Chichen Itza, the famed wonder of the world and the most well-known of the ancient sites in the Yucatan, is about a three hour drive from Playa del Carmen.
Restoration work being performed on the main pyramid
It is possible to do in a day trip, but it makes for a very long day. Tours are available from Playa, but I think if you are going to do it, do it on a multi-day trip or rent a car and drive yourself.
Renting a car means you can leave before dawn and make it to the entrance before the tour buses arrive, which is what we did on our first and only visit.
Vendors setting up…
I can definitely vouch for arriving early, especially in the summer months. Chichen Itza doesn’t have a lot of shade around the main areas of interest, such as the iconic Kukulkan pyramid (known as ‘El Castillo’) and the impressive ancient ball court.
Bring lots of water, a hat or even an umbrella to provide some relief from the sun.
There are two tickets required for entry, paid at two separate booths, which can be a little confusing. One is the entry ticket, a mere 60 Pesos or so ($5), and the second is a tax which is 125 pesos per person ($10).
Due to the distance from Playa del Carmen, the cost to get there (and get in) and the fact that it is almost always overrun with tourists and souvenir-selling touts, I hesitate to recommend the site as a ‘must see’. But if you have the time and the means, it is quite impressive.
Unfortunately (for us) you can’t climb the main pyramid, but it is beautifully preserved thanks to this.
Though I haven’t been myself, apparently the cenote Ik Kil just outside the town of Piste is beautiful.
Note: If you are driving, the ‘Cuota’ highway has a hefty toll of around US$25. The ‘Libre’ is a free road, and is more scenic, though it may take slightly longer.