The Best Maya Archaeological Sites to Visit in 2012
Temples, observatories, plazas, and ball courts will fill your days as you visit the main sites of the Maya world. Most structures you’ll see were built well over 1,000 years ago and were subsequently abandoned around A.D. 900. Many of these lost cities have been fully excavated while others are half-covered by abundant growth and wildlife.
Archaeological breakthroughs happen frequently, especially as new technology reveals more of the forest floor and what lies beneath it. Many sites have a visitors center and, sometimes, a museum or interpretive display near the entrance. Both freelance and official tour guides are often available.
True Maya calendar/archaeology buffs will want to target the following specific sites.
Equinox dates (spring, Mar. 20; fall, Sept. 22) are huge events at many sites, but are especially impressive at Chichén Itzá. This is the day the sun casts a shadow on the El Castillo temple, projecting an image of a snake descending the stairs.
Among the uncrowded ruins at Cobá is the very long date on Stela 1 in the Macanxoc Group.
Palenque has several Long Count date glyphs, both past and future, including a count indicating there are 20, not 13, b’aktuns in the cycle. If you visit during summer solstice, you may witness the dawn hierophany, or “trick of light and shadow,” in the Temple of the Sun.
Yaxchilán has a Long Count date with cycles above the 13 b’aktun, all with the coefficient 13. Look for them on the ball-game panels under Temple 33.
Izapa has several fine examples of creation myth imagery, and the alignment of its structures may suggest that ancient Izapans were projecting forward to illustrate the 2012 night sky.
Tortuguero no longer exists as an archaeological site (it now lies beneath a cement factory), but its most famous relic, Monument 6, contains the only text in the Maya world bearing the actual date of December 21, 2012. Monument 6 is now housed in the Museo Regional de Antropología Carlos Pellicer Cámara in Villahermosa, Mexico.
The date on Stela 29 at Tikal bears an early Long Count. In addition to major winter solstice events, Tikal will host a ceremony and celebrations for the Día de La Raza (Day of the Races) on October 21, 2012.
Spring (Mar. 20) and fall (Sept. 22) equinoxes are a big deal at Uaxactún. A host of special ceremonies are planned for 2012. Join in sunrise ceremonies and vigils at an ancient observatory and watch a reenactment of the ancient Maya ball game.
At Quiriguá, Stelae E and A have 3114 B.C. texts on 10.5-meter-tall (35-foot-tall) statues. Zenith passages at this latitude occur on May 1 and November 11.
On February 18, Altun Ha hosts the Maya Fest (including the Kinich Ahau Art Exhibition) with local crafts, food and drink, entertainment, and exhibits.
Xunantunich will be the site of the country’s biggest event on December 21, 2012. December 22–23 will see a Fire Ceremony and Gala, an overnight event to bring in the New Age. Visitors can watch a Youth Torch Run from other Maya temples to Xunantunich.
Catch the sunrise over the E Group in Plaza A at Caracol during spring equinox (Mar. 20) and summer solstice (June 20).
On December 21, head south to the ruins of Lubaantun for a smaller, more exclusive celebration and concert.
Copán bears a mention of the 9th b’aktun ending and multiple references to 3114 B.C. (the beginning of the Long Count). Lying at the same latitude as Izapa to the west, Copán has similar dark rift and galactic alignment imagery on some of its monuments. Copán’s zenith passage dates are May 1 and August 12. Nadir passages are February 13 and October 31.
The week of the winter solstice promises the Maya Festival Copán. Archaeological seminars, a fire ceremony, mass meditation, musical presentations, and children’s activities highlight this event.
© Josh Berman from Moon Maya 2012