Activities to Get the Most Out of Your Chichen Itza Excursion
What’s more impressive: thousands of snakes guarding the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones and Nazi archaeologists in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or a 10-story feathered serpent appearing from the shadows on Chichen Itza’s El Castillo pyramid every spring Equinox? Fair question, but only one happens in real life. And it’s not the one with Harrison Ford.
The feathered serpent deity Kukulkan reveals himself only twice a year at the Spring and Fall Equinoxes at Chichen Itza. He’s been doing so for about 1,200 years, and with no movie magic! Somehow, the ancient Mayans who lived in the Yucatan Peninsula developed a staggering understanding of astronomy and science and coupled that with ingenuity to construct El Castillo and the rest of the structures at Chichen Itza.
The full extent of their brilliance reveals itself at around 3:45 pm on March 20 when the sun hits just right and Kukulkan makes his descent down the 91 steps of the pyramid in front of thousands of awestruck visitors. It’s an unbelievable and fleeting moment. And you have to be ready to catch it. It is among the can't miss things you have to experience when you visit Chichen Itza. Here are the rest:
Eat Like a Mayan, Observe Venus
Specially prepared meals: What’s food got to do with anything, you might ask? Food has to do with everything, we would argue. And while Mexican food has come a long way in the past millennia, we strongly recommend you partake of the local fare at spots like Mayaland, next to Chichen Itza. A regional lunch buffet is part of many excursions (use your Resort Credit!) and includes traditional Mayan specialties. There is also entertainment provided with dances performed by “Mayans” in traditional outfits.
The Observatory Temple: The feathered serpent might get all the publicity during the equinoxes but almost as impressive is the Mayan calculation of Venus’ cycle in the sky as observed at El Caracol, the Observatory at Chichen Itza. Close to sundown, you’ll also be able to see the sun shine through a window at the Observatory and projections are cast on the temple producing a magical display.
Find Out What a Cenote Is and Dance Like a Mayan
Tour the Sacred Cenote: It’s no mistake that Chichen Itza was built where it was as it takes advantage of the presence of two important cenotes, or wells. In fact, Chichen Itza translates to mouth of the well. On your visit make sure to take in these natural wonders, and don’t be afraid to take a dip in the Sacred Cenote, unless the prospect of swimming where virgins were once sacrificed makes you uneasy, that is.
Festivals/Celebrations: If you’re staying in Cancun or Playa del Carmen, make sure to check out local parties and events that celebrate the equinox in town or at your resort. These often include special dinner celebrations planned with traditional Mayan recipes, butterfly releases and other festivities.
Watch That Snake Slither to Life
And, of course, watch The Kukulkan Slither (and, no, that’s not a new Mexican dance move!): The only thing that compares with the majesty, beauty and scientific genius of the El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza is the fleeting wonder of the equinox spectacle. The whole thing lasts no more than four minutes, as you will see the shadow of the serpent appear, sharpen and disappear with the movement of the sun. It only happens twice a year but it has happened for more than a thousand years. You’ll never forget it.