Cancun to Chichen Itza Drive – Road, Safety, Tolls & Things to keep in mind
Every year, hundred of thousands of tourists flock to Cancun to enjoy the beach and sunshine. And why not?.
Cancun is famous for its turquoise waters, vibrant nightlife, all-inclusive resorts, and above all, better safety records as compared to other areas of Mexico. However, most tourists are afraid of renting a car in Cancun because of fear of the unknown. Some of the questions that seem to pop up are as follows:
- Is it safe to drive in Mexico?
- How good/bad is the road conditions there?
- Is renting a car really the best way to get to Chichen Itza?
- What happens when you’re pulled over?
- Are we supposed to bribe the cops? etc, etc.
It is natural to have these questions. In fact, I had the same questions when I was planning my trip to Cancun and Chichen Itza over the Labor Day weekend in 2017, and I spent many hours browsing so many different posts online to find answers to all my questions.
Now that I have (safely) concluded my trip (haha, not trying to scare you, I promise), I think a blog post is a good idea so that you can find all the information you need at a single location.
Renting a car in Cancun/Cancun Car Rental Tips
Car Rental Tip #1: Do Not Rent A Car For Your Entire Stay In Cancun
There are 2 options to choose from when it comes to renting a car in Cancun: rent a car for your entire stay or rent a car for only a part of your stay in Cancun.
If you plan to spend most of your time in the resort, I don’t think it’s a good idea to rent a car for your entire trip. Since I had similar plans, I rented a car just for a day to visit Chichen Itza, Ik Kil cenote, and Valladolid.
Car Rental Tip #2: Save Money By Renting A Car From Hotel Zone
There are again 2 options when it comes to where to rent the car from: either you can rent the car from the airport itself or you can rent the car from the hotel zone.
I chose to rent the car from the hotel zone because it was super convenient and cheap. Since I needed the car only for a part of my trip, I didn’t have to travel all the way to the airport just to rent the car.
I was staying at The Westin Laguanamar Ocean Resort and the car rental was located right across the road at the La Isla shopping mall.
Car Rental Tip #3: Use Cancun Public Transport or Complimentary Pick-Up Service While Renting A Car
I rented the car from National at the La Isla shopping mall. There are other car rentals too like Alamo, Avis, Hertz, etc located at La Isla shopping mall. If you’re not staying close to La Isla shopping mall, don’t lose heart.
I noticed car rentals in other parts of the hotel zone as well.
Check with your hotel or check online to locate the nearest car rental from your resort. If there are none, you can still rent a car from La Isla shopping mall and choose public transport to get there.
Hotel Zone in Cancun boasts strong public transport with buses available throughout the day and night within an interval of a few minutes.
If public transport is not your cup of tea, some car rental companies offer complimentary pickup and drop-off from your resort.
Car Rental Tip #4: Keep your Passport While Picking Up The Rental Car
I would’ve saved at least an hour if I was aware of it. When booking the car through National, I’d provided my license information.
Neither did it ask anywhere to enter my passport info, nor it was mentioned in the rental confirmation email that I’ll have to carry my passport.
Since I was planning to kick start the day trip to Chichen Itza right after getting the rental car, I didn’t keep my passport thinking its too risky to carry it along the whole day. And then the worst nightmare came true.
The person at rental counter told me he can’t open the contract unless he sees my passport.
I went back to my resort, grabbed my passport, and came back only to find a long queue at the rental counter. More time wasted successfully!!! Save yourself from all these hassles and carry your passport while going to rent the car.
Car Rental Tip #5: Purchase Liability Insurance From Car Rental Agency in Mexico
I highly recommend getting Liability Insurance while renting a car in Mexico. Liability Insurance is required by law in Mexico.
Check with your insurance company in USA and car rental agency in Mexico if USA insurance would work. From what I’ve read online, I don’t think rental agencies in Mexico accept or honors auto insurance from the USA.
Therefore, for peace of mind, I highly recommend getting Liability Insurance from your car rental agency in Mexico. I took Liability Coverage on my rental from National at La Isla shopping mall.
I didn’t take Collision Damage though, as it is covered through my Citi credit card.
Car Rental Tip #6: Make a Cell Phone Video Of The Car Before Driving Off From The Rental Agency
At the time of handing me over the car keys, the rental guy was going over every minute detail in the car like scratches, bumps, spare tire, antenna (believe me!!), etc, which we easily overlook while renting a car in the United States.
Because of his ‘nit-pickiness’, I decided to make a video of the car in front of him in case he shows the same ‘over delicateness’ when I return the car. I recommend making a video of the car before driving off from the rental location.
Driving from Cancun to Chichen Itza
Take Toll Road 180D From Cancun To Chichen Itza
There are 2 roads from Cancun that leads you to Chichen Itza, 180 and 180D. One is a toll road (180D) with high speed limit and the other one is a free road (180) that passes through small Mexican towns. I highly recommend taking the toll road because of the following reasons:
- Its Faster: The speed limit, for the most part, is 110 Kms/hour which is much higher than the other road. Additionally, you will not encounter ‘topes‘ (speed bumpers) on the toll road which are abundantly available on the other road.
- Its Access Controlled: Meaning there are designated entry and exit ramps. If you’re used to driving on interstates in USA, this road will be a familiar experience. Well, mostly (barring few people/bicycles coming from opposite direction ;))
- Its Safe: The toll road is a 4 lane divided highway (2 lanes each way) and there is very light traffic on the toll road always, and therefore chances of getting into any type of collision is very low. Also, since you won’t have to pass through the heart of other towns, less chances of getting into any trouble.
Rest Area And Gas Station On The Toll Road Between Cancun And Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is around 215 kms from hotel zone in Cancun via the toll road and it takes around 2.25 hours.
Though it’s a long stretch of road, there is just 1 exit located between Cancun and Chichen Itza, and that exit is for Valladolid. The 2nd exit is the one you will get off the road for Chichen Itza.
There is 1 rest area too. In the rest area, you will find food, restrooms and gas. I highly recommend close monitoring of gas level in your car because of absence of gas stations on the toll road.
Toll Booths Between Cancun And Chichen Itza
On your way to Chichen Itza from Cancun, you will have to stop at 2 toll booths. The first one is located at a few kms away from the beginning of the toll road and it charges 285 pesos.
The other one is located just before the Chichen Itza exit and it charges 70 pesos. Both the toll booths are cash only and don’t accept credit cards. Make sure you have enough cash, in pesos, in hand for the round trip.
Over Speeding On The Toll Road
As I mentioned earlier, the speed limit on the toll road is 110 Kms/hour. Unfortunately, some people don’t find this speed limit high enough and over speed. On my way to Chichen Itza and back, I found at least 2 instances each way where the violators were pulled over by cops.
I am not sure what exactly happens to offenders, but I’ve heard many horror stories where they either have to go to the nearest police station or have to bribe cops.
Either way, it could be a time-consuming and frustrating experience. Therefore, I highly recommend driving within the speed limit.
Phone Network On The Toll Road
Most of the toll road is well marked and you won’t have any issues following your way to Chichen Itza. There is not much to follow anyway: just a couple of exits (Exit 1: Valladolid, Exit 2: Chichen Itza) and a rest area.
Just to be on the safer side though, I’d my cellular data roaming enabled in Mexico and I used Google Maps on my phone little bit, mostly while getting on and off the toll road. Though the toll road passes through remote areas/jungle, my phone always had network.
Best Time To Visit Chichen Itza From Cancun
It’s recommended to start the day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun early in the morning (around 7 or 8 AM) in order to beat the crowd and sun at Chichen Itza.
It’s also recommended to avoid toll roads after sunset as it’s not well-lit and it’s mostly empty. Therefore, plan to start your day trip early from Cancun so that you can return to Cancun around 7 or 8 even if you include Ik Kil and Valladolid to your trip.
Chichen Itza – Fast Facts and Recommendations
- Car parking is available at Chichen Itza and it costs 30 pesos.
- Entrance ticket costs around 285 pesos.
- Credit cards are accepted at the entrance. You will have to pay a nominal card processing fee though.
- Guides are available on site. They typically charge 700 pesos for the ‘highlight’ tour and 900 pesos for full tour.
- Chichen Itza entrance has ramps and it’s handicap accessible. The pavements are not paved in the complex though.
- Most tourist buses start arriving at Chichen Itza around 10:00 AM. I highly recommend visiting Chichen Itza early in the morning (around 9:00 AM -10 AM) to beat the crowds and sun.
- There is no drinks or food available once you enter the ticket-restricted area. Please come prepared with plenty of water and snacks.
- There is no proper shed available inside the ticket restricted area. Don’t forget to bring along your favorite shades and that cool hat. An umbrella would do too!
- There is a little bit of walking involved if you’re doing the full tour of Chichen Itza. So come prepared in those comfy shoes.
- I recommend spending at least 2 hours at Chichen Itza and then heading to Ik Kil cenote nearby for a cool swim.
Ik Kil Cenote – Fast Facts and Recommendations
- Ik Kil cenote is located just 6 Kms away from Chichen Itza. Directions can be found at Google Maps.
- Car parking is available for free at Ik Kil cenote.
- Entrance to Ik Kil costs 70 pesos.
- Changing rooms are available for both men and women.
- Outdoor showers are available so that you can wash off yourself before and after going to cenote. They won’t let you in if you haven’t taken the shower. Therefore, don’t forget to take shower there before you start climbing down those stairs to cenote.
- Lockers are available for rent at 30 pesos per locker. Cash only.
- Life jackets are available for rent at 30 pesos per person. Cash only.
- I highly recommend renting a life jacket. Water is around 160 ft deep and its not easy to swim in cenote even for good swimmers.
- Since it’s a water-related activity, don’t forget to keep your swimming trunk, towel, and water shoes.
Valladolid – Fast Facts and Recommendations
- Valladolid is a colonial town located in between Cancun and Chichen Itza.
- There are a couple of cenotes located in and around Valladolid, namely Cenote Ek Balam and Cenote Samula. However, since we went to Ik Kil Cenote, we didn’t go to any Valladolid cenotes on our day trip. You can expect these cenotes to be less crowded than Ik Kil cenote.
- Tourists flock to the town square (Parque Francisco Canton) to get small-town vibes in Mexico. There are colorful buildings, live music, small vendors and a few nice bars.
- I recommend visiting Valladolid town square towards the end of your day trip to Chichen Itza on your way back to Cancun ONLY if time permits.
Weather in Cancun in September (Labor Day weekend)
If you’re planning a trip to Cancun/Yucatan Peninsula in September, there are high chances your trip could be interrupted by storms. However, there is a silver lining.
Chances that Cancun will be hit by a hurricane during your trip in September/November is super low. Thanks to its ideal location on the peninsula. In fact, Cancun is been hit by only 2 major hurricanes in recent history. The last one was Hurricane Wilma way back in October 2005.
You should still be careful while planning your trip because though Cancun may not be hit by a hurricane, your connecting airport still could.
For instance, during our trip to Cancun in September 2017, Cancun was all clear but Houston was severely hit by hurricane Harvey which led to closing of Houston airport.
Therefore, be careful while choosing your connecting airports. It’s always a good idea to monitor the weather and purchase trip insurance.
No hurricane doesn’t mean any rains. You could still witness rain in September/October. In fact, we witnessed rain during our trip to Cancun over the Labor Day weekend. However, rain doesn’t last long and it gets sunny in a matter of minutes.
The chart below will give you a better idea of weather in Cancun in September.
Where did we stay in Cancun
We chose The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort for our stay in Cancun, and the choice we made didn’t disappoint even once. Here are a couple of reasons why we chose The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort in Cancun:
- Not an all-inclusive resort: This may come as a surprise, but we were NOT looking for an all-inclusive resort for our 3 days trip to Cancun. We knew we’d be going to Chichen Itza and Valladolid for one day.
We also knew we’d be eating at least 2 restaurants outside the resort for which we’d heard great reviews (more about those restaurants below).
In a nutshell, we had plans to spend a whole lot of time outside the resort, and therefore, it didn’t seem worth going for an all-inclusive resort.
- Location: The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort has the best location on the strip, and I am not talking about the location on the beach for the ocean view.
All resorts/hotels located on the Cancun strip have the same kind of beach/ocean view. It’s the location on the opposite side I am talking about. The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort is located right across the street from La Isla Mall.
La Isla Mall is a high-end mall on the Cancun strip, but it also houses a few car rentals and a couple of very good restaurants.
Since we had plans to drive to Chichen Itza, we chose to rent the car from La Isla mall, instead of the airport.
I can’t tell you how convenient it was to just cross the street on foot and rent a car.
The restaurants I was talking about are Thai Lounge and Elephanta in La Isla Mall.
Though these restaurants are not cheap, they offer a great view of the lagoon. I still cherish the dinner we’d at Thai Lounge in a private “hut” overlooking the lagoon while the sun was setting.