The History of the Sacred Mayan Journey

Canoeist |Courtesy of Xcaret
Canoeist |Courtesy of Xcaret
Photo of Mónica Ramírez López
14 February 2018

In Xcaret—now a heavenly touristic destination—thousands of years ago, a ceremony was held to worship the goddess Ixchel. For the last 11 years, it is now possible to break the barrier of time and experience one of their most important rituals: the Sacred Mayan Journey.

The History of the Crossing to the Underworld

Xcaret Park is located on Federal Highway, in Quintana Roo. Thousands of years ago, this historical site was a port and commercial center of great political and economic importance. Its old name, Polé, means merchandise. Together with Kuzamil (today, Cozumel), it was a major trading port of goods for the ancient Mayas, but also the spot of the traditional and spiritual celebration of Ixchel, (goddess of the moon, love, gestation, water, textile works, and medicine).

Ixchel used to call the tribe members of Polé and give them a message. The pilgrims had to paddle to Kuzamil in her honor. For Mayas, crossing the sea meant entering Xiblaba, the sacred underworld and threshold of the gods. Therefore, it was a spiritual adventure that ended up with a renaissance when arriving to land. Once in Kuzamil, the canoeist used to give the sacrifice to the goddess, who always responded with a message for their communities.

Xcaret recreates this part of the history of Mayan culture through a ritual ceremony, returning to the navigation routes of the ancient pilgrims and merchants for 62.6 kilometers through the route Xcaret-Cozumel-Xcaret.


Dancers of the Sacred Mayan Journey | Courtesy of Xcaret

The Ceremony

Every spring, at 5:00 a.m. on May 26, the legend of Mayan culture is recreated. The staff, who form teams, are dressed up in traditional costumes with beautiful jewelry and makeup. The event is attended by dancers, family, and friends in white clothes to support the teams. At sunrise, the crowd watches expectantly while the master of ceremonies begins to recite quotes from the Popol Vuh (sacred Mayan book). Dances and incense fill the background, creating a surreal atmosphere. Being able to watch the 300 anxious and nervous canoeists leaving with the sunrise is an amazing experience. They are ready to paddle for eight hours on the open sea, covering the ancient Mayan trading route.

In Cozumel, an atmosphere of festivity is waiting for them in the Chankanaab Park, and once there, the first victory is accomplished. The journey will continue next morning, when at 8:30 a.m. they must set sail to come back to Xcaret to bring the message of Ixchel, where the welcome celebration is even more touching, which you can tell by just looking to the faces of the canoeists and seing the emotions of accomplishment and relief.

Canoeist in The Sacred Mayan Journey | Courtesy of Xcaret

Fall, Get Up and Start Again and Again: the Canoeist’s Personal Journey

It is interesting to see the modern team of canoeists performing a ritual that a group of their ancestors carried out centuries ago: people of different ages, with different backgrounds and origins, but who share the common passion for the Mayan culture and spirituality. The mental struggle against physical fatigue is the greatest battle to fight.

Join the Adventure

The festival of Ixchel is truly an amazing and delightful experience. Xcaret carries out this event every year to promote the ancestral culture, so take a look to its website in case you want to join the adventure for next May.

Ixchel, the goddess | Courtesy of Xcaret

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