Counterpart Country Director in Guatemala, Rony Mejia, speaks to media at the launch event for the Bak’tun tourism route.

By Maggie Farrand

Some people are preparing for the world to end Dec. 21, but communities in Guatemala are preparing in other ways: developing and marketing tourism routes that celebrate Mayan history.

Dec. 21 marks the end of the 13th Bak’tun Cycle of the Mayan calendar. The end of one cycle, according to Mayan tradition, means the beginning of a new era – and potentially the end of this world.

The new era that Guatemalans hope to inaugurate involves more attention to their historical sites and a better experience for visitors. To accomplish that, with help from Counterpart International, they launched the Bak’tun tourism route, or Ruta de los Bak’tunes, July 19 after two years of intensive efforts to coordinate people and sites.

The event drew more than 140 representatives of the media, government and business. It showcased a series of promotional and communications tools, including a map of the 11historic places on the Bak’tun Route and a website that features them and other useful tourism information: www.2012guatemala.com.

“With these tools, tour operators and tourism sector leaders have all of the necessary information to begin exploring and designing new product and service options closely related with the Maya, and the 13 Bak’tun commemoration,”said Mariano Beltranena, President of Guatemala’s Tourism Chamber.

The development process

Together with Guatemala’s Tourism Institute and Guatemala’s Tourism Chamber, Counterpart worked to identify archaeological and historic sites throughout the country rich in Mayan history.

Counterpart worked with each site and the surrounding communities to develop tourism services and facilities, including tour routes, tour guides and restaurants, and to hire and train staff for them.

Finally, the partners developed marketing materials to advertise the sites and their offerings.

Sites to see

Two routes – Living Culture and Great Mayan Cities – take tourists to 11 ancient Mayan cities, all important historical sites associated with the Mayan calendar.

Along the routes, one will find monuments, trails and structures related to the Mayan calendar, as well as sacred sites where the Mayan people still perform traditional ceremonies.

Sites to see include Yahxa-Nakum-Naranjo National Park and Kaminal Juyu’.

Yahxa-Nakum-Naranjo National Park, for example, is the site of one of the largest Mayan cities in Guatemala’s Petén region. The city was occupied during the Middle Preclassic and Postclassic period (350 B.C. through 900 A.D.). Similar to Guatemala’s famous Tikal National Park, Yaxha has a twin pyramid complex that was used to mark cycles of the Mayan calendar.

Kaminal Juyu’ archaeological park, in Guatemala City, was an important trading center during the Preclassic Period. The city is home to a complex structure, called the Serpent Mound, which supplied water to the city. Residents still perform traditional Mayan ceremonies there.

Lasting partnerships

Counterpart’s partnership with the Tourism Institute and the Tourism Chamber proved vital to the success of Bak’tun project.

Institute Director Pedro Duchez called the process “an exemplary case of a dynamic alliance, led by Counterpart and [the institute], that brought many actors from academia, private sector, public sector and NGOs.” He said they worked together to produce “a high-quality tourism strategy and tools.”

About the Community Tourism Alliance

Counterpart’s Community Tourism Alliance creates and supports economic development through tourism development.

Counterpart works with Guatemalan tourism enterprises to conserve their natural resources while attracting travelers to the beauties of the country and ultimately rebuilding and advancing the economy and the country’s long-term stability.

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