Now consider how wild it would be if the revellers also believed the event marked the end of the world.

Well, that’s exactly what’s about to happen across the Mayan region of Central America on December 21.

Whether or not we’re still here on December 22, expect parades, parties and giant clocks in the towns of south-eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador throughout the month. 

However, it will be the pyramids, not the towns, where the action takes place.

Shamans will be seen offering up animal sacrifices to the sky with bloody jade daggers in their hands, almost like a scene out of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, as guardians of the old traditions congregate.

This is because of the Mayan’s hugely complex calendar system made up of different sized cycles in which the universe and mankind move as one.

The shortest cycle is 13 days and the longest is 5125 years – the current long cycle began in 3113 BC and soon ends.

Doomsday theorists have latched on to the date, pointing to 1300-year-old inscriptions naming this year as “the end”. 


1. Tikal

One of the best places to witness the moment of truth is Tikal. Hidden deep in the northern Guatemala jungle, the tips of its pyramids rise above the forest canopy.

It’s hard to imagine a better setting for an Indiana Jones movie, but George Lucas beat his buddy Spielberg to it and used the World Heritage-listed city as a location for the original Star Wars (when it doubled for the fourth moon of Yavin FYI).

It remains arguably the most exciting of the Mayan sites to visit.

 Howler and spider monkeys abound, while in every direction lies hints of what is yet to be discovered, as only a tiny fraction of the thousands of buildings have been excavated.

Dominating the site are the six main pyramids, including the tallest of all surviving pre-Columbian structures, with the 8th century built Temple 4, standing 70m tall.


%TNT Magazine% mayan cities intana Roo

2. Tulum, Mexico

One of the last Mayan cities to be built, Tulum is the place to welcome the Apocalypse from the comfort of some of the planet’s finest beaches.

The ruins themselves might be underwhelming, but Tulum is all about the location.

Originally known as the City of Dawn, Tulum looks out over the sapphire blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, just a few hours south of the red-eyed party towns Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

%TNT Magazine% top five mayan cities

3. Coba, Mexico

Head deep into the jungle on the road between Tulum and Chichen Itza to find what’s left of Coba, an expansive city surrounded by croc-filled lakes that began life around 1500 years ago. 

It’s now the one Mayan site that you can explore on bike,making it far easier to discover the thousands of structures, including Mexico’s tallest Mayan pyramid.


%TNT Magazine% mayan Chichen Itza Yucatan

4. Chichen Itza, Mexico

One of the most important Mayan cities for over 1000 years, Chichen Itza is nowadays the pin-up star of Mayan civilisation and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World to boot. 

And it doesn’t disappoint, offering the undisputed masterpieces of Mesoamerican architecture as well as a grisly insight into some of the more brutal aspects of the culture.

The 30m-high main pyramid is the supreme example of the Mayan’s dedication to their calendar. 


%TNT Magazine% top five mayan places

5. Palenque, Mexico

Surrounded by dense, sweaty jungle, Palenque is another once-great city that was reclaimed by the forest after overpopulation, war and a lack of resources forced its people to bail.

Palenque is home to some of the finest Mayan art and decorated sculptures to be found in the region, while its artificial terracing system is further proof of the staggering building prowess of the Mayans, who built their cities without using metals, animals or the wheel.


Photos: Getty; Thinkstock, Andrew Westbrook