In the Mayan World, it’s Countdown Time

Pyramid Temple of Caracol.
Pyramid Temple of Caracol in Belize.

As the clock ticks down to Dec. 21, 2012—the date the 5,126-year-long Maya long-count calendar comes to an end and when the sun will align with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in approximately 26,000 years—it’s time for clients seeking new cultural adventures to step out along La Ruta Maya. They’ll explore ancient places, experience heart-warming people encounters, and unwind on soft-sand beaches in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, destinations that are now more accessible along inter-connecting regional roads and aboard TACA Regional Airlines.

Celebrating the end of the Mayan calendar’s cycle has offered an opportunity for these five countries to enhance and showcase their Mayan heritage through special restoration and preservation projects (Mexico’s Museo del Mundo Maya opening in Merida in September); ceremonies and celebrations; services (at Flores, the Mundo Maya International Airport is the gateway to Tikal, and Belize is issuing a Maya Passport for special discounts on visiting its many Mayan sites); and tours focusing on the old and the new worlds of the Maya (such as those offered by Adventure-Life, AdventureSmith Explorations, Tara Tours and others).

Consider, for instance, that the largest of the Mayan sites to behold in Belize is Caracol, one of the major discoveries in The Mayan World. Some 4,000 structures are recorded here, including ancient courtyards, pyramid temples, ball courts, residential complexes and a complete astronomical observatory.

Before the Mayan calendar ends in December, Ka’ana Boutique Resort is offering clients with very deep pockets a very special style of deluxe camping experience: spending a night amidst the temples of Caracol’s main plaza. Guests helicopter in and out; sleep in a luxury tent with pillow-top mattress; take a guided tour with Dr. Jaime Awe, Belize’s director of archaeology; enjoy butler-served wine and cheese up on a temple platform plus a traditional Mayan dinner; and wake to a sunrise fire ceremony and Mayan breakfast. The luxury camping combines with a 2-night stay at Ka’ana Boutique Resort, a luxe adventure outpost in Belize’s western Cayo District, which offers Balam, Casita or Private Pool Villas, as well as an infinity pool, spa and adventure specialist.

Also in this corner of Belize (an hour-plus drive from Belize City) is the award-winning Lodge at Chaa Creek, which is offering a 7-night Maya Winter Solstice package. On its 365-acre property, the inn will host a commemorative New World Maya Village, whose activities will include fabric and basket weaving, traditional palm-leaf thatching, slate stone carving, cacao harvesting and chocolate making. Additionally there will be a horseback tour to a Mayan temple site, canoeing to Cahal Pech’s Mayan royal palace, tours of the ruins of Xunantunich in Caracol and Tikal in Guatemala, and interactive workshops that will give deeper understanding of the fascinating culture of the Maya. The gala event for guests at the Lodge on solstice night includes a torch-lit procession to the Mayan temple site of Tunichilen, a bonfire and ritual Mayan offerings to reflect the past and prepare for a new era, followed by a special Maya banquet.

In the Toledo district in southern Belize (Punta Gorda is the air gateway), Belcampo Belize is celebrating the end of the Maya calendar for the entire month of December with a program called Delicious Doomsday that includes a host of Mayan-based activities and programs: one day combines lunch with a local Maya family and sightseeing among the Mayan ruins, while a cacao tasting introduces the “food of the gods.” Or, cook up a traditional Belizean meal of caldo and tortillas with the Belcampo cooks, add a rum tasting and evening cocktail recipe lesson, or partake in a coffee tasting. When it’s time to engage the cosmic with the physical, and sooth body, mind and spirit, the Lodge invites guests to enjoy a tropical healing massage and cacao body scrub.

Antigua, Guatemala-based Viaventure combines Guatemala and Honduras on two escorted departures of its 12-day 2012 The End of the Maya World tour, available Nov. 4 and Dec. 2. Guests are met on arrival in Guatemala City and begin the itinerary with a 2-night stay in colonial Antigua; two nights on spectacularly scenic Lake Atitlan with visits to the Mayan women’s textile cooperative and naïve painters’ homes and villages; and a full-day tour of the famous market town of Chichicastengo. Continue overland into Honduras for a 2-night stay in the pretty town of Copan Ruinas with touring of the Mayan city-state site of Copan, and re-enter Guatemala to visit the Mayan temple site at Quirigua before taking a boat to spend the night at the Garifuna, an English-speaking community in Livingston. After a morning cruise on the Rio Dulce on day nine, continue overland to Tikal for a 2-night/3-day stay in El Peten jungle, with extensive exploration of the mighty temples of Tikal, as well as Yaxha and Uaxactun, famous for being the oldest complete Maya astronomical complex found to date. Additionally, the Uaxactun community makes its living traditionally by collecting chicle (used in chewing gum), allspice and xate palm leaves. Tour guests will learn about the chicle process and the different crafts. The tour’s final night is spent in Guatemala City before departing home. Rates are inclusively priced from $2,630 pp dbl.

And with the eyes of the cultural world focused on el Mundo Maya, there is no better time to consider a visit to El Mirador, which lies within the El Peten rainforest region. It rivals Tikal in monumentality, is older than Tikal, and is indeed the largest Mayan city ever discovered. Among the remote ruins are the Danta and Tigre pyramids, the former rising more than 230 feet from the forest floor and claiming to be the most massive pyramid in the whole world—surpassing even the pyramids of Egypt. Most of the structures of El Mirador were originally faced with cut stone which was then decorated with large stucco masks depicting the deities of Maya mythology. Largely unexcavated, this site can only be visited on a 5-day trek or accessed far more easily on a day trip by helicopter. Viaventure can arrange the itinerary.