West of Cancún’s tourist-filled beaches, a network of ancient walking paths and disused railway lines has been transformed into the Camino del Mayab (the Maya Way), Mexico’s first long-distance trail.
Developed with Maya locals, the trail tells the story of Mexico’s Indigenous peoples and aims to lift the 14 communities that live along its 68-mile route from a history of colonial exploitation and cultural erosion.
A three-day bike ride or a five-day hike takes visitors into the heart of the Maya world in Yucatán, from Dzoyaxché, a small community built around the faded yellow walls of a 19th-century hacienda some 15 miles south of Mérida, to the excavated temples of Mayapán, one of the last great Maya capital cities.
“The main goal of Camino del Mayab is to protect the culture, history, and heritage of the Maya communities—all things in danger of being lost,” explains Alberto Gabriel Gutiérrez Cervera, director of EcoGuerreros, the environmental conservation organization that helped build and manages the trail. “Camino del Mayab is a project that’s not just for tourists, it’s a project for all of the people in all of the communities.”
After the Spanish conquest of Yucatán in the 16th century, the Maya were left at the bottom of a racial caste system imposed by the European colonizers. The Maya language came second to Spanish, while Maya temples were knocked down and the stones used to build Christian churches.
The Maya remain disadvantaged in their homeland today, says Gutiérrez Cervera, who is of Maya descent. The lack of opportunities in rural areas forces many to seek construction work in Mérida or hotel jobs in Cancún, which continue to erode Maya culture.
He hopes the Camino del Mayab can begin to change that. “We want to offer an opportunity through tourism, so people can make the choice to stay in their community,” he says.
Source: Camino del Mayab