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Chichén Itzá Equinox Festival

A festival of the unusual kind at Chichén Itzá

Anton Anderssen, eTN Special Correspondent  Mar 20, 2009

Upon the arrival of the Equinox (March 20, 21 and September 21, 22) thousands flock to the Yucatán peninsula of México to witness an amazing phenomenon – the sun's rays project a diamond-back rattlesnake of light and shadow onto the ancient and mysterious Temple of Quetzalcoatl pyramid at Chichén Itzá.

The earliest archaeological remains found at Chichén Itzá date from the 1st century , the time when the three Magi followed the star to Bethlehem. Ancient people had keen understanding of astronomy. The architecture of Temple of Quetzalcoatl encodes precise information regarding the Mayan calendar, engineered to encompass an amazing 25,920-year cycle. The Maya were mathematical geniuses; they counted in base 20, calculating equations that would take up an entire page if written in modern numbers.

The Maya correctly calculated the end of the 25,920-year cycle to fall on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012. On this date, spectators standing before the temple pyramid will witness a beautiful architectonic-celestial show of cosmic and mathematical precision. Venus will appear to arise from the pyramid’s apex on that day, while an astonishing cosmological alignment of the earth, sun and the plane of the galaxy takes place. A simplified explanation of the alignment can be seen at

Chichén Itzá is the ideal site not only for those who enjoy astro-archaeology, but also for those who embrace history and the charm of ancient civilizations. Chichén Itzá is one of the most impressive testimonials to the Maya, whose rituals of magic coexisted with its prodigious star-gazing culture, making it a captivating, magnificent and treasured destination.

Situated 172 miles south from Chichén Itzá lies México’s only eco-archaeological park - Xcaret, known 500 hundred years ago as the Mayan Port of Polé. It was here that the Itzá clan began its conquest of the Yucatán peninsula around the year 918 AD, arriving on the shores with sumptuous feathers, incense, jade and golden ornaments.

The Maya journeyed here from all over the Yucatán peninsula to purify their bodies and souls in the spring-waters of the cenotes, after which they sailed by canoe to Cozumel to worship the Moon goddess, Ix Chel. Today, visitors can experience the mystical aura by frolicking in the ancient sacred Mayan waters at Xcaret.

The best way to immerse oneself into the ancient splendors of Polé is to take Xcaret’s archaeological site tour, where an expert guide fully explains the culture and history of the Maya. Our visit to the Yucatan fell on a particularly fortuitous week when the regional populace celebrated “The Day of The Dead” at Xcaret. Thousands of participants constructed elaborate altars and tributes to their deceased ancestors and relatives. The living believe that at this time, the deceased come back from the dead and commune with their families. Family members prepare for the departed spirit’s return by gathering items onto the altar of which the deceased were particularly fond, like tequila, cigarettes, corn tortillas, games and tzempazuchitl flowers. Some Mexicans planned to meet their dearly departed by holding picnics directly atop the grave sites at local cemeteries, as we were told by Anet, a hostess at the entry gate. While there are no actual burial sites at Xcaret, hundreds of tombstone shrines from all over the lands are reproduced in painful detail, and erected upon a towering “Bridge to Paradise” that dominates Xcaret’s complex. Shaped as a spiraling marine shell, this permanent exhibit commemorates the ancient ancestors who used the shell as a horn to communicate with the gods through the wind, represented by their breath. At the foot of the shell, local groups prepared traditional tamales in earthen pits, from which emanated clouds of smoke, lending the site an ethereal ambiance.

Xikin-ch’o, the sculptor at Xcaret, contributes to the exaltation of Mayan art and culture via the massive stone carvings found throughout the site. Thousands of indigenous species of plants thrive in the botanical gardens displayed along leisurely, meandering paths, leading to and between an aviary, aquarium, stables, Spanish Missionary chapel, sun-drenched beaches, Mayan ruins and a butterfly atrium.

Our beautiful guide, the very much alive Viangy Rocha Jiménez, escorted us the entire day through the vast expansion of Xcaret. Viangy’s wealth of knowledge about the indigenous people added true substance to our archaeological tour. She was our godsend explaining the exotic Mayan buffet, which is housed in a traditional Mayan structure made from wood and palm leaf roofs. The scrumptious buffet presented the opportunity to enjoy out of the ordinary regional cuisines accented by indigenous herbs and spices.

The climax of the Xcaret experience begins at dusk, when 300 performers gather on the majestic Gran Tlachco stage to salute indigenous and provincial cultures at the “Espectacular”, a thrilling spectacle for the five senses, celebrating the best traditions, history and mysticism of México. As guests approach the amphitheatre, fire lights up the Valley of Scents where Mexico’s Mayan warriors and priests guard the way. A journey backward in time retells the ancient and colonial history of México through elaborate costumes, song, dance, and reenactments of ancient fire-based sport. Photos of Xcaret can be viewed at

Media and travel industry professionals can receive further information about Xcaret by contacting Viangy Rocha Jiménez at (011) 52 1 998 842 0258. Viangy Rocha Jiménez at (011) 52 1 998 842 0258.

A festival of the unusual kind at Chichén Itzá

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