El Caracol translates to “snail” in Spanish and in this case refers to the spiral staircase that winds through the interior of this ancient Mayan observatory.
Part of the Chichen Itza archaeological site, the observatory is believed to have been built as early as the ninth century. The stone ruins, built on a large square platform, once functioned as an astrological observation site. It was constructed to rise above the surrounding jungle so that Mayan astronomers could have unobstructed views of the skies and see a 360-degree panoramic
of the stars.
The site has since been rebuilt and has undergone renovations to align with astrological events. Windows were built to view and track the movement of Venus, the sun, the moon and other celestial events. Venus was of particular significance in Mayan culture and was believed to be the twin of the sun. Events were planned based on the positions of the planets, so the observatory is a great place to gain insight on how planet movements were tracked.
Chichen Itza is located within the Parque Punta Sur nature reserve in Cozumel, and El Caracol is located in the southern part of the site. By road, it is accessible via the main highway between the capital city of Mérida and the resort city of Cancun. Bus service runs from both airports. The site is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission fees are 140 pesos for adults, and it is free to enter for children 12 and under. There is an extra charge for the use of video cameras or tripods
at the site.