The sound of conch horns and drums, the fragrance of copal incense wafting through the air and the chants of the priests greet the rising sun. At dawn on May 20, 400 oarsmen boarded canoes rocking gently in the bay at Xcaret in the Riviera Maya and cast off for a journey that took them through the waves whipped up by a southeasterly breeze to Cozumel. They were participating in the Sacred Mayan Journey, the reenactment of an ancient pilgrimage to the holy island to worship at the shrine of Ixchel, goddess of the moon and fertility, patron of fishing, painting and weaving.

One of the most important cultural events organized by Experiencias Xcaret, the Travesía Sagrada Maya or Sacred Mayan Journey celebrated its tenth anniversary this May. Part of an initiative to rescue ancient traditions, it evokes a pre-Hispanic pilgrimage and rituals from the Late Post-Classic period of Mayan history (A.D. 1250-1519).

The Maya were great seafarers and traders and archaeologists have mapped their maritime routes and have found that they stretch through the Caribbean and down into Central America. The coast of the Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with the vestiges of ports, harbors and watchtowers. The port of Polé in Xcaret was one of the crossing points for the island of Cozumel, which was a trade enclave and religious center.

From the clothing, face painting and headdresses worn by the pilgrims, priests and rulers to the canoes themselves and the route taken, every aspect of the pilgrimage and ceremonies have been painstakingly recreated with the help of archaeologists and experts on Mayan culture.

The Sacred Mayan Journey began in 2007 with five log canoes that weighed a whopping 700 kilos each. Ten years later, 400 oarsmen from Mexico and 39 other countries made the crossing in 40 canoes built to traditional Mayan design but made lighter through the use of fiberglass. They followed the sea route once taken by Mayan pilgrims who traveled from all over the Yucatán Peninsula to worship at the island shrines and offer up their pleas to Ixchel.

It takes the crews six months of dawn training sessions to get into shape for the arduous challenge and for many it is a voyage of faith, determination and self-belief.

The fleet of canoes arrived at Chankanaab Park on Cozumel at around 1 p.m. on May 20 and the pilgrims made their way to the shrine of Ixchel to offer up their prayers to the goddess. The following day they returned to the mainland where they were welcomed in Polé at midday by the Mayan ruler, his court and the villagers who greeted them with great jubilation.

Xcaret is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and if you are planning a day at the park, be sure to visit the huge new aviary and stay on for the evening show to catch the colorful Carnival parade and many other surprises.

Ask your Concierge for assistance when planning a day out at Xcaret.


Watch the video of the Travesia Sagrada Maya