Witnessing The Equinox

The Yucatan’s archaeological sites impress the crowds

By: Terra Judge

This is the first Image
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 of Merida.

This is the second Image
“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
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 ocean.

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 tour.


Holiday Inn Merida

InterContinental Presidente Merida

Jose Humberto Gomez Rodriguez

Mexico Tourism Board

Yucatan Tourism Board