Chichén Itzá is a much larger complex and a much longer ride to and from. Tulum is smaller, on the sea, and closer, but the ruins are in worse condition and the crowds are very intense (they are more spread out at CI). CI will typically be more expensive for tours, but often includes a stop in valladolid and a cenote and will take up an entire day. Tulum will typically be cheaper but can also be bundled with a cenote stop and be completed in 1/2 to 3/4 of a day. Both are beautiful sites so it just depends on your budget and what you want to experience.Edited: 02 August 2018, 10:16
Both are great. But CI is excellent and definitely a must do for first time visitors to the Yucatán. Lots to see there other than the trademark El Castillo that you see in pictures.
Tulum is a much much smaller site and can be navigated in under an hour. You can do both in one trip but if I had to choose one CI all the way.
Cenote ik kil is excellent but very touristy. I recommend it for a nice swim. Valladolid is a excellent small town in the Yucatán as well.Edited: 02 August 2018, 11:36
Thank you for your info. Seems like Chichen Itza is a must, we will go for it, I was just wondering if we go to three places in one day, it will take 12-13 hours, do you have any suggestions on tour organizer? I see some reviews, most people say good, and few complained about long hour and dirty bus, so just want to get some good advise.
Chichen Itza gets all the hype but my favorites are Coba and Ek Balam. Great sites that can be enjoyed without the tourist mobs and mobs of vendors. I am no cenote expert but would avoid ik kil which a friend called the Disneyworld of cenotes and I agree.
Depending on the number of folks in your group you might consider a private tour...The earlier you can get to CI the better...ie right when it opens.
I even stayed the night before my visit in the inn across the street and then walked over. I was able to see much of the site before the larger tour buses arrived. CI at 8am is a very different experience than CI at 11am.
Whenever I see questions that ask "which is better?" I want to get snarky and ask "which is better, dogs or cats? Which is better, steak or ice cream?" There is no one "better" because it depends on what you are looking for. But the OP is sincere so I will try and be less snarky.
If you are at all into history or archaeology, Chichen Itza is a "do not miss" experience. Not for nothing is it considered one of the seven new wonders of the world.
But . . . it is hot and a long trip from Cancun or Playa. If you are traveling with children or elderly folks and are concerned about that and just want to be able to say you have seen Maya ruins, certainly Tulum is much more convenient. It is also beautiful given its setting but the ruins themselves do not compare with Chichen.
I understand why people might want to take a guided tour but I recommend renting a car and going to Chichen on your own. We have done both. The first time we went in a large bus, got there mid-afternoon and it was extremely hot. My wife almost fainted but because we were with a large group there was not much to be done other than have her sit in the shade of a tree. And of course there was a cenote stop after so all we could do was sit in the bus while the others went to the cenote.
Our second visit we rented a car and got there at 8 a.m. when it opens. Much less hot, much less crowded, and having your own car leaves you free to spend as much or as little time as you wish and adjust your day as you please.
It has been a while for me and, as I mentioned, I stayed close by (and used ADO)...I have read there are 2nd class buses but don't speak enough Spanish to locate a website that can give schedules. :)
I did look up Canada Transfers and depending on your hotel location and budget, their price for a private trip similar to yours is $380 US total. For what would probably be a 10-12 hour day that is pretty reasonable to me. The benefit of a private tour is leaving early at the time you want, staying how long you want and, if exhausted and want to skip something, you can go back to Cancun on your timetable.
If at an AI, I would also ask the concierge if they will arrange a breakfast basket for you so you can leave early but not have to eat even earlier.