The Mundo Maya
Archaeologists estimate that at one time, as many as one million or more Maya lived in the area that is now called Belize, part of a loose empire of city-states that extended into present-day Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and Honduras. Today, some 10 million Maya remain in those countries, speaking two dozen Mayan languages. Meanwhile, the ruins of their ancestors serve as stark reminders of another time.
Maya Archaeological Sites
There’s a giddy, childlike feeling you get when climbing thousand-year-old stone pyramids in the middle of the jungle — a fairy-tale, Tolkien-esque mood of mystery as you scramble up crooked staircases while strange creatures howl in the surrounding forest. Belize has dozens of accessible, lushly vegetated archaeological sites, some fully excavated and restored, others barely peeking through centuries of ferns, trees, and monkeys. New archaeological sites are discovered each year in Belize, and it’s common for rural families to have ruins and mounds in their backyards not officially known to archaeologists.
The most spectacular, extensive, and exciting sites in Belize are Caracol, Xunantunich, and Lamanai, where ongoing excavations, combined with new technology, turn up exciting discoveries each year. Other sites include El Pilar, whose main attraction is its lack of excavation, the Cahal Pech Archaeological Site in San Ignacio, and the southern sites of Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun, each with its own
The Belize Institute of Archaeology manages all archaeological sites. It is part of the government’s National Institute of Culture and History (NICH, www.nichbelize.org).
2012: The Year of the Maya
On December 21, 2012, the 13th baktun in the Great Cycle of the Mayan calendar will come to an end and another 13-baktun cycle, or “era of man,” will begin (each baktun is approximately 400 years). Mayan astronomers calculated and recorded this length of time more than 5,000 years ago, a precise count of 1,872,000 days that began on the summer solstice in the year 3114 B.C. and will end on the winter solstice in 2012.
There are hundreds of books and theories about what this new cycle will mean and how it will happen. Most agree that the date signifies some kind of transition for humanity, but argue about the details. The various theories include a vengeful Mother Nature, societal collapse, solar flares, galactic shifts, the angle of the Earth’s spin, and/or extraterrestrials. Some say it’s all bunk, that there is no “Maya Prophecy.”
Dr. Jaime Awe, director of Belize’s Institute of Archaeology, says such sensational talk around 2012 “has very little to do with the reality of what the Maya calendar and Long Count calculations are all about. This represents the ending of one cosmological cycle and the beginning of another. It’s very much the way most people would look at the end of one year and the beginning of another, but over a very, very long period of time. It is a time for reflection, and for considering future direction,” he said.
Celebration of the New Era
Belize’s official 2012 tourism slogan is phrased as a challenge: “Where will you be when the world begins anew?” Though 2012 hysteria is based on a single day — the shortest day of the year — expect a full year-long, nationwide celebration of Maya culture leading up to the 21st of December and beyond.
“Imagine a New Year’s party that comes only once every 52,000 years, and you’ll get an idea of what this means to those of us living in the Maya heartland,” says Dr. Awe.
There will be sporting events like temple-to-temple cycling races, torch relays, La Ruta Maya River Challenge, and reenactments of the ancient Maya ball game on the old courts. There will also be archaeology symposiums, lecture series, and school programs in a veritable 12-month feast of Maya nerditude. Above all, 2012 will be a year to honor the living Maya, who will be hosting ceremonies, herbal healings, dances, and teachings.
And of course, many of the best lodges and resorts in the country are offering Maya-themed packages throughout the year to place you in the middle of it all. You’ll find the complete collection of events at www.travelbelize.org.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition