Private Chichen Itza Tour: Exploring Mayan Ruins with Kids

portrait view of chichen itza
Chichen Itza - El Castillo

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Collect Moments, Not Things is a motto that inspires our travel. If you are the same, your travel bucket list with your kids is likely to include the Seven Wonders of the World. An easy drive from popular resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Chichen Itza makes the perfect first stop!

Choosing a Private Chichen Itza Tour

Traveling through Peru with a private guide opened our eyes to the experiences you can have when you aren’t part of a large tour group.  The freedom to design your own trip can’t be underestimated. Having a local guide also creates opportunities for your family to learn about local culture and understand more than just what is in the tourist guides. If you have inquisitive young ones, a private tour is also ideal. It helps promote curiosity as your children have a chance to ask questions and learn about the world at their own pace.

Picking a Private Tour Company in Mexico

You should consider several things when choosing a private tour company. Starting with TripAdvisor is always a solid bet. You can read reviews, both good and bad. You will want to look for both quantity of reviews as well as the quality.

For the best trip, look for the following:

  • Private Tour – Read the fine print. Some tour companies call a “private tour” a bus full of your closest 30 friends. You will want to check and make sure it says you will have transportation and a dedicated guide for your party only.
  • Local Guides – Local guides are best suited to help you learn about the local culture and appreciate their history.
  • Ability to Customize – A private tour should be customizable. The tour company will likely have several example tours, but you should be able to add-on or make changes.
  • Not the cheapest rates – A real private tour will not be the cheapest price you can find. Think about what it would take to rent a car for a day and for a day’s salary to drive your family, provide a lunch, and all of the tickets to visit the ruins. As a rule of thumb, I would expect to pay around $600-700 for a full day tour for 4 people. The price per person should also go down as you add on more people.

Our Recommendation for a Mayan Ruins Tour – Living Dreams Mexico

After much research, we chose Living Dreams Mexico for our private tour of Chichen Itza. Using many of the criteria above, Living Dreams was the clear stand-out. Unique to other tour companies, it also promises a living wage to all of its tour operators meaning they can focus on providing the highest quality tours without have to maintain second or third jobs. They also allowed for customization of the tour to include:

  • Chichen Itza Guided Tour
  • Trip to a Cenote and Lunch
  • Guided Tour of Coba Ruins

Living Dreams picks you up at your resort, allowing you to set your own pickup time. You are provided with a private van, snacks, dedicated tour guide/driver, and all of the necessary tickets for each of your destinations.

Touring Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza, particularly the Pyramid of Kukulkan, became one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. It contains several different temples, pyramids, ball courts and other archeological sites. Also called El Castillo, the Pyramid of Kukulkan is the most famous and sits directly in front of the Museum entrance. If you’ve already completed Chichen Itza, make sure to check out the Great Wall of China with Kids too.

El Castillo : Pyramid of Kukulkan

Our tour guide, Jose, pointed out many of the features, including the feathered sergeant that appears on the stairs during the equinox. Jose even helped with our photos, showing us how to get some great perspective shots with the kids!

perspective shot touching the top of chichen itza

Make sure to grab this shot if you visit Chichen Itza!

Other Structures of Chichen Itza

If you are a shutter bug like me, then a local, private tour also affords you the ability to snap as many photos as you would like and get recommendations for the best shots. Jose guided us to the better areas, and we never felt rushed.

Chichen Itza has so many different areas, and having Jose with us to answer questions allowed the kids to really interact and become invested in the history. He was able to explain things in a way they can understand and create an opportunity for them to question and learn.

A normal tour would have ushered us on at it’s own timetable. A private tour allowed us to explore at our own page, even stopping to take pictures of the iguanas!

Crafts and Souvenirs

You also have the opportunity to explore local crafts throughout Chichen Itza. In order to sell inside the park, the vendors have to follow very strict guidelines so while they will try to lure you to their stand, they won’t be overly aggressive in their sales pitch. This is another place that having a local guide was helpful as they can help steer you to the bette quality souvenirs if you would like. We actually didn’t buy anything there but did admire the carvings and work put into creating some of the souvenirs.

What to Take With You to Chichen Itza

  • Prepare for the heat :
    • Sunscreen : It is extremely hot, especially if you are visiting during the summer. There is very little shade, so sunscreen is a must. My favorite sunscreen for the kids is from Babyganics. It’s mineral oil based, so it won’t burn little eyes if it runs into them.

    • Stay hydrated : This is another huge perk of a private tour with Living Dreams. They provide plenty of water as well as frozen towels when you get back in the car to cool down!
    • Light-weight Clothes : We actually work our bathing suits under our cloths (or as our clothes in the case of the boys!). We knew we were going to visit a cenote later and it helped us stay cooler. Other good options are dri-fit shirts. My favorite brand is Nike. They have been my go-to since my time touring Peru.

  • Carry a small bag:
    • Small bag to carry your phone, sunscreen, water bottle, and tickets. We were a big fan of our fanny pack / waist bag. It was the perfect size, and the kids even wanted to carry it. Our favorite one is the Moment Makers waist bag. Our red/white polka dot doubles as a favorite when we visit Walt Disney World as well.

  • Bring a Camera:
    • If you choose to bring a GoPro as well, be prepared to pay an extra fee.
    • We did bring our DSLR camera as well as our phones.

Cenotes Riviera Maya

One of the amazing, unique experiences you can have in the Yucatan for kids is a swim in a cenote! These water-filled sink holes are created when the ceiling collapses on an underground limestone cave. They were significant to the Maya as passages to the underworld. For this reason, our guide told us that you won’t see locals swimming in the cenotes no matter how hot it might be.

Lunch at the Cenote

Our tour included lunch and a swim in the cenote. The lunch buffet had a lot of variety and included several local dishes. Our kids learned about local drinks, including hibiscus water, tamarind water and horchata. We also enjoyed taking some pictures with Mayan warriors and the building itself had lovely architecture and courtyards.

mayan warriors at cenote

You can also strike a post with some Mayan warriors!

Swimming in a Cenote

After lunch, we headed to the cenote! You should be prepared to take a quick shower to remove all of your sunscreen (hence bringing extra with you!). Lifejackets were also required for everyone, regardless of swimming ability. This particular cenote had a diving platform and waterfall to enjoy. The Yucatan gets extremely hot and Chichen Itza has very few options for shade. A dip in a cenote before tackling your next adventure is a great idea!

cenote sinkhole made of limestone

Our first view of the cenote.

Coba Ruins Tour

Our experience at Coba was a complete surprise. I added it to the itinerary, because my daughter wanted to “climb a pyramid.” I did not anticipate how much we would love it, and I actually recommend it above Chichen Itza for total experience for kids.

When Chichen Itza became a UNESCO World Heritage site, the climbing ended. Coba’s Nohuch Mul structures, including Ixmoja, is actually the tallest in pre-Hispanic structure in the Yucatan. It stands at 138 feet, compared to 79 feet high for Chichen Itza (99 feet if you count the temple on top). What made this experience even more special, however, was the way you get to the Coba ruins. Located about 2 km into the Mayan jungle, you either rent bicycles to ride into the jungle or choose a bike taxi for a chauffeur ($2-4).  With two small children, we chose the bike taxi, and it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Riding to the Coba Ruins

The bike ride is largely shaded, which is also a nice relief from the glaring sun of Chichen Itza. The bike taxi drivers had a fun time racing each other with our kids egging them on. When you arrive at Nohuch Mul, it is amazing to see the structures rising out of the jungle. My daughter had such an amazing time with our guide that she insisted on riding back in a bike taxi with Jose, leaving us in the dust!

Climbing Ixmoja

Ixmoja is the biggest draw at the Coba Ruins. It is part of the Nohoch Mul structures, and the reason we also picked to visit. My daughter wanted to “climb a pyramid” and few The stairs to climb were very steep and slippery, being worn by the many visitors. You should be very cautious if you choose to make this climb. Everyone in our party, including our 5 year old daughter, was able to make it up but you should take time and care.

Another amazing perk to having a private tour guide was the extra help climbing the pyramid. Jose and my daughter plowed ahead of all of us on the climb up and down. Seeing her “climb her pyramid” was one of my major “mom moments”.

Our Tour guide showing my daughter the different ruins from atop Nohoch Mul.

Our Tour guide showing my daughter the different ruins from atop Nohoch Mul.

View from the Top of Ixmoja, Nohoch Mul

From the top of the the largest pyramid at Coba, you get an amazing view of the jungle surrounding these Mayan ruins. You can see other structures rising from the jungle. It truly is an amazing sight!

Panorama from top of Coba

Panorama from top of Coba

Coming Down Ixmoja, Nochoch Mul

Coming down the pyramid was much more treacherous than the climb up. Against the stone have been worn very smooth from the many climbers. I definitely recommend “scooting” down. I literally sat down and moved one step at a time.

Climbing Down Coba Ruins

Be careful on the way down Nohoch Mul!

La Iglesia at Coba

Like many of the other Mayan sites, Coba includes several different structures. We also enjoyed visiting La Iglesia. Even though you can’t climb it, it was still very impressive.

Local Yucatan Culture

A private tour brings you experiences that you just can’t get with a large group. On our way to Chichen Itza, my son and Jose discussed all of the animals you can find in Mexico after seeing the animal crossing bridges on the highway. We also stopped on the way back at a local fruit stand and enjoyed fresh dragon fruit and mango.

Eating Dragon Fruit in Yucatan

Stopped at a local fruit stand to enjoy some dragon fruit!

Summary

A local, private tour is the perfect way to explore Mayan ruins with kids. A traditional tour doesn’t allow them to ask questions until they understand, can be rushed, and doesn’t allow you to customize specifically for your family. To get the most out of your private Chichen Itza tour, follow these tips:

  1. Selecting a Tour Company
    1. Find a local tour company if possible. Local guides will know so much more about the area and can create some special moments, like a visit to a local fruit market.
    2. I recommend Living Dreams Mexico as their tours are private for your family alone, they pay their guides a living wage, and customer service is the top priority.
  2. Touring Chichen Itza
    1. With your private tour, enjoy touring Chichen Itza at your own pace.
    2. Prepare for the heat, carry a small bag, and don’t forget your camera to capture this Wonder of the World.
  3. Add some extras to your tour:
    1. Coba – I highly recommend adding the Coba Ruins on to your tour. If you are staying in Playa del Carmen, you can drive out to Chichen Itza and then hit Coba on the way back to the hotel. Coba is an amazing experience as is the ride through the jungle.
    2. Cenote – Add a mid-day swim in a cenote to keep you cool.
    3. Tulum – Tulum and Coba are about 40 minutes apart so it makes a wonderful addition to your trip as well.  For more on Tulum, check out The Riviera Maya and A Visit to Tulum.

 

 

 

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