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On 21 December 2012 -- the winter solstice – the Maya calendar will complete a 5,126 year cycle and will come to an end. While some people are building shelters to prepare for the apocalypse, others are heading into the heart of Mayan civilization.

Before its collapse around 800 AD, the ancient Maya empire spread across southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Today, nearly 50% of Belize’s population is of mixed Maya-European descent and about 10% are indigenous Maya. While many of the most well known Maya sites are located in Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is home to hundreds of archaeological sites, 11 of which are excavated and open to the public.

In the lead up to the winter solstice, several sites throughout the former British colony are hosting events to celebrate the end (or the resetting) of the Maya calendar.

At the Caracol Archaeological Reserve in western Belize, the National Institute of Culture and History is holding four special events to mark 2012’s two solstices (21 June and 21 December) and the two equinoxes (21 March and 22 September). An archaeologist will lead a tour of the ancient site, nestled in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, and traditional food will be served. Overnight camping at Caracol will be allowed for the first time, allowing winter solstice campers the chance to witness the sun rise on a new B'ak'tun (or cycle) from a very historical spot. Each event is limited to 100 people; tickets can be purchased through the Institute of Archaeology.

Also on 20 and 21 December is the Closing Festival at the Cahal Pech Archaeological Reserve, one of the oldest sites in Belize with more than 30 structures to explore. The large-scale event will include musical performances, a fire ceremony and torch run.

If you are not visiting during one of the four solstices/equinoxes, there will be tours of Altun Ha, a major ruin on the east side of Belize, on 18 February, in addition to exhibits, entertainment and regional food. During “the 2012 Maya Marriage of Many”, 36 couples will tie the knot on 12-12-12 (hence 36 couples) at Cahal Pech. Though the marriage ceremony is open to couples from anywhere in the world, the event is invite only.

Several tour operators, hotels and resorts are also promoting special Maya packages. The Lodge at Chaa Creek has a Maya Winter Solstice Tour, and the week-long Belize Maya Heartland 2012 tour is offering an intense immersion in Maya culture.

Find more information and an interactive calendar on the Belize Tourism Board website.

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