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Thursday, January 26, 2023

2 choices for Spring Equinox sky-gazing in Yucatan

A lesser-known site close to Merida is an alternative to the crowds at Chichen Itza

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The sun shines directly through the arch of the Temple of the Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltun, in Yucatan, as it rises on the spring equinox on March 20, 2017. Photo: Getty

Yucatan’s archaeological sites were built for interplay with the sky. The ancient Mayan genius for astronomy brings Yucatan visitors, even to this day.

Followers of the spring equinox have two sacbe — the Maya’s ancient paved roads — to choose from.

The March equinox marks the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north. It’s also when the sun aligns with two nearby temples that the ancient Maya left behind.

Chichen Itza will likely receive more than its usual share of visitors for three days leading up to Thursday, March 21.

Tens of thousands of visitors will hope to witness the archaeo-astronomical phenomenon of the descent of Kukulcan.

A lesser-known spring equinox attraction is Dzibilchaltun, at km. 14 off the Merida-Progreso highway. At this less touristy archaeological site, uncovered in the 1950s, the sun rises right in the middle of the Mayan arch which forms the entrance to the Temple of the Seven Dolls.

This is an early-morning sighting. Starting around 5 a.m., people begin to arrive at the Dzibilchaltun. This archaeological zone, 20 minutes from Merida, offers beautiful Cenote Xlacah for swimming later with the water lilies in the morning.

Entry is 227 pesos for foreigners, 124 pesos for nationals and 75 for residents of Yucatán.

At Chichen Itza, an illusion caused by the sun’s angle is a huge draw every equinox at the famous El Castillo pyramid, where a carved feathered serpent appears to be slithering down the staircase. For that marvel, tourists fly in from around the world.

The serpent effect begins about three hours before sunset. At first, a form of undulating light can be seen on the railing of the temple’s main staircase. The effect is fleeting, lasting around 10 minutes before it gradually begins to disappear.

Clear skies are necessary for the illusions to work. The sun performs its encore on Wednesday, Sept. 20, the 2019 fall equinox.

To enter Chichen Itza, tickets are 481 pesos for foreigners, 202 for nationals, and 75 for Yucatecan residents. Backpacks and large packages are not allowed.

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