Chichen-Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it was voted as one of the New7Wonders of the World in 2007. As such, it is very popular and receives a minimum of 3,500 visitors every day with busy days over 8,000. Most come by bus from the Riviera Maya (Cancun and Playa del Carmen).
Bus trips are available from Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum as well as the city of Merida. The trip takes a bit over two hours each way so the tour will take most of your day. Each usually includes stops at a nearby cenote, most commonly Ik Kil or those in Dzitnup. I highly recommend visiting these or any cenote you can, and you can find my list of favorite cenotes along with detailed descriptions here.
My preferred way to see Chichen-Itza is by car, with an overnight stay the night before. By doing this, you beat most of the rush of tourists coming by bus from the Mexican Riviera. I would recommend making it a multi-day visit to take in more of the amazing Maya Ruins in the area as well as some cenotes.
Mexico has a nice limited access highway similar to an interstate going from Cancun to Merida with nearby access to Chichen-Itza. Many other sites are near this route. The drive from Cancun is 200km and takes about 2 hours. The main artery is toll road (Cuota) 180d which has a toll of about $25 each way. Keep your receipt because it may save you a fine if you have an accident and damage the road in any way (the toll is insurance against this). There are also free roads (Libre) like highway 180 that make the trip, but they will take longer as they travel through small towns that feature particularly rough speed bumps (topes).
Entrance to Chichen Itza itself is 232 pesos ($13) at the time of this writing. Fees to all ruins seems to be rising quickly so this may change soon. Bring plenty of water along, although you can buy it there without overpaying too badly. There is food and other refreshments available there as well.
We stayed in the nearby town of Piste at the Hotel Chichen Itza. It was basically a nice motel, with pretty good architecture and a decent restaurant on site. I thought the price was very reasonable (~$50). Here are other resorts nearby if you want to spend more for a nicer experience.
Since climbing the pyramids or steps on any structures in Chichen Itza has been disallowed since an American woman died falling down El Castillo in 2006, you need to only be concerned about walking on level ground. Chichen Itza is a big site, much bigger in geography than any of the other Maya sites I have visited, so be prepared to casually walk a couple of miles during your visit. There is little in the way of pavement, but only close-cut grass or dirt. Be wary of the heat – it can get very hot in the Yucatan any time of year, but it is at its worst during the busy summer months. Take plenty of water, use sun screen and wear a hat.
There are a few local merchants selling various touristy stuff scattered about the grounds. Mostly it is the usual fair, with items likely made in China more than anywhere else. Mexican Pesos or $US are equally accepted – be sure to know the exchange rate at the time of your trip to ease any purchases. These vendors expect to be bartered with, so feel free to work out a better price if you feel so inclined.
Many other Maya ruin sites are in the Yucatan, and most allow you to climb upon the buildings or go inside of them. To see my list of the favorite ones I have visited, go here.
To read about our trip to Chichen-Itza, go here.
You can see a gallery of pictures from our trip here.