New Agers fill Riviera Maya for Dec. 21, 2012: Doomsday turns into Winter Solstice celebration

TULUM, Mexico - The doomsday countdown to what some people believe will be the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012, turned into a New Age party attended by visitors from across the world.

From Planetary Kin Circles to sweat lodges and Mayan Astrology classes, spiritual seekers said they wanted to leave behind negativity and ego in 2012 and look for a greater universal purpose in 2013. They saw the winter solstice at 5:11 a.m. EST as the turning point between this age and the next.

The Mayan culture thrived for six centuries before collapsing around 900 A.D. because of a series of droughts and possibly warfare, according to most scholars. The ancient Mayans were sophisticated calendar makers and time keepers. 

Their calendar "ended" on Dec. 21, 2012, or so it was thought for decades. A recent archeological discovery in Guatemala shows calendars counting time thousands of years into the future.

The Riviera Maya region is one of the top spots to party in the days leading up to Dec. 21 this year, including Playa del Carmen. Most hotels were booked months in advance in the bustling city between Cancun and Tulum.

Visitors from Australia to Argentina gathered in a Planetary Kin Circle on Tulum's famous beach during a week-long celebration leading up to the solstice. The circle was based on Mayan Astrology.

As tourists gathered for yoga, sun bathing, partying and soul circles, it seemed most Mayans were working as normal in jobs that catered to foreign visitors, such as in restaurants and hotels.

Most tourists planned to visit one of three ruins nearest to Cancun and Playa del Carmen when the solstice arrived. But some planned to travel as far as Palenque in southern Mexico. The Palenque ruins date back to 220 BC, and are about a nine hour bus ride from Playa del Carmen.

The Tulum ruins are the youngest by Mayan years, and have gained popularity in recent years as the highway from Cancun improved. Tulum's ruins sit on a cliff at the sea, and was a main, fortress trading port between 1200 - 1500 AD.

Two other popular Mayan ruins are Chichen Itza and Coba, the latter is the oldest dating back to as early as 100 BC. Coba is the least visited in the region because it is situated in a remote area and is not fully excavated. However, tourists still can climb to the top of the main pyramid, which is the tallest in the Yucatan region.

Chichen Itza is the most visited by tourists because the pyramids and other buildings are fully excavated, and there are many nearby facilities. This city-state rivaled Coba and eventually replaced the older site's regional importance.

Many doomsday websites touted the end of the world as happening at Chichen Itza, where the pyramids were constructed so precisely that on the the spring and vernal equinoxes, the shadow of what appears to be a serpent falls on the main court. That shadow let the Mayans know it was time to either plant or harvest.

But no such shadow appears at the site on the winter solstice. However, the sun does appear to climb up the edge of the Temple of Kukulkan, until it rests momentarily directly above the temple. (Kukulkan was similar to the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl.)

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