Why you shouldn't go to Chichen Itza (and where to go instead)
Chichen Itza is one of the "seven wonders of the modern world" and a must-visit for most visitors to Mexico's beautiful Yucatan peninsula. Like millions of other people, I decided to make the trek during my visit to Merida back in 2017. While my trip did make me fall in love with Mexico, I was less than impressed with Chichen Itza.
While Chichen Itza is undeniably beautiful, it was a disappointment compared to other incredible ruins around Mexico and Central America like Teotihuacan and Tikal. The site is surprisingly small and crowded, getting there requires a lengthy bus ride, and the tours and tickets are more expensive than other archeological sites. Another huge downside is that you are not actually able to climb the pyramid.
So if not Chichen Itza, then where?
My top choice for an alternative to Chichen Itza is Dzibilchaltun. Dzibilchaltun is conveniently located on the outskirts of Merida and is a pretty impressive archaeological site. I heard about these ruins from a local resident of Merida sitting by me on my flight to Mexico who told me that I needed to go.
While the site isn't as large as Teotihuacan and the temples aren't as tall as Tikal, Dzibilchaltun sets itself apart with a gorgeous cenote right at the base of the ruins. A cenote is a natural limestone swimming hole carved into the ground by an underground river. As part of admission to Dzibilchaltun, you can swim in the cenote for free.
I recommend getting to the ruins early. I got there right as the park opened and the entire place was completely empty. I had the ruins to myself for a few hours to explore and then once it started to warm up, I headed to the cenote for a swim. The total cost for my visit was 10 USD for the entrance fee and 1-2 USD for the colectivos (public mini busses) to get there and back.
Like Chichen Itza, you can't climb the main pyramid of Dzibilchaltun, the temple of the 7 dolls. However, the rest of the site is completely accessible and you can climb and explore to your heart's content. There is also a great museum on site which let you see all of the artifacts they have unearthed over the years. Another thing that makes Dzibilchaltun unique is the church that was built there by the Spanish in the 16th century using stones from temples and buildings that they dismantled. This gives you a chance to see the history of the Yucatan both new and old.
Dzibilchaltun is not the only alternative. There are dozens of incredible ruins scattered across the region which I heard many glowing reviews for. These include Uxmal, Mayapan, and Ruta Puuc, just to name a few. While I didn't have the opportunity to make it out to those ruins, they each offer something unique and are great alternatives to Chichen Itza. Don't give in to the pressure of visiting Chichen Itza just because it is the "must-see" that everyone talks about. Get off the beaten path and take a chance to see some of Mexico's lesser known ruins instead.
Have you been to Chichen Itza? Did you love it or hate it? Tell me your thoughts below!