Noches de Kukulkan: Chichen Itza’s Spellbinding Light and Sound Show
A Journey Back In Time
You may have heard of the spring and fall Equinox events at Chichen Itza, but chances are you are unfamiliar with the exceptional experience offered nightly at this mystical place. Noches de Kukulkan is a captivating excursion, which occurs on one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Living in Playa del Carmen, I am lucky to have easy access to many natural and historical phenomena including Chichen Itza. Although I’ve visited El Castillo (the magnificently engineered step-pyramid) on previous occasions, this after-hours spectacle was a truly spellbinding alternative to the day tour.
On these special evenings, you won’t see the serpent’s shadow slithering down the corner of the massive temple. This unbelievable apparition only happens during the equinox, and furthermore, it’s dark; no sunlight, no snake shadow. However, a nightly visit still incites an appreciation for the remarkable construction, when considering the primitive technology the people of that era had access to. Through the stimulating high-tech and highly entertaining multimedia light and sound show, you’ll come to understand how this ancient culture once lived, but their ingenious creations will still boggle the mind.
The journey to Chichen Itza normally takes just over 2-hours from Playa del Carmen, and it’s important that you arrive before 7 p.m. Since we were in no rush, my wife and I extended the travel time, stopping for fresh coconut water and browsing the furniture and artisan crafts in the villages on route. There is a free highway or the toll highway, which will cut about 40-minutes off your travel time, for a cost of approximately $150 Mxn each way.
There are a few different modes of transportation that you can use to get to this former Mayan political and economic mecca from Playa del Carmen:
- Rental car
- Ado Bus (About $500 Mxn round-trip, overnight stay required.)
- Private van transfer
If you have your own vehicle, there is paid parking just outside the site for $30 Mxn pesos. An entrance fee of $510 Mxn Pesos ($28 USD) includes an iPod, which allows you to select your language of choice for the initial 45-minute walking tour. With the audio set to play and our toddler in tow, we set off following the arrows along the path passed the main structures. Feature lights in an array of colors emphasized a fusion of Mayan and Toltec architectural styles dating back to between the 6thand 10thcenturies.
Tip: Bring your own headphones for best audio results and wear comfortable shoes for walking.
What To Expect
To see the ruins after dark was a unique experience for us. Under the changing, multi-colored lights, each fine detail carved in the stones was accentuated and seemed to come alive under the different hues. We noticed a very tranquil hush, a harmony between the surrounding jungle and its visitors. The atmosphere was so serene that everyone seemed to feel compelled to speak in whispers, so as not to disturb the peace.
Site staff guarded the pathways to make sure no one accidentally ventured off in the wrong direction. Eventually, we ended up at Kukulkan, the architectural masterpiece, within which archaeologists are still discovering treasures. (Recently, an investigation found other smaller pyramid structures inside of El Castillo, which contained 1000-year-old artifacts.) Walking at a leisurely pace, we had more than enough time to grasp the magnificence of the sights and sounds, without feeling rushed. As we approached each unbelievably precise structure, we chose the corresponding number on our iPods for an account of its significance to the ancient cultures.
Tip: Although it’s much cooler at night, it is still a good idea to bring a bottle of water because you will walk for about an hour. There are several little souvenir shops and convenience stores outside the entrance of the site where you can buy water.
Being in my line of work in the hospitality industry, I’ve had the good fortune of visiting most of the Yucatan Peninsula attractions multiple times over the years. Yet to walk these sacred grounds on a quiet night and to see The Temple of the Warriors and The Great Ball Court under the star-streaked sky was definitely an original and incredible experience.
A few minutes before 8 p.m., we took our seats near the front of the audience, hoping that our active two-year-old son would be calm during the main event. Surprisingly, the high-definition images and the accompanying narrative left even my son captivated, who sat still during the entire 25-minute show. The whole crowd was mesmerized by the cutting-edge effects and neon lights, which danced on the facade of the ancient city’s most prominent temple.
All Good Things Must Come To An End
Once the spectacle was over, we drove into the small town, just five minutes away, and were amazed at the transformation from day to night. There is hardly a soul around during the day, as I imagine the workforce leaves to manage their daily business. But come nightfall, when everyone returns, the town is lively with street vendors and bustling restaurants.
We decided to make a mini-getaway out of our afternoon road trip and booked a room at Hotel Chichen Itza for the night. It was cozy and clean with a pool, and just a short drive from the ruins; perfect for our needs. Maybe next time, we’ll explore what’s behind the doors of Hacienda Chichen Itza or The Lodge, two luxury hotels in the area offering direct access to the ruins. How awesome would that be to have breakfast on the balcony overlooking one of the New Seven Wonders of the World?