The Many Problems With Taking Tren Maya to Chichén Itzá

Spoiler alert: the trip was not as seamless as promotional materials would have you believe. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Having experienced the entire Tren Maya route already and knowing that it was a mixed bag, I decided to get at it yet again and experience travel to Chichén Itzá — this time by rail. 

Tren Maya booking website, when it is working at all seems to add a considerable surcharge to the price of tickets, which does not matter anyway as the checkout process does not work. Photo: Courtesy

This first step was to buy my ticket, which was a pain. Although tickets can be purchased online in theory, in reality, the website (if active) will crash at checkout. In Mérida, at least, the only way to get tickets is to physically go to either the Teya-Mérida station or Nia Tower in the north of the city.

For this trip, I departed from Mérida’s Teya station, but the experience would be mostly the same if you were to depart from Cancun, as the distance is almost identical. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

It is also important to remember that booking tickets over one week before departure is currently impossible, as prices and timetables are constantly changing. 

The current cost structure for the Tren Maya varies depending on your place of residence, with international being the most expensive, followed by national and local (as defined by people living in Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo). Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The next step was to get to the Mérida-Teya train station, a misnomer because it’s in the municipality of Kanasín. This leg of the trip was easy, as the IE-Tram electric bus departing from La Plancha Park is punctual, fast, and comfortable. Sure enough, the IE-Tram departed right on time at 7:30 a.m. and had me at Mérida-Teya well before 8 a.m., a little more than an hour before my train was set to depart at 9:06 a.m.

Getting to the Mérida-Teya station on the IE-Tram is the way to go, as it is even faster than taking a taxi from Centro, thanks to its own dedicated lane. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Of all the Tren Maya stations I have visited, the one at Teya is the best organized, most complete, and comfortable. The bathrooms are clean, and there are plenty of shops and tiny restaurants where you can pick up snacks. But when it came to getting through security, the hiccups began.  Over a megaphone, passengers were informed that outside food and drink were prohibited on the train. This had not been the case in my previous experiences on the train, so I gobbled down as much of my sandwich as possible and hid my protein bar in my waistband. Buying the food on board was not an experience I wanted to repeat. 

The food and snacks aboard the Tren Maya leave much to be desired unless chips and microwaved ham and cheese sandwiches scorching on the outside and cold on the inside are to your liking. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Already annoyed by this new rule, I sneakily ate my protein bar, hoping not to be told off by the National Guard, which operates the Tren Maya. But as the Tren Maya began to pull out of the station (10 minutes late), I reminded myself of how cool it was that I was about to travel to Chichén Itzá by train — something I never thought I would experience.

Like on previous trips, international tourists were nowhere to be seen on the Tren Maya, though on this occasion, the train was much more full, at least in the tourist-class cars. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

As the train got going, it hit a top speed of 143 kph or nearly 90 mph. But these high speeds needed to be more consistent, as the train often slowed down to under a quarter of that on sections of the track that were still under construction. At the very first station in Tixkokob, just 20 or so minutes into the trip, the train came to a halt for 15 minutes to let another train pass, as at least for the time being, only one set of track is functional — which means that if one train is delayed, all trains get delayed.

There has been no comment on when the Tren Maya’s second set of rails will be working, but given that most efforts are focused on finishing routes that are still not operational, don’t hold your breath. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The rest of the trip was uneventful, though the train’s speeding up and slowing down was a constant. The train arrived at Chichén Itzá station at 10:48, just over 10 minutes from our scheduled arrival time. The rest of the passengers and I hopped off expecting to be in front of Chichén Itzá’s world-famous Pyramid of Kukulcán within minutes, but that was not the case. 

The Chichén Itzá Train Maya Station is functional, but it is not finished. Dozens of workers are still wrapping up the construction of large sections. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The first major hiccup came when passengers realized they would have to pay 50 pesos to take a bus to Chichén Itzá. Several folks looked around, confused. They could see signs saying they were already in Chichén Itzá, but they had no option other than to fork over the money.

The transfer kiosk at the Tren Maya station is managed by a single person. It only accepts exact change; it does not accept credit or debit cards. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The surprise of having to pay for a transfer was bad enough. But the fact that the bus took just over one hour to get to Chichén Itzá was infuriating. This delay was not due to the ride being especially long, which only took about 20 minutes, but rather the fact that the ticket had to be paid in exact change and that no credit or debit cards were accepted. 

By the time I was able to get into Chichén Itzá, it was past 12:20 p.m. The site was packed with tourists, the sun was blistering, and the temperature was 37 degrees Celsius, nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

To get the most out of Chichén Itzá, it is a good idea to be there as early as possible, as the heat and number of tourists start to get intense by 11 a.m. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

After looking around at the site for a few minutes (as I have been to it countless times), I made my way out to check out the new Gran Museo de Chichén Itzá. At the information kiosk at Chichén Itzá, I was given conflicting information. Some employees said it was not yet open to the public, and others said it was, but there was no transportation there, so that a several-mile walk would be necessary. I was able to hail a cab in the nearby town of Pisté, but the driver said he could get me there only part of the way for 70 pesos, as taxis are not allowed into the area, or the train station for that matter. 

We will post more on this leg of the adventure on Monday.

The artifacts on exhibit at the Gran Museo de Chichén Itzá were all found at the site and include recent finds from recent excavations. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The verdict

So, is it worth it for an average visitor to take the Tren Maya to Chichén Itzá? No, at least for now. The journey took nearly twice as long as it would have by bus, which delivers travelers right to the entrance to the famous archaeological site. 

Many of the trip participants murmured about preferring to find a hotel room and visit the site the next day, which honestly was not a terrible idea. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The main issue with the Chichén Itzá Tren Maya station is that, well, it is not in Chichén Itzá. After all, having to wait almost an hour to take a bus to get to the site negates the entire point. Hopefully, these issues will be fine-tuned and work more smoothly in the future, but the fact that the Chichén Itzá station is considered officially open for business likely has more to do with it being an election year than reality. 

Another thing to remember is that there are currently only two daily departures to Chichén Itzá from Mérida and Cancún, so unless you are staying the night, you will have to take a bus back. This would not have been such a big deal if the ADO Station in Pisté was still open, but this is not the case. All first-class buses now leave from Chichén Itzá and tend to sell out fast, so book your return as soon as you arrive.

There are plentiful second-class buses from Chichén Itzá to Mérida, Valladolid, and Cancún, but as they make several stops along the way, your travel time will roughly double compared to the first-class ADO buses. 

Unless you love trains or just want to experience the novelty of traveling to Chichén Itzá by rail (which you won’t be doing anyway), wait a year or so until the infrastructure is in place and working properly. Let’s be clear: The Tren Maya station at Chichén Itzá has potential, but the entire network is simply not ready for your average traveler.

Chichén Itzá draws millions of tourists every year, but it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Maya ruins in the Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The Tren Maya project is much further along than I initially believed it would be. It is possible to take the train to several amazing places in southeastern Mexico that are off the radar of most tourists, and that’s a great thing. Whether or not the project will be worth the financial and environmental costs is still an open question. But as a Mexican and a Yucateco who knows the bulk of these costs have already been incurred, I can’t help but hope it ends up being a success. Otherwise, it will end up being one of the greatest white elephants in Mexico’s history — and nobody wants that.

Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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