Chichén Itzá, Dzibilchaltún prepare for Spring Equinox visitors

The sun shines directly through the door of the Seven Dolls Temple in the Maya Ruins of Dzibilchaltun as it rises on the spring equinox on March 21, 2016. Photo: ALEJANDRO MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun shines directly through the door of the Seven Dolls Temple in the Maya Ruins of Dzibilchaltun as it rises on the spring equinox on March 21, 2016. Photo: ALEJANDRO MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

The “feathered serpent” of Kukulcan will slither down his staircase at Chichén Itzá between Sunday and Tuesday. As usual, large crowds are expected to witness its descent.

The spring equinox phenomenon happens spring and fall, a marvel of Maya ingenuity and a trick of light thanks to the sun’s angle this time of year. The effect is expected to be visible, weather permitting, between 3 and 5 p.m.

Also known as El Castillo, the 25-meter-high pyramid is a solar clock, aligned to catch the rays of the setting sun on the spring and fall equinoxes. Those fall on March 20 and Sept. 22 in 2017. As triangles of light and shadow form along the side of the north staircase and the figure of a snake appears, creating the illusion.

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The snake symbolizes Kukulcan, the feathered serpent god, returning to earth and heralding the spring planting and fall harvest seasons.

For early birds, smaller crowds will appear at Dzibilchaltún, a less touristy archaeological site, where the sun rises right in the middle of the Mayan arch which forms the entrance to the Temple of the Seven Dolls.

Dzibilchaltún, about 20 km from Mérida, is much less well known but equally fascinating for spectators, as long as they arrive before 5 a.m. The sun rises precisely a 6:02 a.m. on Monday, the day of the equinox.

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To protect the expected 20,000 visitors, about 800 employees will be deployed, state officials said. Local, state and federal officials are coordinating their efforts. 

At Dzibilchaltún, general admission is 142 pesos, of 109 for Mexican nationals, while in Chichen Itza, the cost is 242 and 162 respectively.

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