I had the opportunity to visit both Tikal and Chichen Itza in 2022. They both have their pros and their cons. I think if you have the chance then you should see them both! That isn’t always the case for most people. This is why I’m writing a guide on Tikal vs Chichen Itza.
These are both critical areas of the Mayan civilization and you will find that out when visiting. Chichen Itza is by far the more popular set of pyramids and for a good reason. It is also a lot easier to get to. I will be giving you some of my best advice to make your decision. Both are located 1 to 2 hours from the airport, so the choice is up to you!
What is Tikal and Chichen Itza?
Both of these locations at one time were capitals of their region in the Mayan kingdom. Tikal dates back to the 4th century B.C. and some scientists believe it even further to 1000 B.C. Most of its dominance was in 200 to 900 A.D. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and became a national park in Guatemala in 1964. Tikal wasn’t found until the late year 1864. This is because it is deep in Guatemala’s northern rainforest.
If there is only one of these Mayan sites that you have heard of it would probably be Chichen Itza. In its prime, it was the capital and full ruler of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988 as well as voted as one of the new 7 wonders of the world in 2007. It is thought that the City of Chichen Itza was established in the year 400 A.D. Chichen Itza is still a huge archaeological site and they are finding new things often.
There is no debate on Tikal vs Chichen Itza when it comes to which is older. If you want to see the older site then your answer is clear. I’m here to help you with the other details.
Tikal vs Chichen Itza: There Relation to Eachother
In the time of these two great cities, the distance between them would be massive. In this day and age, they are actually a lot closer than people think. It will take you around 10 hours to drive there by car. You will have to go through Belize to do so.
If you are more likely to only visit one at a time then I will give you some directions below.
Best Tour Guides for Chichen Itza
Some people love taking guided tours and others don’t. What they are great for is when you’re short on time. We were short on time during this trip and decided to do a tour. I was a big fan and that surprised even me. There was so much on this tour and I always wish I can see a place for longer but this was a great full-day tour. Definitely worth the money.
How to Get to Chichen Itza
Most people when they visit this area of Mexico will be flying into the Cancun airport (CUN). This is the second largest airport in Mexico, so flights should be reasonable.
From here they will either go to a resort close by or visit other towns along the coast such as Tulum and Playa Carmen. This area of Mexico is nice because everything can be reached by bus. I will go over some options if you are not going with a Chichen Itza guide.
Cancun to Chichen Itza
- Cancun to Chichen Itza is about a 2 1/2 hour drive
- You can take a bus from the bus station in downtown Cancun to Chichen Itza
- The bus will be called Ruta de Autobuses de Oriente and you can find the schedule here.
- This should cost between $6 and $10
- If you rented a car you can also drive
- It is an easy drive and will mainly be on the highway
My Suggested Hiking Gear
Below is a list of some of my favorite hiking/travel gear I bring everywhere. Everything below is something I currently use and never leave my house without.
- KEEN Durand II Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots: I finally upgraded my hiking boots in 2022 and these are fantastic. They have top-notch ankle support and are super durable.
- Petzl Tikka Headlamp: A headlamp for hiking is a must if you’re like me and love sunrise hikes. This is a great price for a quality headlamp and also has a good red light to not disturb others in the morning.
- Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks: I originally got these as a present but I had to buy more because these are the most comfortable hiking socks I’ve ever tried on.
- Grayl GeoPress Water Filter Bottle: You will never have to rebuy plastic water bottles. This is the best water filtering device on the market. It is excellent for hikers and travelers alike.
How to Get to Tikal
If you are flying straight into Guatemala City then you have a lot simpler options that you might enjoy better when wanting to visit Tikal. You can fly again if you don’t like shuttles, or take a regular shuttle or an overnight bus. The overnight bus will also save you money on accommodation for that night. We took the overnight bus from Flores to Guatemala City, then a shuttle from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan for Q400. There might be better options but we also heard people paying Q550 for that same thing so we felt we found a good deal. Here are your options:
- Day Shuttle to Flores (~Q250)
- Night Bus to Flores (~Q250)
- Fly to Flores (~75 USD)
You can also fly straight into Flores instead of going to Guatemala City first if you’re main goal is to see Tikal. The price above to fly to Flores is from Guatemala City.
Transportation cost will be the deciding factor for most when looking at Tikal vs Chichen Itza, so buy your flights early!
Tikal vs Chichen Itza: Which is Better?
To make this easier to read for all I will make this as easy as possible. Below I will have two different sections. One for Chichen Itza’s pros & cons and another for Tikal’s pros & cons. This will make it easier to read as well as make your decision on the debate of Tikal vs Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza: Pros & Cons
Chichen Itza Pros
- the better-restored pyramid of the two cities
- easier to access
- has one of the best Pok-A-Tok restorations in the world (Mayan Ball game)
- Many different tour guides to choose from
- Around multiple cenotes (water holes)
- is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World
Chichen Itza Cons
- More Expensive Entry Fee
- Not as big of an area to explore
- Won’t see much wildlife
- overcrowded most of the time
- high potential of being farther away from your accommodation
Tikal: Pros & Cons
- Cheaper Entrance Fee (Q150)
- More Ruins to Explore
- Older Ruins Overall
- Hiking through a jungle (could be pro or con)
- More Wildlife
- Closer drive to most travelers accommodation
- Pyramids aren’t in as great of shape as Chichen Itza
- The nearest airport could be more expensive to fly into
- mainly ruins and no well-renovated site of Pok-A-Tok
- No Cenotes to Explore Around Tikal
Tikal Vs Chichen Itza: Final Verdict
It is hard for me to say which Mayan site is better than the other. They both have their pros and cons. Chichen Itza by far has the best pyramid to look at but it also gets very crowded. Tikal was a cool experience because it felt like we were hiking through the jungle to find these pyramids ourselves. I would say it is going to come down to money and what kind of experience you want to have. The Tikal vs Chichen Itza debate is still up in the air so why not check them both out?
Thank you for reading my guide on Tikal vs Chichen Itza. Hopefully, this has helped you in a tough position in choosing which site you’d rather visit on your vacation.