Destination Guides

Maya Customs and Rituals

Mexico’s Maya history is one of many mysteries.We can only still guess as to why a civilisation that was so advanced went into decline and led that last Maya dynasty to fall in the 13th century. What’s left are the many ruined cities such as Uxmal and Chichen Itza. On the other hand, these archaeological treasures have revealed some interesting Maya facts.

Mayan temple

 The Maya loved their jewellery

The Maya people loved wearing jewellery that was mostly made of jade and gold. It wasn’t just a girl thing as both men and women would wear bracelets, necklaces and earrings and the more important someone was, the more elaborate the jewellery became.

The Maya played deadly sports

pelota hoop
Photo by nhosko under Creative Common License

One of the most popular games the Maya indulged in, was a ball game which was played on a stone court. The aim was to pass the ball from player to player without it touching their hands or the ground. The game was over when either one of the teams managed to pass the ball through a stone hoop. The winners were praised with a lavish feast. The losers really got the short end of the stick as they were often punished with death.

The Maya were keen astronomers

Mayan observatory
Mayan observatory

The Maya were highly advanced astronomers and even had observatories to study the skies. For them the sun, the moon, the stars and even planets were gods and played a great part in their day-to-day life. Astronomy was not only used to determine when official events and festivals should take place,  the Maya also built their temples, pyramids, palaces etc. in a way determined by the position of celestial objects. They even had a calendar that was based on the movements of the sun long before the rest of the world did.

They had saunas

Although the Finns claim they invented the sauna, the Maya were way ahead of them with their sweat baths. The sweat baths were stone constructions with a hole in the ceiling. Water was poured over hot stones in the bath building which resulted in clouds of hot steam filling the enclosed room, not unlike a modern day steam room. The Maya believed that these sweat baths were a cure to many illnesses and a way to revitalise themselves.

They invented tortillas

wheat tortillas
Photo by Scorpions and Centaurs under Creative Commons License

Thank heavens for the Maya as they were the first people to make tortillas. They would grind maize and add water to it to make dough to bake a flat bread. It wasn’t till the Spanish arrived in Latin America, that wheat was introduced and the maize tortilla was replaced with a wheat flour tortilla.

If you’d like to discover how the Maya lived, check out our Treasures of the Yucatan trip that takes in the Chichen Itza and Uxmal temple complexes. Have a look on trafalgar.com.

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