A shadowy snake shape appears on
Chichen Itza’s pyramid during the equinox.
A long-haired woman did yoga with her face to the sun. A new-age
enthusiast snapped photos in the intense heat. And a woman wearing
thigh-high black leather boots and a miniskirt were just a few
among our group there to witness this spiritual event.
No this was not Woodstock. This eclectic mix of people were at
Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, gathered
for the fall equinox, one of the most popular times for visitors to
travel to the archaeological site.
Seeing the Equinox
During the equinox, which also occurs in spring, a shadow appears
on the iconic pyramid, El Castillo, or the Pyramid of the Serpent
God Kukulkan. The shadow starts at the top of the pyramid and
begins “slithering” down, forming the image of a snake as the sun
slowly sets. The snake’s shadowed body finally reaches the base of
the pyramid where it connects with a large stone serpent head.
Eerie, impressive and even spiritual for many visitors, this
engineering feat of the ancient Mayans alone makes a trip to the
Yucatan worth the heat and crowds. (Recommend clients visit the
site the day before the equinox they will get the same experience
with half the crowd).
Although Chichen Itza is the most popular archaeological site in
the area, there are several less well-known sites and activities
nearby that demonstrate Mayan history. After an evening witnessing
the equinox, which is a must-do, clients can take time to explore
other less-crowded sites from a convenient hotel base in the town
“Berto” points out the symbolic face of
the Maya’s rain god at Uxmal.
The archaeological site of Uxmal contains even larger pyramids
than Chichen Itza in a misty, green park completely secluded from
the present. Where at Chichen Itza there are a number of vendors
selling their wares, Uxmal is relatively quiet and just as
architecturally impressive. Visitors to this site are still free to
climb one of the structures to get up close to the intricate
architecture an experience that is now forbidden at Chichen Itza.
Puerto Progreso, about a 45-minute drive from Merida, is where
locals vacation when city life gets too hot, and is still mostly
undeveloped compared to other destinations on the Yucatan.
Since the destruction of the Costa Maya cruise port, many ships
are now using Puerto Progreso as an itinerary replacement and the
town is buzzing with tourists in July and August. During the rest
of the year, Puerto Progreso is a quiet town with white-sand
beaches, warm waters and fresh fish restaurants lining the
Currently in development between Merida and Puerto Progreso is a
group of hotels called Siglo XXI, or Century 21. Convenient to the
Merida convention center, the hotels will link visitors with both
the coast and the city.
Merida itself offers a more modern flavor of traditional Mexican
culture. Every weekend locals come to the city center to eat at
food stands selling quesadillas, tamales and sweets while watching
music and dance performances. Tourists are welcomed to the event,
but not common, which makes the fiesta even more authentic.
To see the archaeological sites with a guide, contact one of the
best in the business Jose Humberto Gomez
Rodriguez, or “Berto.” He has been a guide for over 50 years,
and learned from Fernando Barbachano Peon, a pioneer of tourism in
the Yucatan. Berto even has the distinction of discovering the
Balancanchen Caves around 30 years ago. The site, now open to the
public, is where the Mayas of Chichen Itza performed their secret
ceremonies. Guide service runs about $10 per person, per hour, for
up to 20 people, but group tours can be arranged to include a van
with driver, guide, lunch and entrance fees for $43 per person, per