Where to Go in the Mundo Maya in 2012
To see as many deep-jungle temples and pyramids as possible, pick a corner of the Mundo Maya with both a high density and wide variety of archaeological sites. You’ll also want to be near modern Maya villages and natural attractions like waterfalls, cenotes, beaches, caves, and volcanoes.
Luckily there are plenty of places that meet all these criteria and more.
The number of Maya sites in Mexico dwarfs the rest of the Maya countries. Mexico has massive, accessible archaeological sites like Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, and Cobá; it also has alluring, hard-to-reach ruins such as Yaxchilán, accessible only by lancha up the Usumacinta River.
Mexico also has the largest number of archaeological sites with direct relevance to the Long Count and 2012, including Izapa, considered “ground zero” for the Long Count.
Guatemala has the most living Maya communities, most of the world’s Maya population, and the most surviving spoken Mayan languages. Guatemala is the true heartland of the Maya, home to more than six million people of various lineages speaking dozens of languages. This is also where the old way of life and sacred calendars are kept, especially in the Cuchumatan Mountains.
Guatemala’s archaeological sites are big ones: Tikal, Uaxactún, Quiriguá, Yaxhá, and Piedras Negras. Its large concentration of Maya communities and sites with Long Count significance make it a natural base for 2012.
Belize is a small English-speaking, relaxed, and fascinating country. Its 320,000 inhabitants speak eight different languages and are spread over an area the size of Massachusetts. Belize has some of the most expansive, wildlife-filled tropical forests in the world, an enormous cave system packed with Maya artifacts, and Classic Maya Period cities like Lamanai, still mostly forested, and Caracol, over the Mountain Pine Ridge. Belize also has diving along the hemisphere’s longest barrier reef.
Though living Maya make up only about 10 percent of the population, Belize was once home to many more and is riddled with archaeological sites. San Ignacio, in western Belize, allows access to the main sites as well as a range of jungle lodges. A community tourism program in the southern Toledo District allows travelers a chance to spend a few nights in a rural Maya village.
Copán was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 and continues to be one of the most undervalued destinations in Central America. This unique city by the Copán River in western Honduras was a major population and cultural center during the height of the Classic Period, from the 5th to 9th centuries A.D. It is famous for its intricate writings and layers of kingdoms built one on top of the other.
A lush landscape of river valleys and hills surrounds the ruins. Copán makes an excellent, offbeat alternative on the 2012 path. It is a powerful spot, but won’t attract the crowds expected in Mexico.
© Josh Berman from Moon Maya 2012