Previous Next

Altun Ha in Belize. Photo: Canon in 2D

Megan Wood talks to locals in Belize to try to find out what the consensus is.

[Editor's note: Megan Wood is the first writer-in-residence to participate in the Road Warrior program, a partnership between MatadorU and the Belize Tourism Board. Megan is spending the spring in Belize, documenting traditions of the country's diverse cultural groups. Each week, she reports on her experiences for Matador, her personal blog, and for other outlets.]

CRISTINA, a Kekchi Maya woman who lives near Lubaantun in Belize, took me to visit the ancient Maya site located a few miles from her home where she sells weaving and her husband farms cacao. We walked up the hill to the site during the hottest part of the day; me, sweating in my shorts, and Cristina, wearing a homemade conservative dress, barely noticing the heat.

As we wandered around the once great military site — now mostly abandoned piles of limestone — she pointed out the palm leaves her family uses to make roofs on houses. Two children followed us eating unripe mangoes they found on the ground and fighting with each other in Kekchi.

They just died and left all these rocks. Then the British came and took the treasure.

Cristina knew a lot about the rainforest plants and their uses, but when I asked her what she thought happened to her ancestors she shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know. They just died and left all these rocks. Then the British came and took the treasure.”

The ancient Maya had writing skills, planned cities, and built pyramids. No one is really sure what caused the fall of the Maya people, though it was probably a combination of disease, famine, and warfare. Belize was once the heart of the Maya Empire, with two million living, farming, and, yes, sacrificing virgins since 2000 BC.

Today, the Maya population in Belize is a tiny fraction of what it once was, but remaining Maya hold many of the traditions their ancestors did: farming cacao, grinding corn for tortillas, playing the marimba, and annually dancing the Deer Dance.


While Cristina and I continued to walk around the fallen rocks of the looted ruins I decided I would start asking Belizeans with Maya heritage to tell me more about 2012 and what they really think will be the fate of the world.

The Maya Calendar

The Maya had a complex way of keeping track of time that was based on three separate calendars. The calendar that many people think predicts the end of the world is called “The Long Count” and it keeps track of the beginning of the universe until the end of time. On December 21, 2012, the calendar ends.

December 21, 2012, is an interesting astrological date

December 21st is the winter solstice, which means the sun will reach its northernmost extreme. The Maya had accurate knowledge of astronomical events; they used monuments, buildings, and wooden implements to make fixed lines of sight for observing celestial bodies, and recorded the passage of the sun and moon. They predicted lunar eclipses and correctly computed the length of a year as 365.2420 days. Despite their stone technology, the Maya were incredibly accurate.

Age of Enlightenment

Some current Maya, like Cristina’s family, think that 2012 will usher in a new age of spirituality for all of mankind. That the cosmos will somehow reveal to us a new way to live that promotes the environment, respect for humanity, and the end of war and hate. A glorious time of peace and understanding, not a fiery Armageddon.

Paul, a Mopan Maya, and shuttle driver in San Ignacio, told me he thinks that ancient Maya had access to 95% of their brain cells, an ability that was lost over time. His theory is that in 2012, humans will once again regain access to full brain capacity.

Big New Year’s party

Jake, a guide with Yucatec Maya heritage and with a master’s degree in archaeology, showed me around the Xunantunich Ruins near the border of Guatemala. After he explained a penis-piercing ritual to me with enough detail to make me dizzy, I asked him his theory of 2012.

He told me, “December 21, 2012, is just a change in the Maya calendar year. For us, it will be the end of one calendar cycle, and the beginning of a new one.”

The ancient Maya didn’t believe in endings. Their concept of time was circular, not linear. So why would 2012 be any different? Just like Western society celebrates the new year, every year on December 31st, the Maya will celebrate a new cycle on December 21.

But who knows?

The Maya believed that the world had been created and destroyed several times. Humans had been created and destroyed three times. In the first creation they were made from clay, in the second, from sticks, and in the third, from corn. The last creation dated 3114 BC and is expected to end in the year 2012. And next?

Culture Guides2012


About The Author

Megan Wood

Megan Wood is a freelance travel writer and full-time free spirit. She has visited five continents and is currently writing a travel memoir about her time in the Peace Corps. Read her blog, My Bohemian Life, for her thoughts on travel, culture, and living without fear.

More By This Author

view all →
  • Henri

    Nice take on the meaning of the end of the Mayan Calendar. Start of a new cycle sounds like a good possibility

  • Vago Bond

    My guess is that no it won’t, but if it does, I’ll be happy as pie. The next world awaits.


  • Zakir

    In my religion it says that before human beings were created, the life on earth was of the spirits (Ginn, as we call them). When they came to a point where it was all fights and hatred is when God decided put them in a different dimension and created human beings. So they still exist in a different dimension n we exist in this.

    • Lady_hawks90

        what religion is that..

  • Joshua Berman

    Megan — nice report and great job including the voices of Belizean Maya! No matter what anyone believes will or will not happen in 2012, it makes for a fantastic excuse to visit the Mundo Maya countries, each of which will celebrating Maya culture all year long. I’ve written a guide to traveling in the region during 2012, coming out in September, 2011, called: MOON MAYA 2012: A GUIDE TO CELEBRATIONS IN MEXICO, GUATEMALA, BELIZE & HONDURAS. Here’s where I discuss travel in the region, enjoy, and thanks for your piece:

    Josh Berman

  • Joshua Berman

    (P.S. FYI, the photo above is an Aztec, not a Maya calendar image)

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks for the correction Joshua. From what I can tell, the Aztec calendar is based on the Maya calendar?

  • Dirtyblacksneakers

    I visited a remote Maya village in southern Belize recently and a young person in the village brought this up…he and his family found it pretty hilarious that so many think the Maya are saying the world will end in 2012. Maybe a hurricane or something else, but not the end of the world…

  • World Tourism Blog

    Information about travel and tourism , travel the world, the best vacation, tours the world, places for tourism, travel in asia, tour in asia, world travel tour, holidays the world, world tourism, international travel tours and destination of tourism.

  • Travel Thailand

    No matter what anyone believes will or will not happen in 2012, it makes for a fantastic excuse to visit the Mundo Maya countries. Travel Thailand

  • Manu1986u

    Very very nice i like it  

  • Anonymous

    There is a strong possibility that the world might end in March 2012. Please google eBible Fellowship. Please check the eBible Fellowship website and please check .

  • John Pascoe

    Most Maya that I know in Belize didn’t believe in the world ending (or even renewing) in 2012, they were just busy getting on with their regular lives like everyone else. I think it’s worth noting that there are only a couple of written references to Dec 21, 2012 in the entire Mayan world, and that most of the eschatological writings on the subject weren’t by Mayans or Central Americans, they were by Europeans who added their own New Age beliefs to the Mayan ones to create a whole range of pseudoscientific nonsense, none of which was supported by any evidence; it’s an unfortunate consequence that the Maya beliefs got included in all that.

Throw a rock in Belize and you’ll probably hit a Maya site.
From all of us at Matador: Happy New Year, and here's to a healthy 2013!
I’m just here to start the party off right.
Am I expected to tip here? How much is appropriate?
It's interesting how the language we speak influences the animal sounds we hear.
Thailand is known for its kathoey or “ladyboy” culture.
The hollowness I feel is more disappointment than hunger. God will break your heart.
Graham finds his way through Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador, only needing a police...
"Today, as Mayan traditions, culture, and language fade with each generation, some elders...
Joshywashington has 7 days, a car and a camera in Mexico to explore Mayan ruins and join...
The best places to combine adventure and history in Cayo's caves.
We expected to spend a few weeks here. We stayed a year and a half.