Cancun/Riviera Maya

The Maya civilization that flourished on the Yucatan Peninsula spanned more than 3,000 years. Known for impressive architecture and art along with sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems, vestiges of the mighty empire can be found in majestic ruins throughout the Mundo Maya area and in rituals and traditions carried on by descendants to this day. Dialects of the Mayan language are still spoken throughout the area. Drawing on other ancient traditions, Mexicans celebrate Dia de los Muertos on November 1 and 2, when families go the cemetery to honor their dearly departed and convivir (spend time) with them. In true Mexican style, a social event happens around the remembrance. Typical Mexican dishes are painstakingly prepared and then toted, along with bottles of the preferred drink, to the gravesite. Tombs are decorated with the pungent tzempazuchil (marigolds, revered by the Aztecs), and candles and incense are laid around the graves. For hundreds of years, Mexico’s ancient cultures have employed the therapeutic temazcal, a purifying steam bath intended to heal the body and cleanse the mind and soul. Nowadays, many area resorts offer this treatment, a sensory ritual performed by a shaman using meditation, herbs, flowers, and mystical chants.

The Sacred Maya Journey is a reenactment of the annual 17-mile canoe trip from Ppolé (modern-day Xcaret on the Riviera Maya) to the island of Cozumel. For more than a thousand years, oarsmen would travel to the island to pay homage at the shrine of Ixchel, goddess of fertility, medicine, and the moon. The pilgrimage began with a marketplace, where people traded objects to be offered to the goddess. The currency was the cocoa bean, considered "food of the gods." The modern-day re-enactment, in late May, draws people from around the world.