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Untrained tour guides compete for tourist dollars in Chichén Itzá

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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. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Arguments between tour guides at Chichén Itzá have on rare occasions even resulted in fights and physical violence. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Over the past few months, several certified tour guides at Chichén Itzá have complained about competition from unlicenced guides accompanying groups of tourists. 

Under Mexican law, only tour guides certified by the INAH are able to offer tours in the country’s archaeological sites.

During training, guides are required to take courses in Mexican history, archaeology, anthropology, customer service, ethics, and a variety of other subjects. 

Though the professionalization of tour guides is widely held to be positive, the long, difficult, and expensive process of becoming a certified guide in Mexico has driven many to acquire their license through bribes and other questionable means. 

Others have simply chosen to forgo the process altogether and operate without a license by paying off-site authorities or producing fake INAH badges. 

There is also a backlog of hundreds of tour guides who have completed all the requirements to acquire their tour guide license, but who are yet to receive them. This is because government offices tasked with issuing these documents have remained closed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

These closures have also affected thousands of guides looking to renew their licenses, a process that needs to be completed every four years. 

Earlier: Beware of new Chichén Itzá hot air balloon scam

“It’s not like I am working without a license because I just don’t care. The bureaucracy is simply making it impossible for me to do things the right way, even after tens of thousands of pesos on the necessary courses. I have to work,” said an unlicensed tour guide at Chichén Itzá who wished to remain anonymous.

The problem has been made even more pronounced by the appearance of academies promising tour guides the necessary documentation for a considerable fee but without any exams. 

Though some tour guides have been able to get their licenses in this way, for the most part, these academies turn out to be scams. 

Tour guides can be hired at archaeological sites across Mexico, including Chichén Itzá and Uxmal for between 500 and 1000 pesos depending on the language in which the tour is delivered. 

Large tour operators such as Xcaret always bring along their own guides to accompany day-trippers. The guide’s fee is almost always included in the cost of the tour.

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