The Yucatan Peninsula is quite different from the rest of Mexico. A distinct change is noticeable in the landscape, people and architecture when crossing into the remoteness of the Mayan realm. The atmosphere is more relaxed and tranquil and the legacy of an ancient people is evident in the scattering of ruins within the encroaching jungle. It is an area famed for its white sand beaches, magnificent off-shore coral reefs and diving opportunities on the Caribbean coast, as well as for the region's splendid ruins: the extraordinary Mayan temples and ceremonial centres of an ancient kingdom.
The peninsula is an area of great diversity. Visitors can explore tropical jungles and rainforest, flat and hot countryside dotted with Mayan villages, a superb coastline with popular resorts and islands, numerous archaeological sites, and colonial towns. Once distant and inaccessible, tourism has made determined advances into the Yucatan Peninsula, especially around the major places of interest, like the Mayan sites of Chichen Itza and Uxmal, and along the most visited stretch of the coast incorporating the 'party resort' of Cancun and the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. These resorts and islands have become highly sought-after package tour destinations with renowned vacation facilities. The traditions, religious beliefs and ancient customs of today's Mayan culture are still a natural part of the Yucatan's character and appeal, although the culture has become somewhat commercialised in certain areas.
The Yucatan Peninsula is serviced by regular bus services that connect Merida to Cancun and the Caribbean coast along Highway 180, via Chichen Itza. Frequent buses also travel along the coast between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Taxis are the preferred way to get around most of the resort areas and can also be hired to visit nearby sites, although several tours are offered to the main sites of interest on the peninsula or the islands. There are also frequent ferry services to the islands of Cozumel and Mujeres.
Equinoccio de la Primavera, the Spring Equinox, draws thousands of people from around the world to witness the shadow that seems to crawl down the El Castillo pyramid in the Chichén Itzá temple complex.
The shadow represents the snake god, Kukulkan and takes the form of a giant, slithering snake that slowly descends the stairs of the largest Mayan pyramid in the country. Sunlit triangles appear to work their way down the stairs, finally illuminating the snakehead at the bottom and forming the giant sunlit serpent.
The spring equinox is celebrated by many cultures in many countries, but the Mayan ritual is one of the oldest and most famous, particularly as the pyramid is associated with brutal human sacrifices. The archaeological site of Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, is also a favourite spot to celebrate the arrival of spring and thousands of travellers visit the site for the equinox, traditionally dressed all in white.
The Mayans were famous for their advanced use of calendars, making this an apt national celebration. Festivales de Primavera, spring festivals, are still celebrated all over Mexico, commonly with children's parades where participants dress up as flowers or animals to welcome the season of fertility and rebirth.
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