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As the world gears up for celebrations of the Maya Calendar coming to an end on Dec. 21, there’s a heightened interest in all things Maya. Visitors to the Riviera Maya region will find it easy to combine relaxation time on the beach or by the pool with an authentic Maya cultural experience. Those who wish to create meaningful memories and leave something positive behind also have the option to join a variety of volunteer efforts, from programs that bolster needy children to eco-endeavors in the service of sea turtles.
“With the coming end of the Maya calendar and its new beginning, we are finding more and more of our guests expressing an interest in Maya culture,” said Marco A. Gasca, expeditions manager of Alltournative, a Playa del Carmen-based tour company.
Alltournative offers two Maya excursions; one is more cultural, concentrating on visiting a Maya family in Laguna Chabela, Coba, while a second combines adventure activities with a Maya lunch in the same location. During the tour, participants have a chance to meet with three generations of the village’s inhabitants. They will also watch Maya women cooking traditional fare such as chicken with achiote. Tour participants see how the villagers currently live, as well as get a look at how Mayas lived in even simpler dwellings only a few decades ago.
“Tourists can feel good about their participation in the tour,” said Gasca. “The Maya village benefits in significant ways by interacting with tourists, with improved school and community services being just part of the result.”
An effortless way to surround oneself with Maya culture is to book a vacation at Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort & Spa.
“The respect and admiration for this millenary civilization and the many historic hidden treasures we found in this magical place have inspired us to promote and share the richness of the Maya culture with all those who visit us,” said Efrain Rios Castillo, corporate director of environment and sustainable development at Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort & Spa.
Sandos Caracol presents Maya productions four days a week, Monday through Thursday.
“Our shows are authentic representations of Maya culture, bolstered by research,” said Ramiro Munoz, ecological director at Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort & Spa.
The productions take place at various locations around the resort, including a performance at a cenote (underground cavern). The final show of the week takes place in a jungle clearing and includes dinner in natural surroundings while watching a stirring Fire of Life dance production. All of the shows are included in the all-inclusive price and function as a value-added experience for guests.
“Some of our repeat guests have asked us to take it a step further, with more immersive experiences,” said Munoz. “We’re in the process of arranging an option to take day trips to an authentic Maya village.”
Since Mexico is across the border from the U.S., it would make sense that there would be client interest in adding a voluntourism component to vacations. Volunteer opportunities are generally not plentiful in Mexico and, specifically, in the Riviera Maya. With a little effort, however, those with a real desire to add a helping component to their Riviera Maya vacation can find voluntourism opportunities.
Cancun’s City of Joy Foundation (Fundacion Ciudad de la Alegria) operates the Mano Amiga School, providing aid to 1,300 students in kindergarten through high school.
“We welcome volunteers coming for a day or longer,” said Ernesto Yunez, director of City of Joy. “They can do a variety of things. They can teach English to our students — we have 1,200 of them. If volunteers are handy, they can help with the maintenance of our building.”
Last year, Real Resorts partnered with the City of Joy Foundation and is inviting destination wedding couples to create a legacy gift fund to help educate a child.
You may have to brush up on your Spanish to communicate effectively with the folks at Florafaunaycultura, an organization devoted to the conservation of Riviera Maya’s wildlife, but it would be worth the effort. They especially need volunteers during the turtle nesting season, which runs from May through October.
The easiest way a traveler can access Maya culture is to keep their eyes open. During a visit to the Yucatan Peninsula, on or off the resort, you’ll be surrounded by Maya people. I still remember my first visit to the Riviera Maya. Observing everyday Mayas gave me a glimpse into Mexico’s past, before the arrival of the Spanish, and a feeling for the authentic spirit of the Mexican people.
City of Joy Foundationwww.cityofjoyfoundation.org
Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort & Spawww.sandos.com