The arrival of the tourists and the “descent of Kukulcan” are two phenomena of the equinox at Chichén Itzá.
During both the spring and fall equinox, visitors from all over the world gather to witness a grand spectacle visible only during these periods. On the great pyramid of Kukulcán, a snake appears to creep slowly down the northern staircase about three hours before sunset. The effect is partially due to triangles on the side of the staircase that resemble those of a rattlesnake when viewed from the side.
This has been the serpent’s routine since at least the 12th century.
The pyramid is one of the seven wonders of the modern world, built by the Maya, who considered the fall and spring equinox to be sacred.
Today and tomorrow is the peak of the autumnal equinox, when the days and nights are of equal length. And it’s traditional that tourists pack the grand pyramid in appreciation of Maya achievements in astronomy and their obsession with time and cycles of the heavens.
The illusion of the serpent is created by the angle of the sun. But clouds and rain are expected all week, and tourists are at risk of leaving disappointed.
For the spring equinox, the site attracts as many as 40,000 visitors, and around 7,000 in the fall. Both national and foreign tourists, some of them New Agers, take in an entire carnival-type day at the site, complete with rock bands and folk musicians. Police are on hand to keep people at a distance so everyone can enjoy the view.
Yesterday, INAH reported that the illusion was visible partially, for a few minutes. Viewers will today and tomorrow, or wait until next March, for another chance to glimpse the serpent.