Caracol or Observatory? 

Discover this legendary building 

Two kilometers from Pisté, in the municipality of Tinum, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, we can find Chichén Itzá. An ancient Maya city in which monuments and spectacular archaeological remains may be observed. In them, the legendary Maya civilization used to perform many of their most important activities. But there’s a particular building with a lot of secrets: El Caracol.  

After years of listening to stories of my younger sister (who curiously visited the site long before me) and looking at photographs, I finally had the chance to visit this majestic destination along with Xcaret Expeditions.  

I have to confess that before going to the archaeological site, I only knew some details about it. I had heard about some of its places, but most of the anecdotes were about El Castillo, the great pyramid. However, days before arriving at the site, I was told about an important Maya building known as the Observatory, so I read a little about it and took it upon myself to get to know it better. 

Hidden Treasures of Chichen Itza: El Caracol

Read: 5 things you didn’t know about the Chichén Itzá equinox

What is its name? 

El Caracol (LE JUBOO’ in Mayan, “snail” in English) gets its name from spiral staircases inside the structure that lead to the top of the building. It is also called the Observatory; well-known because of its cylindrical shape and the association that its structure has been related to astronomical events. It is mentioned that it could be used to observe the stars in pre-Hispanic times. 

How can you get there? 

Located south of the Maya city, approximately 5 or 10 minutes from the great pyramid. If you have access to the site through the rear entrance, where the hotels are located, it will be the first structure that you can see. 

If you reach the area through the conventional entrance and once you are at the beginning of the enclosure you will follow these steps: 

How can you get there?   

  1. Make a turn to the right towards the toilets that can be seen under the imposing tree. 
  2. From there, follow a straight path for a few meters until you reach the first deviation. 
  3. Again, you will have to turn to the right. 
  4. Later you will walk for several minutes until you come across the next deviation. 
  5. Now you will go to the left and follow the path until you reach the Observatory, yes, after crossing dozens of stalls full of beautiful handcrafts and, why not? Buy some of them. 

If you are interested in learning more about what you can find in the Mayan city, you can read: 3 Historical buildings in Chichén Itzá you probably haven’t heard of

Three interesting facts about the way it is built 

1.- It is positioned on two rectangular platforms, which are placed in different directions. This aided the observation of the stars. 

2.- The spiral structure is one of the most detailed and complex of its kind. The majestic Maya architecture can be seen from the round towers. 

Hidden Treasures of Chichen Itza: El Caracol

3.- It is not very large, as it is around 22 meters high. In it, you can see masks and human figures surrounded by feathers that adorn the facade. Previously it was possible to see four windows, three at the top and one at the bottom. But as the years went by and after several renovations, now only two of them are visible. 

Relationship with astronomical events 

When researching for evidence that confirms that El Caracol was indeed used as an observatory, the different relationships with these events were found. 

Due to their different positions, at one of these points facing North, it is possible to observe Venus approximately every 8 years. In another of its windows, you can see the Zenith Fall on May 20th. 

Equinoxes and solstices can also be seen through such windows. This helped the region to have greater accuracy and to make decisions to establish the sowing and harvesting periods, as well as to connect the buildings with the Maya gods. This because the sun, the moon and the stars are considered physical representations of some of them within this culture and could be observed from these points. 

Tesoros escondidos de Chichén Itzá: El caracol

If you still do not know how to prepare for your next archaeological site, we recommend: Chichen Itza in Mexico: Facts and useful tips

It has been explored and recognized through time 

The history, beauty, and complexity of the buildings located in Chichén Itzá led it to be declared a World Heritage Site in 1988 by UNESCO. Years later, in 2007, it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. 

From 1925 to 1931, El Caracol was scanned by the Carnegie Institution, a philanthropic organization founded by Andrew Carnegie, which detected a series of overlaps (six in total). This derives from the belief that this construction dates from an intermediate time between the Terminal Classic and the Early Postclassic. Archaeologists dictated that the final version of the structure occurred between 900 and 1,000 AD. 

Hidden Treasures of Chichen Itza: El Caracol

The large trenches that can be seen on its upper platforms are the result of excavation coves that have been made in the enclosure solely for educational purposes. Although the institution did a great job, it is mentioned that its exploration only covered the largest sites in the area. One of them was the observatory, leaving the smallest sites with a lot of information to be discovered. 

Tell us, what other structure have you visited, and how was your experience?