Itours invted the Tulum Knows team to spend the day on their tour to Chichen Itzá. The tour included Pick up and transport from Tulum, a stop at Cenote Suytun, access to the Chichen Itza site with a guided tour, a quick stop in Valladolid along with lunch and drinks. Find out what we though below.
We arrived at the iTours meeting point a little before 9am. The itours team were very friendly and welcoming. Not just to us, but we could see a very friendly vibe between other staff and customers arriving at the same time. We were asked to wait in the waiting area, as the coach will depart in roughly 10 Mexican minutes (20 minutes at least). Which was totally fine, as the iTours meeting point offers two well sized and shaded palapa pagodas for guests to wait under. There is also a coffee and snack bar which offers a decent cup of coffee. Guests can also purchase headwear and other essential that they may have left in their hotel rooms.
We were given our wrist bands and tour stickers before catching the bus at around 9:25am. We had been invited on the Chichen Itzá Plus tour, which included food and drinks. So, we were also given a light breakfast when getting on the bus. Bear in mind, that there is only a $9 difference between the Chichen Itzá classic and the Chichen Itzá Plus. Personally, I didn’t hold out much hope for a high standard. But a couple of granola bars, a ham salad sandwich and a slightly under ripe banana wasn’t a bad start to the day.
The tour bus itself was operated by a company called Del Valle. We received a warm welcome on to the coach, which was very clean and already fairly full. We were the last pick up before heading out on the tour, so this was to be expected and there was still plenty of room. Good air conditioning though, which was the only thing I really wanted. Tulum is the last pick up on the tour route, which comes with the added bonus of being the first stop on the way home.
We were told the tour would be in English, which in some capacity it was. Now I put what I’m going to say down to the guide. I can’t speak for every tour guide operating on this tour. However, as a Brit that has lived in various international environments and is accustomed to having an ear for disjointed English. I have to say, listening to the guide was like listening some kind of 90’s listen and repeat language learning cassette tape that was being eaten by the cassette player. The tour was actually an English/Spanish speaking tour, that eventually split into language groups when arriving in Chichen Itzá, more on that later.
What the Guide had to say in Spanish sounded fairly interesting. He described Mayan culture and the Mayan numerical system. While passing around examples to the guests on the coach. He also tried to teach guests some Mayan words, which younger visitors seemed to love.
I don’t understand a great deal of Spanish, I have to admit. So, I was relying on the English as was my German partner. Sadly, it wasn’t comprehendible by us or any of the other non-Spanish speakers. We’d hear perfect Spanish then disjointed English, that can’t be described as sentences. It was literally just words like “Calendar, big, look up, medicine.” This annoyed me for two reasons:
- I genuinely wanted to know what he was talking about, it sounded really interesting!
- It was pretty irritating to listen to for a couple of hours before we made our first stop.
For sanity checks, I did ask a few other on the tour if it was me or if they also had also difficulty understanding the guide. I wasn’t alone by any means, so it wasn’t just my perception. I did approach the guide about this as soon as we stopped at our first stop. His response was “Yes, I know and I think everyone did understand. But you know some of the English I have to skip.” That wasn’t really a good enough response for me, so I politely explained that the people who were expecting an English-speaking tour couldn’t really understand him. He did say he would try harder to not skip, and in his defence, it did get slightly easier to understand him.
The first stop on the tour is about an hour from Tulum, at the mind blowingly beautiful Cenote Suytun. I’ve seen my share of Cenotes and this one truly is amazing. The hole in the roof of the cenote creates an amazing shaft of light that reflects back up to the ceiling. Check out some of our photos below.
We arrived at the cenote at around 12:15 am and were shown samples of local obsidian, which the locals make souvenirs etc. Guest then need to wait a further 30 minutes, before they are given their tickets to actually get into the cenote. I did feel like we were being herded to buy in the oversized gift shop for far too long. I get it, the guides and tour companies make good commissions from bringing in all the guests, but this was a bit too much.
We were eventually given the tickets to Cenote Suytun and told that we could go up to the cenote. There were locals by the gates offering photos to guests, again this was to encourage you to buy a self-embossed bottle of Mayan liquor on the bus.
The cenote is down a very steep staircase. I couldn’t imagine people with any sort of walking impairment or disability would be able to make the decent safely. The guide also didn’t inform guests that they would need to hire life vests in order to swim in the Cenote. My partner insisted that we would be able to swim without life vests, but sure enough, when we got down to the cenote. Staff were patrolling the sides telling people they needed life vests to swim (I do love being right). Life vests could be hired at a cost of 50 MXN at the top of the stairs, leading down to the cenote.
There is a manmade stone walkway that leads to a small stone stage in the middle of the Cenote. Locals are dressed in traditional tribal dress, dancing and playing music. Most importantly, they are there for guests to have their photo taken with, which of course comes at an extra charge.
I’ll be honest. This is an amazing Cenote, but it’s been far to commercialised and rammed to the stalactites with tourists. I don’t like full Cenotes at the best of times, but this was way too much. A beautiful Cenote, that would best be visited very early in the morning before the large tour groups arrive. I’m already planning to get up at 6am to get there for opening!
After 45 minutes in the Cenote, we were asked to meet at the front of the gift shop.
As I’ve already mentioned, we were on the Chichen Itzá Plus tour which included drinks for an extra $9 USD. As we got back to the bus slightly early. Are guide asked us if we would like a beer or soft drink. After being exposed to so many people in the Cenote, I was more than happy to take him up on his offer of a beer.
We then headed over to the canteen area for lunch. As the cost of the tour is only set at $69 USD, I wasn’t expecting a great selection. I have to admit, I was wrong, lunch was actually pretty damn good! An all you can eat self-service buffet which offers a wide selection for various pallets. We were also given drink tokens on arrival which were good for any two drinks each, alcoholic or not.
There are traditional dancers and entertainers that will try and encourage you to drink, by balancing bottles on their heads. Unsurprisingly, visitors are expected to tip the entertainment generously.
After lunch, we headed back to the coach and departed for Chichen Itzá, which was about another 45-minutes drive from Cenote Suytun. I was very grateful of that air conditioning when we got back on the bus.
Before arriving at the site, the guide explained that digital cameras were permitted on the site at no extra charge. However, any devices that recorded video such as GoPro/Video Camera, Drones etc. are subject to a tax. I was OK, with leaving my GoPro on the bus. To be honest my DSLR would record a much higher quality video than my GoPro. Also, phones aren’t subject to this video tax.
We arrived at the entrance and waited for around 10 minutes while the guide picked up our tickets. Once all guests had their tickets, we headed through the gate and were split into English and Spanish speaking groups. I think it was around 10 English speakers, to 25 – 30 Spanish speakers.
The lead guide, who I’d mentioned earlier actually had the better English of the two guides on tour, took the Spanish speaking group, and we were left with a very lovely, but incomprehensible local gentleman. I have visited the site previously, so I had a good understanding of what was what. The other guests did look very confused though.
As always Chichen Itzá was a wonder to behold. The large central lime stone Pyramid set against the jungle backdrop never gets old. We spent about two hours enjoying the site before heading back to the bus. If you would like to know more about Chicen Itzá, click here.
We departed Chichen Itzá at around 4:15 pm and headed for our final stop, Valladolid!
As we were on the Plus tour. Our guided asked us how much beer we would require on the way home. We were each given a litre, which was great, but sadly someone hadn’t been reading the instructions for the toilet on the coach and it was out of service from Chichen Itzá to Tulum. I did feel for the visitors that were being dropped off in Playa del Carmen…
The last stop on the tour is the small colonial city of Valladolid. For more information on Valladolid, click here.
Thankfully the coach stopped right outside some toilets, which are free for guests to use. I’d merrily swigged my litter of beer before realising the toilets were out of service, so this was an oasis in the desert.
Guests are able to hop off the coach for roughly 30 minutes. Which is just enough time to take some pictures of the square and central church. You’ll be approached by people selling all kinds of things. Personally, I recommend the Churros! Without a doubt the best I’d ever eaten.
We were then transported back to Tulum at the iTours office at around 7pm.
I can’t complain about the value for money here. This is a good day out for substantially less that other tours in the area which average from $90 USD – $150 USD and that isn’t usually a full day. I have been fairly critical of the guide’s English, mainly because this is sold as an English speaking tour. However, the guides were also very friendly and did try harder after we’d raised concerns.
We did feel that we were being constantly bombarded with offers to buy things. Which can be frustrating. If you can ignore the constant sales offers. Then this is an enjoyable experience and a good way to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world on a fairly small budget.