May visitors to the Mexican Caribbean have the opportunity to be part of an ancient tradition as they bid farewell to hundreds of oarsmen who will board fragile wooden canoes and begin a journey of faith that will take them across the sea to the sacred island of Cozumel. The seventh Sacred Mayan Journey will take place from May 23 to 25 and follows an ancient sea route from the Mayan port of Xel-Há to Cozumel, once site of a shrine to Ixchel, the moon goddess, patroness of fertility, childbirth and weaving.
On the evening of May 23, the ancient temples in Xcaret (known as Pole in the days of the ancient Maya) will spring to life with all the color and bustle of the Ki-Huic or market, paying tribute to the importance of the Mexican Caribbean coast and Cozumel in the Mayan trade empire. There will be music, dance, food, offerings and displays of the most important goods that merchants eagerly bartered for with cacao beans in a trade empire that extended throughout southeast Mexico and had links with cultures in the Mexico highlands, Central America and the islands of the Caribbean. The market sets the scene for rituals performed by Mayan priests and featuring the apparition of the Maize God Hun Nal Ye.
At dawn on May 24, awaking to the sounds of chanting, drums and the heady smell of copal incense, the oarsmen will set sail for Cozumel. They have the blessing of Mayan priests who have made offerings to the gods to ask for calm seas and a safe passage for the pilgrims.
Hailing from Mayan communities in Quintana Roo and Yucatán, Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel and other parts of Mexico, the seafarers have been training hard for six months. They are dressed in ancient garments and their canoes are hollowed out tree trunks, made using time-honored techniques. They will be following a sea route taken by pilgrims thousands of years ago as they made the perilous voyage from Xel-Há to the holy island to worship and offer their prayers to Ixchel.
The fleet of canoes is expected to arrive in Cozumel at around 1 p.m. the same day, making landfall in Chankanaab Park where the Halach Uinik, the island ruler in ancient times, will welcome them. The pilgrims make their way to the shrine of Ixchel to pray and make their offerings.
On the morning of May 25, the pilgrims leave Cozumel and turn their canoes towards Xcaret where they will be greeted by Mayan priests and jubilant members of the community who give thanks for their safe return and take consolation from the message of hope that they bring.
This year’s Travesia Sagrada Maya is the first of a new era marking a new b’aktun or cycle in the ancient Mayan calendar.
Every aspect of the Sacred Mayan Crossing is authentic, based on the research of archaeologists and anthropologists working with Xcaret. To witness it is an incredible experience. Ask at the tour desk in your resort for more information on how to take part.