5. Belize: The Maya
Contrary to popular belief, Maya is not a dead or dying culture. On Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and in several Central American countries, modern Maya communities exist, integrated in the larger society while upholding long-held traditions. Belize’s Maya population consists of three distinct cultural groups– the Kekchi, the Mopan, and the Yucatec–all of which are commemorating the end of the long-form calendar in 2012 with special cultural celebrations and observances.
Visitors can get a glimpse of Maya culture by participating in the Maya Homestay Program. Overseen by the country’s tourism board, the program involves Maya families hosting visitors for overnight stays. During their stay, travelers get to see Maya communities, participate in traditional Maya activities and daily chores and tasks (including processing cacao!), as well as eat Mayan food.
Image: Julie Schwietert Collazo