From Mexico's Maya Riviera to ancient sites in Guatemala, the region is expecting a tourism bonanza from the fateful December 21 date in the Mayan calendar, but indigenous groups are fed up with the doomsday myth.
With less than one month to go before the end of the calendar’s 5200-year cycle, tourists will find all-inclusive excursions and religious ceremonies in holy sites across Central America and Mexico.
It is also a chance to celebrate the contributions of the Mayan civilisation to mankind, but indigenous groups have accused governments and businesses of profiting from Hollywood-inspired fiction about their culture.
‘‘The world has been marked by a very peculiar interpretation given by Hollywood, without much knowledge about it,’’ says Alvaro Pop, an indigenous leader in Guatemala.
‘‘In Mayan culture, scholars never were prophets. That’s why there shouldn’t be interpretations based on supposed prophecies that don’t exist.’’
The US blockbuster 2012 depicted the earth being swallowed by floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the date in the Mayan calendar merely refers to the end of a cycle, not the end of the world.
Guatemala’s indigenous groups have prepared their own activities, separate from official celebrations, in five cities and six natural sites considered sacred to them.
Indigenous groups of Mayan descent make up more than half of Guatemala’s population of nearly 15 million.
But the end-of-the-world tales mean brisk business for others.
Guatemala expects to greet two million foreign visitors in 2012, an 8per cent increase from the previous year, according to the Guatemalan Tourism Institute.
Activities are planned in 13 archaeological and tourism sites on December 20. And on December 21, President Otto Perez will attend a televised ceremony at the site of Tikal, home to majestic pyramids.
In Mexico’s white-beached Yucatan peninsula, the Cancun Hotels Association says 90per cent of rooms are booked for the second and third weeks of December, compared to 81per cent last year.
Conferences and ceremonies are planned at the El Tortuguero archaeological site in Tabasco, where the stone calendar dating the end of the current cycle was found.
The ancient site of Chichen Itza, with its 365-step pyramid, will play host on December 21 to an event dubbed ‘‘The End of the Long Count Mayan Calendar’’.
A ceremony will also be held that day in Copan, the main Mayan site in Honduras, with the country’s President Porfirio Lobo in attendance. But an attempt by the Chorti ethnic group to recreate an ancient Mayan ball game as part of the festivities has failed.
In neighbouring El Salvador, Tourism Minister Jose Napoleon Duarte says a light show and a ‘‘night of contact with the stars’’ are planned in the El Tazumal and Joya de Ceren sites in the west of the country.
The December date represents the end of a cycle in the Mayan long count calendar that began in 3114BC.
It is the completion of 5200 years counted in 13 baak t’uunes, a unit of time equivalent to 144,000 days, or roughly 400 years.
The Mayan culture enjoyed a golden age between 250AD and 900AD, before its steady decline and the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.