Tucked away on a jungle plain of the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the “New” 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza. For a cruise ship passenger, getting to a monument tucked away on a jungle plain is something of a problem – something to do with access I suppose. For all their striking advances in mathematics and architecture, you can fault the Mayans for the shortsightedness of building one of their most impressive complexes
so inconveniently far from what would become the region’s most popular cruise ship port. The way I see it, if you’re so bold as to predict the end of the world (strike 1), you should start by predicting your future source of revenue. Well, revenue until said world ends.
Regardless of the reasoning, this incongruity leaves the culturally-minded cruise ship passenger with a bit of a conundrum: How can you visit the greatest area attraction in the woefully inadequate amount of time spent in port? And even if such an option is available, would it be worth it? Let me give you the clearest answer possible to those questions: It depends.
Terms and Conditions
Allow me to further elaborate on my earlier point. Can a day trip to Chichen Itza be done as a shore excursion from Cozumel? Yes. Should it be done? Again, it depends.
To reach Chichen Itza from Cozumel requires more than the usual investment of time and money. First, guests will disembark at the bustling tourist dock on the island of Cozumel, where they will be quickly transferred to a fast ferry for the approximately 45 minute ride to Playa del Carmen on the Mexican mainland. From there, they will then be boarded onto a bus or van that will pass through the congested roads of the town and onto a straight highway through low-lying jungle for about two hours. Counting all the various transfers and regrouping, figure on at least 3 hours of travel ONE WAY, which unless you wind up being sacrificed atop the main pyramid, will then require you to take the same trip in reverse.
It is for this reason that I would very strongly suggest only booking such an excursion through the cruise ship. While I am notorious for going it alone when in port, considering the very stringent time constraints, you’re going to want to be sure that if there’s any holdup or delay the ship is going to wait for you. And while prices start at around $150 per person (check with your cruise line) it really isn’t all that bad a deal if you’re still insistent on making the trip.
Is it Worth it?
The pressing question now, is whether or not all that travel, hassle and money is worth it. Well, let’s see…I’d say it depends. Perhaps a little more information will help you make up your own mind.
The tour operator that Royal Caribbean teamed up with did a really nice job when I made this journey myself in February 2018. During the long ride out to the site, each couple was handed an iPad with photos and diagrams that our guide explained in detail so that we could make most of our limited time at the destination. He regaled us with lots of details on Mayan culture and history, but honestly the only thing that stuck in my brain is that the name Yucatan is actually derived from the Mayan term “you talk funny” uttered by the natives upon first contact with the arriving Europeans.
Sufficiently equipped with a knowledge of what we’d see and what to look for, most of us ate our very meager bag lunches (like, ham and cheese sandwiches you would have brought to school, only without the note from your mom) and marveled at the throngs of tourists flocking to this remote outpost in the jungle. While it’s hard to imagine so many people visiting the location on their land-based tours, it did confirm that we were about to witness something rather special.
Passing through the crowded visitor center, our guide took us down a long walkway lined with vendors, that in view of the time constraints, are best browsed on the way out. The main attraction was up ahead on an open field – El Castillo, the iconic pyramid that characterizes what is really an enormous complex of ruins. While our guide directed our attention to all the details I tuned out on the ride over, I went to town taking pictures, looking for unique angles and basically just absorbing the vibe of the place.
We did a somewhat hurried tour of the main attractions like the ball field and some impressive colonnades, but again, the main draw to non-Maya scholars is the scenery and the vibe. Cue the rolling boulder.
After about an hour of circling the basic tourist track (there’s a ton more to see if you have the time) we passed through the gauntlet of vendors, used the restrooms and were back in the van. Here’s where your own sense of math comes in: Is 6 hours of travel equal to or greater than 1 hour of sightseeing? The answer is, of course, it depends.
My Professional and Personal Opinions
So was it worth it to me? Professionally speaking, if my travel clients had never been to Mexico before, and weren’t tremendously interested in world heritage sites, I would not recommend this excursion. You can get a similar flavor by going to Tulum or other sites that don’t require such exertion and would still leave you time to shop for liquor on the way back. Personally, since I’ve been to Cozumel a few times, and had spent approximately 80% of my time there underwater (the diving is superb) I found that being able to see in person such a historic and iconic site with my own eyes was well worth the effort.
Now the important question is this: Is my professional or personal opinion the one you should trust? Come on people, you should really know the answer by now. But just in case you don’t, I would 100% absolutely without hesitation say: it depends.