culture and history. One thing about Tulum, though, is that you have to brave a crowd as curious as you are.

What Makes Tulum Unique?

Ancient Ruins

The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its plethora of ancient ruins dating back to the old Mayan civilization. A great number of these gems are also located right along the Riviera Maya. One of the most famous and iconic ruins in Mexico just so happens to be perched on a cliff in Tulum.

The Mayan Ruins of Tulum are said to have once held great importance to the Mayan people as the ancient city sits at a very crucial location. The ancient city’s remains can be toured and is especially well-preserved. An added charm to the ruins is that it is located just over a beach, creating a unique contrast between the ruins and the beach.

But its clifftop, beachside location has a purpose. The ruins were once an ancient walled city that also functioned as a major trading spot for all of the Yucatan’s Mayan people. The enclosing walls were used for defense against invaders from the east.

The ancient city once traded valuable goods and materials such as cacao beans, cotton, copper, and many others. And because of its value, walls were erected on top cliffs, and the main pyramid served as a watchtower and a lighthouse. Now, only little remains of the walls, but the pyramid and other watchtowers stand well-preserved.

Even though the ancient city is left in ruins, the value the city once held still echoes from the reception the ruin gets today. One of the most visited spots in all of Mexico, you can expect to be met with crowds of curious tourists.

Should you take a tour around the Tulum ruin, here are some of the important structures you should check out:

El Castillo

The main pyramid served as a watchtower, a ceremonial site, and a lighthouse. El Castillo is the tallest structure in the Tulum Ruins. Just by surveying the pyramid around its exterior will give you a glimpse of what it was like back in the pinnacle of their civilization.

Unfortunately, to preserve the integrity of the structure you can’t enter or climb the pyramid. You can only check it out from the outside. So it’s best to get a tour guide and have them provide the necessary information about the pyramid.

Temple of the Frescoes

The Temple of the Frescoes is a small two-story building adjacent to the main pyramid and is believed to be an important section of the city. Other than religious functions, the temples were once used as an observatory carefully studying the sun’s journey across the sky.

Another fascinating thing about the temple is that it is the most well-preserved structure in the ruins. The smaller, second-story temple still has murals on its exteriors, depicting religious connotations. While the lower floor’s stucco sculptures are all still well-preserved.

House of the Halach Uinic

This particular section houses the city’s supreme leader, the Halach Uinic. A Halach Uinic is the head of the Mayan Kuchkabal, a form of government that holds absolute power over the city’s many departments.

The House of the Halach Uinic is also another well-preserved section. You can still see a mural depicting a deity, perhaps the Mayan creator-god, right at the entrance of the building.

Resident Wildlife

Apart from Tulum’s famous gems such as its ruins and beaches, the municipality also has another feature in its arsenal. Just sitting right under your nose, Tulum sits in one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the country. Because of the abundance of life, Tulum holds a vast roster of flora and fauna, some of which are endangered.

Just south of Tulum is the Si’an Kaan Biosphere, a forest reserve abundant in natural resources, and many species of plants and animals. Because of its biodiverse wealth and pristine conditions, the biosphere is a well-protected area.

In the biosphere, you can find marshes, mangroves, and even a portion of the famous Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Located right inside its marine section. Si’an Kaan is home to a plethora of animals. You can spot tapirs, spider monkeys, jaguars, and 300 bird species, including the peregrine falcon and toucan.

Tulum Beaches

Tulum’s beaches and ruins come hand in hand when it comes to the beauty that the town holds. The coastal stretch boasts some of the most alluring vistas on this side of Mexico. Where else can you find beaches with ruins overhead, on top of its classic beach draws such as white sand and clear turquoise waters?

Here are some of the most recommended spots:

Las Palmas

Las Palmas appeals more closely to people who shy away from crowds and the occasional noise it can come with. The beach is known for its pristine conditions and a vast expanse with a varied landscape. You can definitely get that much-needed suntan and relaxation here.

With a noticeable smaller tourist scene, Las Palmas provides a stark contrast to many of Tulum’s beaches. You can enjoy a relaxing time here, especially if you would like to have downtime after a fun time around town.

Playa Ruinas

A true Mexican icon, Playa Ruinas may have greatly helped Tulum’s rise to international fame. It boasts a perfect blend of ruins perched on a cliff and sweeping views of the Caribbean. Expect Playa Ruinas to be one of the most awe-inspiring places you’ll ever visit.

You can take a relaxing dip, or swim around the turquoise waters with a view of the watchtower ruins overhead. It certainly makes for an interesting experience. Playa Ruinas can be your extra itinerary after touring the iconic ruins.

You can easily come down from the ruins and take that well-deserved dip. However, you have to take on the crowds because, after all, it is the most famous beach in town.

Playa Paraiso

Crowded and famous, Playa Paraiso is by default Tulum’s main beach. A vast expanse of powder-white sand brushed by the exquisite blue water of the Caribbean defines the raw beauty of Playa Paraiso. But its greatest charm is in how it stays true to its rustic charm.

While most of Tulum is seeing development, Playa Paraiso remains to be simple and raw. You can still see palapas, huts, and beach vendors here. But you can still enjoy your time here as there are plenty of things to do in Playa Paraiso.

With gentles waves, soft sand, and mild temperatures, swimming and lounging is enjoyable here. Not to mention, excellent visibility allows a great snorkeling experience. But with the lack of rental shops, you have to bring your equipment.

A Burst of Gastronomy

With a string of foreign influences coming into town every year, Tulum has upscaled and evolved its gastronomy. The town now features cuisines from different cultures, spanning from Europe to the Caribbean. A slew of international chefs and restaurateurs have set up shop alongside local culinary masters.

Now Tulum houses an interesting diversity of palates and flavors. Despite the continuous influx and development, the local flavors of Tulum remain unchanged. It may seem that it is even more celebrated. Tourists can now have an extensive menu around town to satisfy their ever-curious palate.

The Tulum Pueblo hosts many restaurants serving dishes from the west such as Posada Margherita, Cetli, and Hartwood. These places offer European flavors. And if you want a sample of the best of the local food, head to the Palma Central, and Antojitos La Chiapaneca.

Tulum Pueblo

Tulum has remained balanced and faithful to its roots as a Mexican seaside wonder. After all the developments and enduring fame, it has remained quintessentially Mexican. The Tulum Pueblo, the central town best demonstrates the right blend of the old and the new. The harmony between authentic charms and upscaled delights.

With authentic building facades, colorful streets, and a slower way of living, Pueblo can feel simple, old, and rustic. And at the same time, it is awash with foreign influences with a bit of a cosmopolitan touch, without losing its air of tradition and rustic appeal.

It is fascinating to be in a town that has kept the perfect blend of culture, development, and history. In addition, the town has also preserved its natural wonders thanks to the protected reserves and wildlife advocacies.

For guests who want to stay in Tulum for more than a couple of nights, you can choose from the variety of accommodations present across town. You can either choose from the many luxury stays or the more authentic beach homes.

Tulum has consistently stepped up its game. And at the same time, maintaining the very thing responsible for putting it on the map: its faithfulness to its roots. Now, thanks to all of the right ingredients, Tulum is one of the most recent additions to Mexico’s iconic Pueblos Magicos, or Magic Towns. Catapulting Tulum to yet another well-deserved level and perhaps an even more catchy moniker.

Tulum or Chichen Itza – Which Is Better?

If you’re looking for a perfect destination for a holiday filled with historical and cultural value, Tulum is the best option. On top of Tulum’s ruins and charming town, the municipality also offers beaches and rich natural wonders. It practically has everything you’ll ever look for.

Tulum is brimming with tourist highs and unwavering fame. The town has its recent developments and well-preserved cultural overtones to thank. Many places in Tulum are still rustic and untouched by upscaling efforts, and some appeal to a chic audience. Plus, beaches and ruins are among its most iconic draws.

Chichen Itza is perfect for a day’s worth of touring, in most cases touring the iconic ruins even takes less than a day. But the famous destination only offers just that, its historical and cultural value.


Is Chichen Itza the Same as Tulum?

Despite being two of the most iconic ruins in Mexico, Tulum and Chichen Itza have their differences. First off, Chichen Itza is just a fascinating site of an ancient ruin. Tulum, on the other hand, is not just a site of ancient ruins, but an entire municipality.

In Chichen Itza, you only have the many ruined structures and a few vendors outside of the complex. The nearest town is just a few kilometers away called Piste, and Valladolid, a city closely associated with Chichen Itza.

Tulum is a municipality in the Riviera Maya that offers more than just ancient ruins. The town also offers stunning beaches, wildlife reserves, eco-parks, and a charming pueblo.

Is Chichen Itza in Tulum?

Chichen Itza lies miles and miles away from the northwest of Tulum. The iconic ancient ruins are located in the neighboring state of Yucatan, while Tulum is located southeast of the state of Quintana Roo.

How Far Is Chichen Itza From Tulum?

Located between states, Chichen Itza is 115 miles (185 km) from Tulum, directly.

How to Get From Tulum to Chichen Itza

You only have two best options to get to Chichen Itza from Tulum: by bus or by rental car. However, Chichen Itza tours you can book from Tulum also offer shuttle tours to the iconic ruins.

Rental cars can cost around 11 to 18 USD a day, on top of gas prices, that is. And should you take the bus, the best liner you should take is ADO.

How Much Is It From Tulum to Chichen Itza?

Prices may vary depending on your chosen mode of transport. Buses that take you between Chichen Itza and Tulum can cost around 11 to 20 USD, one way. If you want to take a rental car to Chichen Itza and set your own pace, rates can go around 60 to 70 USD a day for economy cars.

How Much Is a Taxi to Chichen Itza From Tulum?

A one-way ride can cost 2,000 Mexican Pesos or 99 USD. However, opting for a tour package from tour companies around town can offer a greater value for your money.

Is It Easy to Drive From Tulum to Chichen Itza?

The drive to Chichen Itza from Tulum is safe and easy, however, there are still some potholes around Tulum but nothing too challenging. The road leading to Chichen Itza boasts good quality, making it a smooth enjoyable ride.

Just make sure to follow the road signs, and you’ll get there safely. A typical drive only takes around two hours.

Is the Road From Tulum to Chichen Itza Safe?

Travelers who’ve had the pleasure of driving from Tulum to Chichen Itza reported that the road is safe, and the drive is surprisingly smooth.

Can You Do Chichen Itza and Tulum in One Day?

With only a two-hours drive in between and a four-hour tour around both sites, you can actually do Chichen Itza and Tulum in one day. Make sure you’ll end your trip in Tulum’s amazing beaches.

However, its more ideal to stay a night in Tulum so you can maximize everything the town can offer, other than its famous ruins.

Tulum or Chichen Itza From Cancun

If you’re staying in Cancun, you can easily get to both Tulum and Chichen Itza. However, the better options are determined by the kind of experience you want.

Tulum holds the same value for the Mayans as Chichen Itza, and its the closest ancient ruins. The municipality and its ancient ruins are only 81 miles (131 km) from Cancun, plus, the surrounding town has several charms that Cancun doesn’t offer.

Chichen Itza, on the other hand, is the farthest option. The iconic ruins are 120 miles (193 km) from Cancun and may take a couple of hours to travel. Despite its beauty and historical value, the ancient ruins don’t have much to offer.

Tulum vs. Chichen Itza From Cozumel

If you’re staying in Cozumel, the best option for you mandatory Mayan ruins is the one that’s nearest: Tulum. Getting to different sites on the mainland takes a lot of time and costs because of transportation. Tulum is only a ferry and bus ride away from Cozumel, and it only takes half your day. Chichen Itza is already far and doesn’t offer much apart from its actual ruins.