Mexico Travel

Published on September 9th, 2013 | by Paz


Driving to Chichen Itza – Mexico

Road trips are actually are preferred travel method of course depending on distance. Renting a car or hopefully some day a jeep and driving down unknown roads, eating food in small towns, and taking in the sites are the best!! One day we hope to buy a jeep and  drive through Central America. Until then we are practicing with road trips in vehicles our children won’t fall out of. Driving to Chichen Itza on the ‘Calle Libre’ from Merida was a great decision and really easy. No matter how many times I have been in Mexico, the idea of driving in Mexico still makes me nervous.

Calle Libre basically means the free road, it is a road where you don’t have to pay the tolls which can be quite hefty in Mexico. Some tolls can be as much as $10 USD depending on where you are going. Although the tolls between Merida and Chichen Itza aren’t too expensive but who wants to travel on a boring highway when you can take the calle libre that passes through lots of little towns.

We had rented a car from Hertz in Fiesta Americana in Merida the day before we left for Chichen Itza. I don’t recommend doing this, and for our next car rental I am going to go through an online source such as Expedia, Kayak or Priceline. We ended up having to pay a lot for insurance and online you can see which cars quotes come with insurance and do a better comparison. I believe National had the best overall rate once insurance was included. Oh well, you live and you learn or you read a post like this one and don’t make the same mistake I did.

There was NO GPS at Hertz and even though we vowed to never drive internationally without a GPS after getting severely lost in Kuala Lumpur here we were again with NO GPS!!! Argh!


E-mail yourself a screen shot of your Google Map and open it before leaving wifi area. Your smart phone can open it after you have NO internet service.

driving to chichen itza

Driving, driving, driving

First step in driving to Chichen Itza

Get gas before you leave your city. Gas stations can be very far apart and who wants to be stranded in Mexico; not me. All gas stations are full service. Tell them how much you want in gas in pesos (200 pesos worth for example) I find that to be the easiest or have them fill it up. You can pay with cash or a debit/credit card. Lastly don’t forget to tip, an average tip can range from 4-10 pesos depending on what they do for you. They might check your oil, clean your windshield, or check your tires. You will want to tip accordingly.

A little lizard friend we saw from the car just walking on the side walk.

Second step in driving to Chichen Itza

Stop and get snacks for the ride. The easiest is to stop at the Oxxo or 7eleven before you leave town. We loaded up with water, chips, and of course some Mexican bread. I swear you can buy anything at a 7eleven they are life savers. I wish there were more in the states. At most of these bigger chains you can also use your debit/credit card if you want to save your cash. FYI you can’t use your debit/credit card at Chichen Itza so make sure you have enough.

driving to chichen itza

Zeek looks so serious here….maybe a tope was coming up.

Third step in driving to Chichen Itza

Drive slow through the towns. Don’t worry about the 10 cars behind you. They will pass you…for sure. Let them pass and enjoy your time peaking into each small village you drive through. We love looking at local homes, zocalos, shops, and even saying hi if appropriate. Yes we drove that slow through the towns. It was great! The kids rolled down their windows and sat on their knees so they could see and we played “I spy the burro”. Whom ever found the donkey won. In between each town we sped up, rolled up the windows, cranked the AC, and the kids had to sit down nicely again.

Driving through these small Mayan towns made us realize how much hasn’t changed in the Mayan homes in the last few hundred years. Imagine if you were still living like your ancestors hmmmm 400 years ago?

Driving to Chichen Itza

I tried my best to take pictures of homes as we drove by and I missed of beautiful ones, but hope you enjoy what I was able to capture. These pre-hispanic homes were built on low platforms and were built within a families plot. Each lot is enclosed in a low wall made of rocks. Our house in Merida’s wall is made the same way. Each families plot would include their hut, a well, a bathroom, a chicken coup, a garden and a rustic laundry room.

driving to chichen itza

Each house is just one room with rounded corners. This one above seems to be a concrete version. There would be no windows and one central door built to face east. You could also find a second hut that was used as a kitchen or a chicken coup.

If there is a traditional kitchen you will find women cooking on a grill set over three rocks. To turn the main room into a bedroom you hang the hammocks and you are done. Now that is what I call simple sleeping.

Each house or hut is made of vertical sticks tied together and then they can be plastered. We saw many houses that were NOT plastered. We wondered if this made airflow better or worse. The floor would be made of a gravel covered with white packed soil, or you might find wooden baseboards in a fancier home.

What I find amazing is that there are NO nails. Yup NO nails. The roof (palapa) is made from palm fronds. Everything is tied together accordingly with a tropical vine called aliana. The resourcefulness of the Mayan people humbles oneself. Sometimes I can’t complete a task if I don’t have the exact tool. Everything used for building a Mayan home is probably found 500 feet from where they are going to build. No trips to Home Depot here.

driving to chichen itza

Here is a dirt road leading off the main road we were on. It took some convincing to keep Zeek going straight and NOT venturing down this dirt road in our little sudan rental.

driving to Chichen Itza

There were also a few roadside restaurants open for business. This one below isn’t open yet but it looked like it could have been a good spot. The four of us can eat for about $8.00 USD and it is delicious!

Driving to Chichen Itza

Along the route there were also a lot of cenotes. We passed at least seven signs for cenotes however we wanted to get to Chichen Itza and didn’t check any of them out. There are cenotes at Chichen Itza too that you can enjoy.

Oh and of course we ate! While stopping and getting some yummy food we saw this incredible old church on our way to the bathroom, which was of course across the highway, down the street, and to the left. Going to the bathroom is never easy, but we did get to see this great church.

Like any girl Lupita had to make sure she got her pose in…oh well…okay here it is. We might have to do something about this hip shot.

A road trip to Chichen Itza is a must! Make sure to take the calle libre!


About the Author

Paz is an avid adventurer in life and food. Traveling across the globe with her family they enjoy cultural immersion and checking out the local eateries.

7 Responses to Driving to Chichen Itza – Mexico

  1. If you found a gas station that took cards, count yourself lucky! Only the newest stations accept cards, so we always had to have cash on hand!

    Those homes are amaaaazing! You got some great photos!

    • Paz says:

      I thought so too. I never remember gas stations taking debit cards…but we had two that did. I agree having cash in Mexico is a must. I have found a few ATMs that will let me take up to 5,000 MXN out at one time too, but I have had to search for them a bit. We get a fee every time we take money out so I try to take as much as our budget will allow so I don’t have to pay that awful fee every time. Thanks! I am glad you like the pictures. I totally wanted to go walk inside some of them. 🙂

  2. Angela White says:

    My mouth was watering just thinking about all the yummy food in Mexico!

  3. Maria says:

    I like the tip on the WiFi and emailing screen shots of Google Maps to yourself. Brilliant!

  4. Pingback: Visiting Chichen Itza with kids - International Cravings

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