A Journey Back In Time
You may have heard of the spring and fall Equinox events at Chichen Itza. However, there is an exceptional experience offered nightly at this mystical place that not many know of. Noches de Kukulkan is a captivating excursion, which occurs on the most important Mayan archaeological site 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. Furthermore, it’s dark; no sunlight, no snake shadow. Yet, if you decide to visit at night, you’ll appreciate the remarkable construction, 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 understand how this ancient culture lived hundreds of years ago. Their ingenious creations will still boggle the mind.
The journey to Chichen Itza normally takes just over 2-hours from Playa del Carmen. It’s important that you arrive before 7 p.m. to have time to get set up with headsets and find a seat. The day we visited, my wife and I were in no rush. We extended the travel time, stopping for fresh coconut water and browsing the handmade furniture and crafts in the villages on route. There is a free highway or the toll highway, You can shorten the drive by taking the toll highway, which costs about $150 Mxn each way.
There are a few different ways to get to this impressive former Mayan political and economic mecca. From Playa del Carmen these are your options:
- 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 (you select your language) for the initial 45-minute walking tour. Starting the audio and with 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 6th and 10th centuries.
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. The carvings seemed to dance and 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. Even today, archaeologists continue to discover treasures within this architectural masterpiece. (Recently, an investigation found other smaller pyramid structures inside of El Castillo. Astoundingly, these sub-structures 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, a corresponding number on our iPods explained its significance to the ancient cultures.
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 the hospitality industry, I’ve had the good fortune of visiting most of the Yucatan Peninsula attractions multiple times over the years. Even still, walking these sacred grounds at night was an original viewpoint. Seeing The Temple of the Warriors and The Great Ball Court under a star-streaked sky was an incredible experience.
A few minutes before 8 p.m., we took our seats near the front of the audience. We crossed our fingers, 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. During the entire 25-minute show, he sat and cooed, pointing his fingers at the vivid picture show. The whole crowd was mesmerized by the cutting-edge effects and neon lights, which danced on the facade of the 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. I was amazed at the transformation from day to night. By day, hardly a soul walks the rustic streets (most of the community is off working I imagine.) 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 night at Hotel Chichen Itza. 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. Offering direct access to the ancient city’s ruins, these two luxury hotels would undoubtedly present a unique experience. How awesome to have breakfast on the balcony facing one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!