December 21, 2012 will mark the end of the 5,125-year-long Maya long-count calendar. While sensationalists say the calendar's conclusion will precipitate the end of the world, scholars who study Mayan culture say it will simply conclude one era and usher in another.

Regardless of what will happen on December 21st, the months leading up to that date are filled with events celebrating Maya culture; some of these are truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for travelers who enjoy immersing themselves in authentic cultural experiences.

The Mundo Maya is made up of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico; each country has special events planned for Maya 2012. Take a look at some of them and get planning.

Mexico

EVENT: The descent of the feathered serpent at Chichen Itza, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

WHAT TO EXPECT: You will tour the sprawling grounds at one of Mexico’s most well preserved Mayan sites. Follow a tour guide as he explains the detailed symbolism and ancient culture associated with each of the ruins or choose to view the structures at your leisure.

The serpent shadow, a phenomenon that happens only during equinox, will begin to appear on the north side of El Castillo pyramid around 4 PM and continue for an hour. Approximately 20,000 people will participate in the event, but it won’t be overcrowded as the site extends for 2 square miles. Many visitors will dress in white, which is said to absorb the healing energy of the equinox.

WHEN IT WILL HAPPEN: September 22, 2012 – the Autumn Equinox.

HOW TO DO IT:  Book a day trip to Chichen Itza from Cancun. Prices vary depending on the events you choose. The JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and the CasaMagna Cancun Resort offer a Mayan Experience package, which includes a tour for two of Chichen Itza and a nearby sacred cenote. (jwmarriottcancun.com or casamagnacancun.com or by phone at 1.800.228.9290. When booking this package, request promotion code CUE.)

KEEP IN MIND:

  • Chichen Itza is a 2 ½ hour drive from Cancun.
  • Allow 3-4 hours to tour the site and experience the shadow ceremony.
  • Don’t forget walking shoes, a hat and sunscreen.
  • If you choose, you may participate in the Mayan tradition of wearing white.
  • Chichen Itza is open from 9:00a – 5:00p / 365 days per year.

GOOD FOR:
Families, individuals, couples, groups; not good for those who have difficulty walking.

Mexico

EVENT:         
Mundo Maya Tour.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
The Mexican bus company ADO is offering a Mundo Maya-themed package, allowing guests to purchase a 3-, 7-, 14-, or 21-day “Maya Pass.” The Maya Pass is a flexible bus ticket that permits you to see as many Mexican Maya sites as you'd like during the validation period of your ticket.

WHEN IT WILL HAPPEN:   
Ongoing throughout 2012.

HOW TO DO IT:
Visit ADO's website (ado.com.mx/ado/index.jsp) to purchase a Maya pass.

KEEP IN MIND:
Traveling light and with minimal valuables are highly recommended on buses.

GOOD FOR:

  • People with flexible schedules.
  • Those who want to see multiple Maya sites.

Guatemala

EVENT:         
Maya home-stay and volunteer programs.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
For the traveler who wants deep immersion in Maya communities, home-stay and volunteer programs are an ideal way of commemorating the Maya 2012 celebrations. Individuals, couples, and families can make reservations to stay with a Maya family and to help out with community-building projects.

WHEN IT WILL HAPPEN:   
Ongoing

HOW TO DO IT:
Visit the site laantesaladelcielo.blogspot.com for more information and email turismohuehueautentico@gmail.com to enquire about availability of reservations.

KEEP IN MIND:
Accommodations are typically simple and rustic and the communities that host the home-stays may be difficult to reach.  

GOOD FOR:
Travelers looking for immersive, authentic cultural experiences.

COUNTRY: Honduras

EVENT:         
Temascal ceremony.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
The temascal is an ancient purification ritual that was practiced by the Maya and other indigenous groups; its purpose is to cleanse the mind, body, and spirit. Akin to the Native American sweat lodge, the temascal ceremony involves being exposed to extreme temperatures, which are reached by heating volcanic rock and creating steam, much like a sauna.

WHEN IT WILL HAPPEN:   
Ongoing.

HOW TO DO IT:
Book a reservation at Spa Ixchel, which, among other treatments, offers the temascal. Once on-site, a facilitator will preside over your temascal ceremony, which can be booked for individuals, for couples, or for small groups.

KEEP IN MIND:
The temascal is a treatment that requires participants to be in good health.

GOOD FOR:
Adults who like spa treatments.

Belize

EVENT:       
Solstice and equinox camping trips at the country's most important Maya site.

WHAT TO EXPECT:
Not only will you camp in the shadow of centuries-old temples and structures at Caracol, Belize's most important Maya site, you'll be given a thorough tour of the site by the country's preeminent archaeologist, Dr. Jaime Awe. After the tour, you'll have a traditional Mayan dinner, which will include pit-roasted pork (pibil). You'll want to tuck into your sleeping bag just after dark, as Mayan shamans will wake you up as early as 3 AM to participate in a traditional fire ceremony. Each event is limited to 100 people, and tickets cost $150 US each.

WHEN IT WILL HAPPEN:
June 20; September 20; December 20, 2012.

HOW TO DO IT:
Email Belize's National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) at iaresearch57@gmail.com to express your interest in attending. Include the following information:
Your name and the name(s) of other attending with you.

  • Where each person in your party lives
  • Which date(s) you plan to attend
  • The best way for you to make payment (ie: credit card)

KEEP IN MIND:

  • You'll need to bring your own tent and camping gear.
  • If you fly into Belize City and rent a car to drive to the Maya site, you'll need to make sure it's a truck or an SUV; the road to Caracol is rough and requires a sturdy vehicle.
  • Reserve early: there are only a few spots left for the September and December events; the June event has more spaces.

GOOD FOR:
Adventure lovers, whether solo, in couples, or with family in tow.

Julie Schwietert Collazo is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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Julie Schwietert Collazo is a freelance writer based in New York City.

 

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