The ancient cities of the Maya have an air of mystery whenever you visit them but for many travelers, a trip to the World Heritage Site of Chichen Itza in March to witness the Equinox offers even more wonders.
An ancient god returns to earth
On March 19, the day of the spring Equinox, the Pyramid of Kukulcan or El Castillo that dominates the Great Plaza at Chichen Itza, reveals its function in ancient times as a solar clock marking the passage of the seasons. It is aligned to catch the rays of the setting sun on the days of the spring and fall equinoxes in March and September. Triangles of light and shadow appear along the side of the north staircase forming the rippling body of a snake. It merges with the head of a stone serpent at the foot of the building, creating the illusion of a gigantic reptile coming down from the sky and slithering across the ground towards the Sacred Cenote.
The snake symbolizes Kukulcan (also known as Quetzalcoatl in central Mexico), the feathered serpent god, returning to earth to give hope to his followers and heralding the spring planting and fall harvest seasons for the Maya.
A reflection of the Mayan calendar
The pyramid of Kukulcan was built some time between A.D. 650 and 800, with later modifications during the period when it reached its peak under its Itzae rulers, possibly from A.D. 1000 to 1150. It is also believed to represent the ancient Mayan calendar as the number of terraces and wall panels coincides with the number of months in the Mayan year (18) and years in a calendar round (52), respectively, and the number of steps in the staircases, including the top platform, equals 365, the days in the year.
Chichen Itza’s ancient astronomers had an observatory
A short distance from the Great Plaza is the round tower known as El Caracol or the Observatory. It has a viewing platform and wells, which were used by ancient astronomers to mirror starlight, and the building was aligned to catch sunsets and moonsets on both equinoxes and to mark the course of Venus.
Planning your trip to Chichen Itza
Book your Chichen Itza trip with Thomas More Travel. The snake of light and shadow is also visible the day before and after the equinox, cloud cover permitting.
Why not make a day of it and visit Valladolid and its nearby cenotes beforehand, explore Chichen Itza and witness the Equinox? Eat an early dinner at the neighboring hotel and stay on for the evening Light and Sound Show in the Great Plaza, a marvel of computer-generated art and video mapping.