Mexico! Its beaches, colours, music, spicy foods… there are many reasons to visit this great Country… today we talk about an added motivation: the discovery of Mayan culture. From Teotihuacán to the gates of Mexico, to the jungle of Palenque, passing by the pyramids of Chichén Itzá or the unique site of Tulum, Mexico is home to the fantastic testimonies of the Mayan civilization. Its discovery justifies the decision to pack and leave for this destination soon. Let’s see why!
Mexico: a Mayan or Aztec Country?
Mayan traditional ceremony
Here is the difference: the Aztecs were Nahuatl-speaking people who lived in central Mexico in the 14th to 16th centuries. The Maya are the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America. They have continuously inhabited the lands comprising modern-day Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas in Mexico and southward through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and the Honduras.
Mayan culture persists nowadays.
Great Maya metropolises have declined, but indigenous people have not disappeared. Mayan people endured almost five centuries after the Spanish conquest and their cultural traditions, lifestyle, habits, and festivals are still alive today.
How many Mayans lived today in Mexico?
There are more than 20 distinct Maya peoples within Guatemala and Mexico, each with their own culture, tradition, and language. In general, the Maya number today is about six million people. Some of the largest Maya groups are found in Mexico, such as the Yucatecs (300,000), the Tzotzil (120,000) and the Tzeltal (80,000).
Talking about numbers … the Maya concept of zero
Few people knows that the Maya numerical system is based on factors of 20 and that zero in the Maya written language was represented by a shell-shaped glyph. Numbers are composed of units of 1, 20, 400, and so on. One example: to write the number 405, a Maya would use a symbol for: one unit of 400, zero units of 20, and five units of 1. That is how they derived the concept of zero.
Visit less known places! Nuevo Durango and Mayan community.
Nuevo Durango community
Most people have never heard of Nuevo Durango. This small town offers some exciting eco-tourism projects characterized by beautiful nature, support of local tourism and the discovery of a different side of Mexico, out of the mass tourism market. Check the experience proposed by Nomadic Tribe here. Between the activities, the visit of the jungle reserve known as Punta Laguna, a vast community eco area where you can go see monkeys, walk trails, canoe, rappel into a cenote and much more; another example? The visit of Manuel’s deer farm: a conservation space created by Manuel and his family in 2006. Four species of animals in danger of extinction are hosted there and are responsible for reproducing and releasing them in protected areas where hunting is prohibited.
Who are the Yaxunah community?
Women of the Mayan community, Yucatan
Have you ever heard about Yaxunah community? Yaxunah are a small Mayan community of 700 inhabitants, in the municipality of Yaxcabá, Yucatan. Yaxunah is also the name of an archaeological site located only a 25-minute ride from the famous city of Chichen Itzá, the most visited Yucatan archaeological site. It is an excellent option to take as a base and explore different archaeological ruins of the area. Discover with us a sustainable cornfield managed by the community, learn to produce drinks based on corn or learn to prepare a typical Mayan meal, cooked in the underground pib oven wrapped in banana leaves. You can get in touch with the community and experience some of their traditions.
What about Ek Balam archaeological site and community?
Ek Balam plaza
Ek Balam is an archaeological site and still a relatively little-known Mayan jewel. At Ek Balam you will find one of the last yet scalable pyramids. Find calm and tranquillity, fewer people than the more famous Mayan sites of Chichén Itza and Palenque. More: the view of the surrounding jungle landscape is fantastic. The Acropolis, 32 meters high, is among the tallest pyramids in the Yucatán. On its base, 160 meters long, there is a gallery, it is a whole structure in separate rooms, on several levels. Going up the steps, it is possible to admire the beautiful stuccoes preserved under the thatched roofs. Surprisingly, many of them are still original; they have not been restored. Tips for travellers: get plenty of water, the heat is intense! If you arrive early in the morning, you may be able to visit the site in total solitude. Our trip proposes a visit to Ek Balam community tour, where you will visit three families from the community that will open the doors of their homes to share with visitors’ part of their culture and traditions.
The Maya loved to use sauna: recommended experience!
It seems that ancient Maya enjoyed steamy stone saunas, known as temascal in Yucatán Peninsula. Mayan saunas are still popular. Ancient Maya cities built saunas of stone or adobe mud: the Maya combined water with fire-heated rocks to create steam. In recent years, there has been a massive revival of interest in the ancient Mayan practise of steam baths. Held in a stone, igloo-like structure, temazcal ceremonies are designed to cleanse the body and mind of negativities and impurities. Experience highly recommended for: detoxify the body, purify the respiratory system, improved mental performance, increase stress resilience and much more.
Pioneers in the elaboration of chocolate!
Cacao beans on a traditional colorful bowl.
Archaeological evidence shows that the Mayans began eating chocolate 2600 years ago. In those days they were already capable of processing cocoa and mixed it with water, honey and spices, giving life to a strong and spicy drink that offered a lot of energy and that they continue to make today. The Mayans turned chocolate into an art form and it was a very important part of celebrations and rituals.
The Mayans were the first to domesticate turkeys.
Mayan women cooking
There is evidence that the Mayans were the first to domesticate turkeys. The colonizers took them to Europe and later to North America where today it is a fundamental element of traditional cuisine. In the Mayan empire, turkeys, in addition to being a source of food, provided bones and feathers for the creation of decorative elements and for domestic use such as fans, musical instruments and work tools. If you visit Mayan communities today, you will discover that they continue to raise turkeys known as "Indian turkeys", which have not undergone genetic change and are consumed during religious festivals in rural communities or at important family events (for example, weddings or baptisms).
Nomadic Tribe Team
Cover photo, Mayan women. iStock.com/Photo Beto