The sun hasn’t risen, but a crowd of around 500 people are gathered around the small harbour at Xcaret Park south of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The late-May rain isn’t enough to dampen the crowd’s spirit—which is unexpectedly energetic given the hour.

The spectators are here to witness the Sacred Mayan Journey, a modern recreation of an event that used to be common along the Mayan Riviera. At least once in their lifetime, the Maya were expected to undertake a journey to the nearby island of Cozumel and make offerings to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility and medicine.


Watch a traditional dance performance at Pueblo del Maiz on Cozumel

Video by Dean Lisk

Ixchel’s island altar can still be seen at the present-day archaeological site of San Gervasio on Cozumel. And, visitors can learn more about Cozumel’s pre-Hispanic history and culture—from traditional medicine to the importance of cocoa—at Pueblo del Maiz, a historical park.

The pilgrimages ended after the Spanish Conquest in the mid-1500s but are now recreated by Xcaret Park and Chankanaab Park. Wooden canoes, each rowed by volunteer teams of 10, who have trained for a minimum of six months, make the 19-kilometre voyage from the park to Cozumel, with the men dressed in white loincloths and the women wear white tunics edged in red.

Read more: 26 Reasons to Travel in 2019, From ‘A’ to ‘Z’


[This story appears in the January 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine]