The Secret of Chichen Itza: Spring Equinox Awakens 10-Story Serpent

A Special Edition

Do you remember that part in the first Indiana Jones movie where he puts the staff in the ground and waits for the sun’s light to pass through it at a specific time to reveal the location of the Ark of the Covenant?

Well, that was fiction, but at the archaeological site of Chichen Itza in Mexico, you can witness a real astrological phenomenon that Mayan architects purposefully designed when they built El Castillo sometime between 900 and 1,200 years ago. It’s called the ‘Descent of Kukulcán,’ also known as the feathered serpent! The serpent descends the steps of the Kukulcán Pyramid, which is also called El Castillo. The phenomenon happens during the spring and fall equinoxes, which in 2021 will be on March 20 and September 22. The action begins at 3:45 in the aternoon, and it is visible for a few days prior to and after each equinox. Action Tour Guide provides a self-guided tour where you can learn all about the site and witness this incredible event!

The Story of Kukulcán

The story of the feathered serpent begins when Toltecs invaded the Mayan Peninsula. The people living there, the Itzaes, were not prepared for war, and the Toltecs were able to occupy their city with little resistance.

The Toltecs had come to this region because they believed they were following their god, Quetzalcoatl. It didn’t take long before the Mayan people adopted him as their god too, but they called him Kukulcán

To show just how powerful Kukulcán was, the Toltecs gathered thousands of people from all over the Mayan Peninsula on the days of the equinox to witness their grand god descending to Earth to speak to them.

One can only imagine the awe they felt as they witnessed the serpent descending the steps of the Pyramid of Kukulcán, an event that was likely accompanied by incredible sound effects due to the intentionally designed acoustics of the pyramid. You just have to check it out for yourself to see just how impressive it must have been.

The Design of the Kukulcán Pyramid

You see, the Mayan architects knew all about astronomical events, and using that knowledge, they were able to determine the exact placement of the pyramid to create the effect of the descent of the 10-story serpent. They were good architects because they knew how to make a lasting impression. They used the design of the stairs to create shadows that form the shape of the body of the serpent, the head of which was sculpted at the foot of the staircase so it would be in line with the descending body.

The pyramid itself is called a step pyramid. It is a total 99 feet high (30 meters), and it consists of several square terraces with stairways that run up the four sides to a temple that sits on top.

The stairways consist of 91 steps on each side, and when added together with the temple platform as the final step, there are a total of 365 steps, the number of days in the Mayan Haab’ year. It’s a veritable masterpiece of architectural design!

With a base of almost 175 feet (53.3 meters) wide on all four sides, this is the biggest pyramid at the site of Chichen Itza. It’s an incredible achievement and one that you won’t want to miss a chance to visit. Action Tour Guide can help with that!

There’s more too! The nine stages of the pyramid--which are bisected by stairs on each side--are representative of the 18 months in the Mayan calendar year. Archaeologists believe that it was built as a physical representation of that calendar, and you might remember that many people predicted the end of the world in 2012 because of that calendar.

In reality, the Mayan calendar simply starts anew at the end of the cycle. It wasn’t really predicting that the world would end (it’s good for us it didn’t); simply that a new cycle would start.

The pyramid is also aligned at a point of intersection between four cenotes--the Sacred Cenote is to the north, Xtoloc is to the south, Kanjiyum is to the east, and Holtún is to the west. These are all part of the Action Tour Guide self-guided tour as well.

The eastern and western sides of the temple are angled so they align with the sunset and sunrise. This alignment corresponds with important calendar events such as harvesting or planting (kind of like an ancient, really big, and complicated palm pilot), and it provides a link to other Mesoamerican sites of importance. This pyramid has got it all!

In fact, it is the design and importance of this pyramid at Chichen Itza that led to the designation of this Mayan archaeological site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Descent of Kukulcán

Around 3:45 in the afternoon of the Spring Equinox on March 21, 2021, you can witness the descent of Kukulcán. As the sun continues on its path, you’ll see the body of the serpent moving down the steps until such a time as all of the steps of the pyramid are covered in shadow with only the head of the serpent still bathed in sunlight. Eventually, it too will be covered in shadow.

This is an event that has been witnessed by thousands of people for hundreds of years, and it continues to draw crowds to this day. Talk about a bucket list item!

The site is one of the mostly widely recognized and visited Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico, but it’s not the only thing to enjoy while visiting this important site, and Action Tour Guide’s self-guided tour can help you enjoy it all!

Other Things to See at Chichen Itza

The Observatory Temple

Also known as El Caracol for its spiral staircase, this is where you can see the Mayan calculator of the cycle of Venus, something you won’t want to miss.


Tour of the Sacraed Cenote

Chichen Itza translates into the ‘mouth of the well,’ and that’s what a cenote is, a natural well, but this well was used for human sacrifice and offerings of treasure!


As you can see, there is a lot to see at this incredible archaeological site. It’s no wonder the site is also one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it should definitely be on your list of incredible places to visit.

But, if you’re not into paying for crowded guided tours that end earlier in the day, Action Tour Guide has got you covered. Book our self-guided walking tour and you’ll have access to your tour immediately including an offline map. Plus, it’s valid for 30 days after your selected travel date, so you don’t have to worry if your plans change.

You’ll be able to enjoy touring the site on your terms at the time of your choosing. It’s the only way to see Kukulcán slither!


Top image " Image courtesy of Escales "

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