Worlds of the Maya

80 minutes
Format: DVD
Available: Now

Before most Western Europeans knew about the North American continent, the ancient Maya civilization occupied the eastern third of MesoAmerica. Worlds of the Maya explores Belize and Guatemala, two of the countries that hold the stories and sites of the great classical Maya past, as well as their culture today.

XunantunichWe begin our journey in the water-centered Caribbean Port of Belize City to fly over the eastern coastline with its dozens of offshore islands and the world's second largest barrier reef.

31 miles north, and 6 miles from the eastern coast we explore the ancient city of Altun Ha: "The Priests of the Sun." This classic Maya site, with its once population of over 10,000 was a major trading post, linking the Caribbean shore with the cites of the interior, all the way to Mexico City.

Further north, bordering Mexico, is the Corozal District. While present day Corozal town has been attracting American expatriates, it sits on a site now called Santa Rita, believed to have been the ancient city of Chetumal. It once controlled the trade routes that ran along the coast and into the interior, along which passed cacao, honey and vanilla. It is here we also visit a Maya home and family to experience their way of life.

South, in Orange Walk District, a boat journey on the "New River" takes us to Lamanai: “Submerged Crocodile ”. This 950 acre site, one of Belize's largest ceremonial centers, displays ancient Maya architecture. Lamanai also had one of the longest occupation spans, dating from 1500 B.C. to the 19th Century.

Further south, thru treeless savanna and rainforest rivers, to Placencia, then west to the Cayo district. The town of San Ignacious is our base for excursions through the Mennonite community of Spanish Outlook, and the ancient city of Cahal Pech. We wind our way thru the corbelled arches of this Maya center to join an archeological team. We travel with them overland to Carocal, one of the largest and most important sites in all of Central America... but one of the most inaccessible ruins in Belize. The largest pyramid in Caracol, “Canaa” (Sky Place), rises 140 feet high, and iparrott is the tallest manmade structure in all of Belize.

Our journey along Hummingbird Highway takes us to Caves Branch, to explore, by floating via rubber tubes and hiking, one of the caves the ancient Maya Shamans and priests believed the gateway to the afterlife. Our exploration includes vampire bats and ancient Maya artifacts.

Further south, the Toledo district offers the ceremonial center of Nim Li Punit: “the place of stelae," where more than 25 stone slabs have found. We also get a chance to examine ancient tombs to see how they were constructed. And will stay in a remote Maya village, to experience the daily lives of its people.

jaguarAfter we hike through the Cockscomb Nature Reserve - the only Jaguar preserve in the world, we return to the Mopan Maya village to witness a traditional thanksgiving celebration.

The capital, Guatemala City, was founded in 1776, after a devastating earthquake destroyed the former Spanish capital. It has an active cultural life throughout the year, and our tour includes the Central Market, Metropolitan Cathedral, National Palace, downtown, Yurrita Church and the world's only scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.

East through cowboy country to Quiguira, an ancient center and the capital of an autonomous and prosperous state. The ruins of Quirigua contain some outstanding 8th-Century monuments and an impressive series of carved stelae and sculpted calendars that constitute an essential source for the study of Mayan civilization.

A boat trip on the Rio Dulce takes us to a Maya Research center where the traditions of the Maya are being studied and preserved.

West, the famous and fabled town of La Antigua Guatemala was the first capital city in all the Americas. Some of the town has been restored to its Spanish colonial splendor while other parts show the devastation of the earthquake which destroyed the town in 1773. On our tour we also visit the memorial to XunantunichPedro DeBetencourt, the only Catholic saint in Central America.

We climb into the mysterious Guatemalan highlands to Chichicastenango. Its market is held every Thursday and Sunday when indigenous people from throughout the region stream into town to buy, sell, socialize and worship. While buyers and sellers bargain for items such as produce, flowers and handicrafts, Mayan-Christian rites are practiced by devout indians on the steps of the Santo Tomas.

We also visit a renowned maskmaker's shop to experience the traditions they observe include a private ceremony dedicated to Pascual Abaj the Mayan earth god Huyup Tak'ah.

On exquisite Lake Atitlan, the Tzutugil village of Santiago is the largest and most traditional of the lake towns. Here the women wear a distinctive halo-type headdress created by winding a long ribbon around the crown of their heads. We also experience its native market, tour of town and homes and allowed to visit the home that provides sanctuary for the Maya deity Maximon.

Guatemala’s Petén province occupies around a third of the nation. It is Guatemala’s last frontier - rich in Maya ruins and wildlife, Tikal National park covers 222 square miles amidst the thick, tropical jungle of El Petén. HeliconiaCreated in 1958, UNESCO declared the park a “Monument of the World’s Heritage” in 1979. There are more than 4,000 structures or constructions in Tikal. It is regarded as one of the most important cultural and natural reserves in the world.

The Worlds of the Maya holds many surprises as it introduces us to the groups of Maya existing both yesteryear and today, each group with its own language and special folklore, yet sharing a common ancestral heritage as expressed in religion, music, dance, foods and social organization.

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DVD $19.95