Comparison Tulum vs Chichen Itza – While Chichen Itza has more to offer with its world-class ruins, Tulum has an edge with its Caribbean-overlooking ruins. Both Chichen Itza and Tulum are worth the visit, with their own unique charms. Let’s compare them and help you decide the better trip to make.
Related Travel Guides – Tulum vs Chichen Itza
Comparing Tulum vs Chichen Itza
If you can’t miss a wonder of the new world, Chichen Itza is the far better choice while Tulum is better for a unique perspective of the Mayan ruins, with its ruin fortresses overlooking incredible Caribbean beaches.
Chichen Itza is a much larger archaeological site, with many more structures and ruins to explore, such as the Temple of Kukulkan, The Great Ball Court, The Temple of the Warriors, The Observatory, The Sacred Cenote, The Temple of the Jaguar and The Temple of the Bearded Man.
These ruins are considered among the most significant and impressive Mayan ruins in the world, known for their size, architectural design, and advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge used in their construction.
On the other hand, Tulum is a relatively small archaeological site, but it offers a unique setting, with its well-preserved coastal fortress and beautiful beaches. The main attraction in Tulum is the Tulum archaeological site, which includes several impressive structures such as the Temple of the Frescoes, the Temple of the Descending God, and the Castle. These ruins are well-preserved, and they offer a glimpse into the history, culture, and religious practices of the ancient Mayans.
Overall, while Chichen Itza has more extensive and impressive ruins, Tulum’s ruins are unique in their setting and offer a different perspective on Mayan history and culture. It ultimately depends on your personal interests and the time you have available. If you have time and can squeeze in both into your itinerary, we definitely suggest seeing both Tulum and Chichen Itza!
Where to Stay
A total of $20 USD would be the range of your budget for accommodation. There are hotels mid-budget for $50-70 USD and you can find luxury accommodations starting from $120 USD.
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How to Decide Which One is Better Between Chichen Itza vs Tulum
Interests – Are you more into history and culture versus beaches? (Chichen Itza vs Tulum)
Chichen Itza is an ancient Mayan city, and it is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The site is known for its large pyramid, the Temple of Kukulkan (El Castillo), as well as other impressive structures such as the Great Ball Court, making it a must-see destination for history and archaeology enthusiasts. Tulum, on the other hand, is a smaller and less crowded site, with a focus on the coastal fortress, and is known for its beautiful beaches and cenotes (natural swimming holes) nearby. It’s a great destination for beach and nature lovers who want to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Crowds – Are you okay with being too crowdy or do you prefer fewer people?
Chichen Itza is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico, and it can get very crowded, especially during peak travel seasons. Tulum is also a popular destination, but it is generally less crowded than Chichen Itza, making it a better option for those who prefer a more relaxed atmosphere and avoid large crowds.
Accommodations – Do you care about luxury and/or eco and sustainable accommodation?
Tulum is more developed as a tourist destination than Chichen Itza and therefore has a wider range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly to luxury. Tulum has many hotels and resorts, vacation rentals, and other options. Chichen Itza has limited options, but there are some hotels and resorts located near the site, and some camping and RV parks nearby for those who prefer a more rustic or outdoor experience.
Nature and scenery – Cenotes and Ruins of Chichen Itza or Beaches of Tulum
Tulum is located on the Caribbean coast and is surrounded by lush jungles and the Caribbean sea. The beaches in Tulum are known for their clear, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. Chichen Itza on the other hand is located in a more dry and arid region, but it’s still surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes, and the proximity of cenotes and other natural swimming holes make it a great destination for nature lovers as well.
Activities – More Top Things To Do in Tulum vs Chichen Itza
Both Tulum and Chichen Itza offer a variety of activities, but the activities vary depending on the destination. Tulum offers swimming, snorkeling, and beach activities, as well as visiting the nearby cenotes and the Tulum archaeological site. Chichen Itza offers to explore the ruins and history, attend the sound and light show, visit the cenote and nearby towns for a cultural experience, and visit other nearby Mayan sites such as Uxmal and Ek Balam.
Top Mayan Ruins to See in Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is an ancient Mayan city located in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and it is considered one of the most important Mayan cities of the Classic Period. The site is known for its impressive pyramids, temples, and other architectural structures, and it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Some of the most notable ruins at Chichen Itza include:
Temple of Kukulkan (El Castillo) – Chichen Itza vs Tulum
This is the most famous and iconic structure at Chichen Itza, also known as the Pyramid of Kukulkan. It’s a large pyramid that stands 30 meters (98 feet) tall and is adorned with 365 steps, one for each day of the year, it’s considered one of the most important architectural and astronomical structures of the ancient Mayans.
The Great Ball Court
This is the largest ball court in Mesoamerica, measuring 168 x 70 meters (551 x 230 feet). The ball game was an important part of Mayan culture, and this court was used for ceremonial and religious rituals, as well as for entertainment.
The Temple of the Warriors
This is a large complex located at the northern end of the Great Ball Court, it’s adorned with columns and statues of warriors, and it was used for religious rituals and ceremonies.
The Observatory / El Caracol
This is a small structure located near the Temple of Kukulkan, it’s known for its precise astronomical alignments, and it’s believed to have been used as an observatory for astronomical observations and to track the movements of the sun, moon, and stars.
The Sacred Cenote
This is a natural swimming hole located on the northern side of the site, it was considered sacred by the Mayans and was used for ceremonial purposes. It’s a great spot for swimming and snorkeling.
The Temple of the Jaguar
This is a small temple located on the southern side of the site, it’s adorned with carvings of jaguars and it was used for religious rituals and ceremonies.
The Temple of the Bearded Man / Templo del Hombre Barbado /Temple of the Mask
This is a small temple located on the southern side of the Chichen Itza archaeological site. The temple is known for its intricate carvings and sculptures, and it is believed to have been dedicated to the god Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility.
The temple is adorned with carvings of Tlaloc, including the central figure of a bearded man, which gives the temple its name. The carvings and sculptures on the temple are well-preserved and depict various scenes of the Mayan gods and goddesses, as well as scenes of everyday life.
The temple is also known for its unique architectural features, such as the corbelled roof and the use of the talud-tablero architectural style, which is characteristic of Mayan architecture.
It’s worth noting that the temple is located close to the Sacred Cenote, and it is believed that the two were connected in the religious practices of the Mayans, with the cenote used for sacrifices and rituals, and the temple used for ceremonies and offerings.
Some other notable ruins at the site include the Platform of Venus, the Columns Group, the Nunnery, and the Thousand Columns Group. The site is so large and it’s also important to note that much of the site remains unexcavated and it’s still a subject of ongoing research.
Top Mayan Ruins to See in Tulum – Tulum vs Chichen Itza
Tulum is an ancient Mayan city located on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, and it is known for its well-preserved coastal fortress and beautiful beaches. Some of the most notable ruins at Tulum include:
Tulum Archaeological Site
This is the main attraction of Tulum, it’s a well-preserved ancient Mayan city that sits on a high cliff overlooking the Caribbean sea. The site is surrounded by a large wall, and it includes several impressive structures such as the Temple of the Frescoes, the Temple of the Descending God, and the Castle.
The Temple of the Frescoes
This is a small temple located at the highest point of the site, it’s known for its well-preserved frescoes and it’s believed to have been used for religious ceremonies.
The Temple of the Descending God
This is a small temple located at the southern end of the site, it’s known for its unique carvings of the Descending God, a deity associated with the underworld and death.
The Castle / El Castillo
This is the largest structure at the site, it’s located at the northern end of the site and it’s believed to have been used as a fortress and a watchtower.
The Temple of the God of the Wind
This is a small temple located at the eastern side of the site, it’s known for its carvings of the God of the Wind, a deity associated with the winds and storms.
The Temple of the Initial Series
This is a small temple located at the western side of the site, it’s known for its carvings of the Initial Series, a calendar system used by the ancient Mayans.
The Temple of the Sun
This is a small temple located at the southern side of the site, it’s believed to have been used for observing the sun and tracking the solar calendar.
Tulum does have more ruins and temples that you can explore, although they may be smaller or less well-preserved than the main structures listed above. Some other notable ruins at the site include the House of the Columns, the House of the Chultuns, the Temple of the Ancestors, the Temple of the Painting, and the Temple of the Descending God.
What Makes Tulum Unique
Tulum is one of the only Mayan sites that is located on the coast, and the ancient city was built as a fortress to protect the coast from invaders. The site is surrounded by a large wall, and it offers a unique perspective on the defensive strategies used by the ancient Mayans.
Tulum is located on a high cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, it offers a beautiful panoramic view of the sea and the surrounding jungle, adding to the overall experience of visiting the site.
Combination of History and Nature
Tulum offers a unique combination of history and nature, as visitors can explore the ancient ruins and learn about the history, culture, and religious practices of the ancient Mayans, and then enjoy the beautiful beaches and the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Access to cenotes and other activities
Tulum is surrounded by many cenotes, which are natural sinkholes filled with crystal-clear water. Visiting these cenotes is a popular activity in Tulum, and it’s a great way to cool off and escape the heat. The area also offers other activities such as snorkeling, diving, and swimming with sea turtles.
Relaxation and tranquility: Tulum is a popular destination for those looking for a relaxing and tranquil vacation. The combination of history, nature and the Caribbean sea makes Tulum a unique and peaceful destination.
Tulum Beaches and Cenotes
Public Beaches in Tulum – Chichen Itza vs Tulum
Playa Paraiso directly translated to Paradise Beach is one of Tulum’s most stunning beaches as it sits in the Caribbean sea. It is known as one of the world’s most popular beaches.
Here you’ll see the National Park of Tulum and the archeological zone. Playa Paraiso is also an open and public beach. It’s a good beach for lounging around and gentle for family visits as well, with swimming and activities available.
Mayan Beach / Playa Ruinas
Just from its name, the Mayan Beach in Tulum overlooks the famous Mayan Ruins. This definitely gives you a bit of a balance of having a beach area, and having a look at the ruins too, and of course you can tour the Mayan Ruins being in closer proximity to it.
A part of Playa Paraiso, Playa Pescadores is another open and free the public beach of Tulum and one of the most beautiful as well. You can hire boats from this part of the beach to do tours in Tulum, but make sure that you book with reputable boat or tour companies as some are known to be unfriendly and aggressive.
Playa Santa Fe
About 10 minute walk from the ruins, Playa Santa Fe is another beach you can spend time in if you want to be close to the Mayan ruins. Another beautiful public beach as well.
Playa Boca Paila / Playa El Canto
One of the hidden gems of Tulum, Playa Boca Paila, called Playa El Canto by locals, is located by the entrance of the National Park and Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an.
Private Beaches / Beach Clubs in Tulum – Chichen Itza vs Tulum
Ziggy is a beach club hotel in Tulum, and one of the more luxurious and popular attractions of the area. You can have lounge areas here, and you’ll have access to their bar and restaurant. It’s one of the more expensive areas to stay in as Ziggy is considered high end compared to all the places around Tulum.
Caleta Tankha Beach
Caleta Tankah Beach is another of Tulum’s private beaches, costing around 100 Mexican pesos to enter. Beach clubs are good options if you want a little more “privacy” in that it’s not immediately open to everyone unless you pay, but still not the most expensive private beach in Tulum.
More Top Things to Do and See in Tulum
Coba Mayan Ruins
The Mayan Coba Ruins are one of the most important parts of the Mayan Ruins or Tulum Ruins, about 28 miles or 47 kilometers inland from the Caribbean coastline. To access this part of the ruins, you’ll take a short drive from Tulum or Valladolid. This is one of the most frequented Mayan ruins in Tulum, so if you want to explore this part of Tulum’s beauty, take time to visit the ruins.
El Centro (Tulum Pueblo)
The Central city of Tulum, El Centro is the place to visit when you want to get away from beaches for a bit, and of course, see its local life – local restaurants and good food (Mexico is very popular for this of course), and try other activities in the town without being in the beach and the beach clubs.
Sian Ka’a Biosphere
Sian Kaʼan Biosphere Reserve is a biosphere reserve in the municipality of Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It was established in 1986 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. “Sian Ka’an” means “gate of heaven” or “a place where heaven begins
Dos Ojos Cenote / Two Eyes Cenote
If you want the option to swim, free dive, and dive while being in one of Tulum’s picturesque cenotes, visit the Dos Ojos or Two Eyes Cenote.
Cenote Calavera / Skull Cenote
Another of Tulum’s Instagram worthy cenotes, is the Cenote Calavera. Be careful as guides here may not be watching you as you swim but there are a lot of people in the area because of its popularity. Prices can be high too.
Big Cenote / Gran Cenote
Gran Cenote or the Big Cenote is the most popular Cenote and is very touristy in Tulum. It’s on the way to Coba, so make sure you plan properly if you want to swim and take pictures here.
Cenotes Casa Tortuga
Cenotes Casa Tortuga in Tulum is not only a place in the middle of the jungle of Tulum that you can stay in, you also have access to 4 beautiful cenotes on the property when you stay here.
Instagrammer Popular Areas in Tulum
Ven a la Luz at Ahau Tulum Beach
This artwork is arguably one of the top Instagrammer worthy photos in Tulum and it’s an artwork in the Ahau Tulum Beach Resort. It’s a beautiful sculpture on its own, and definitely an easy spot to recognize to mark your visit in Tulum
Hard to miss the most Instagrammer worthy photo in Tulum, which is the Cenote Suytun. Okay, Instagram shows it as part of Tulum, but it’s an hour and a half drive away. If you’re staying or visiting Valladolid, it might be more reasonable to do it from there, as it’s only a 15-minute drive away. You can also do tours and cenote visits around here, as Cenote Oxman is near Cenote Suytun, an easy trip to do together.
Final Thoughts on Chichen Itza vs Tulum
This was a hard choice for us, Tulum vs Chichen Itza. While Tulum is incredibly beautiful with its Caribbean beaches and is much smaller if it is the ruins you want to experience, you can’t compare Chichen Itza anywhere in the world, and definitely the right choice.
This must be a first – but we choose both! If you can, try to squeeze both Chichen Itza and Tulum into your Yucatan itinerary, and you won’t be disappointed. Either way, you’ll have an incredible trip.
Tell us what you decide to do in the comments and we wish you the best in your Yucatan ruins adventure!
About the Author: Ruben, co-founder of Gamintraveler.com since 2014, is a seasoned traveler from Spain who has explored over 100 countries since 2009. Known for his extensive travel adventures across South America, Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Africa, Ruben combines his passion for adventurous yet sustainable living with his love for cycling, highlighted by his remarkable 5-month bicycle journey from Spain to Norway. He currently resides in Spain, where he continues to share his travel experiences alongside his partner, Rachel, and their son, Han.