Counting Down the Maya Calendar

Mexico tourism bangs the drum for ancient Maya prediction signaling the end of the world By: Mark Rogers
The Chichen Itza ruins, built by the Maya, are one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico. // (c) 2012 Mexico Tourism Board
The Chichen Itza ruins, built by the Maya, are one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico. // (c) 2012 Mexico Tourism Board

The Details

Mexico Tourist Board

Who thought the end of the world could be this much fun? By now, you’re probably familiar with the theory that the ancient Maya predicted that the end of the world would occur in December 2012. The Maya’s Long Count calendar began in 3114 B.C., with time being sectioned off in 394-year periods called Baktuns. The number 13 was an especially sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun is scheduled to end on Dec. 21. The doomsday theories, which stem from a set of tablets discovered in the 1960s at the archaeological site of Tortuguero in the state of Tabasco, depict the return of a Mayan god at the end of the 13th period. Most Mexican archaeological authorities say that the 2012 reference on the 1,300-year-old stone tablets only marks the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar, not the end of the world. Archaeologists interpret the prophecy as a forecast of a mighty god's return to Earth and the beginning of a new era.

There’s a reason why this date has credibility for believers; even modern astronomers acknowledge the date represents an extremely close conjunction of the Winter Solstice Sun with the crossing point of the Galactic Equator (Equator of the Milky Way) and the Ecliptic, the Sun’s Annual Path on the Celestial Sphere. Naysayers take another tack and posit that the doomsday date only signals the beginning of a new calendar period.

The Maya end of the world scenario got a boost from the Hollywood blockbuster film “2012,” which told the story of a family struggling to survive in the face of a Maya-predicted day of reckoning. The film earned an impressive $769,679,473 in worldwide box office, so it’s safe to say the film had some effect on the national zeitgeist, raising the profile for the Maya forecast.

What does this looming apocalypse mean for travel agents? It means that the already popular and affordable destination of Mexico will get an added boost in the media, and special events, promotions and attractions will abound in the Maya region of the country, which roughly covers the five southern Mexican states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Campeche and Chiapas. The ancient Maya culture also prevailed over Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and western Honduras.

Gloria Guevara, Mexico’s secretary of tourism, is on record predicting 52 million tourists over the 18-month 2012 plan. This would be an increase of 12 million visitors and could signify a windfall of $14.6 billion in extra tourism revenue. The Mexican government will spend $8 million promoting tourism to Mexico’s Maya world and visitors can expect to see improvements to the infrastructure of the five states comprising Mexico’s Maya world.

The city of Tapachula on the Guatemalan border recently inaugurated an eight-foot digital clock in its city’s main park, counting down to Dec. 21.

Merida is building the Museo del Mundo Maya (Museum of the Maya World) which is scheduled to open next summer, perhaps as late as September. The museum is being built at a cost of $52 million and will display 750,000 objects and artifacts. On completion the museum will also have gardens and an IMAX theater.

The Mexico Tourism Board is also preparing a doomsday itinerary that includes the city of Comalcalco in Tabasco, where the engraved Maya tablets forecasting the end of the world were first discovered.

All in all, there will be approximately 500 Maya-themed events throughout the year in southern Mexico, comprising workshops, music and dance festivals. As Dec. 21 looms closer, agents can expect to see a promotional burst of all things Maya, with hotels and resorts offering a panoply of apocalyptic packages.

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