With visitors flocking to Mexico to witness the end of the world as we know it – as predicted by the Mayan calendar – doomsday tourism has become a phenomenon. Hotels are running specials and an End of the World concert is planned in Guatemala on Dec. 21.
So where would one of Hollywood's experts on the Mayan civilization recommend visiting? The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Farhad Safinia, the writer and producer of Starz’s Boss, who also wrote Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and was on-site in Mexico during shooting.
Q: What’s your favorite hotel you stayed at there?
A: We shot a teaser trailer for Apocalypto at a the ruins of Edzna in the state of Campeche which boarders both the Yucatan and Guatemala, in the heart of Mayan country. It was one of the most difficult shoots I’ve ever experienced because of the heat. Nights, we would stay at the Hacienda Uayamon in Campeche, which is possibly the most magical, tranquil and restful place I have ever stayed. Just looking at the photographs of this place even today, I’m reminded of what an unusual and uniquely beautiful hotel it is. It had this brilliantly done combination of ultra modern and luxurious amenities set against the original colonial stone and column buildings of its past. It is a real treasure.
Q: What’s the best Mayan ruin to visit?
A: Also in the state of Campeche are the ruins of Calakmul. The original city that existed there is believed to have been part of a network of cities that included the breathtaking El Mirador (which is in modern day Guatemala) and the iconic Tikal (also in Guatemala and where George Lucas famously shot some of the Moon of Endor scenes for The Return of the Jedi). Calakmul is hard to reach and far enough outside the tourist catchment area of Cancun and the North Yucatan that it is not frequently visited. Like Tikal and El Mirador, it’s also buried in jungle, making the trek to it part of the excitement and romance of the journey. None of the better-known Mayan sites in Mexico, places like Palenque, Chichen Itza or Tulum, feel this lost and off the beaten path. Calakmul is thought to be a pre-classic city, dating to possibly centuries before Christ. It always blows me away to think about the sophistication of civilizations flourishing in this part of the world, and the mega cities that existed, supporting hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, at a time when the ambition and scale of cities in the so called “known” world were exponentially more modest. It’s nerdy perhaps, but I really do get a thrill thinking about the sheer degree of organization, city planning, policing, plumbing, bureaucratic administration, sophistication in politics, architecture, engineering and so on required to support cities of such magnitude. Nothing we know of in the “old world” even comes close. And the remnants of all these achievements are right there in the jungles for us to see.
I’d also like to mention the cenotes of Yucatan. Technically speaking they are not Mayan Ruins, but these underground limestone caves were integral to the Maya’s rituals and religious practices and beliefs. They are easily reachable from the tourist towns in the Yucatan and you can go trekking in them or better still, diving. They are vast, hidden, eerily beautiful places. I’ve gone diving in a number of them and each time the excitement remains undiminished.
Q: Where was your favorite place to dine and drink?
A: In Mexico City, Pujol is completely stellar. What they are doing there in experimenting to rethink Mexican dishes in a new way ranks the place alongside any of the best restaurants anywhere in the world. In Veracruz, where we shot most of Apocalypto, there is an old seafood place on the waterfront called Villa Rica. You can’t beat Villa Rica.
Q: Any great off-the-beaten-track hotspots?
A: I don’t know about hotspots, but one big secret about Mexico, which I have been selfishly keeping to myself for the last half decade, and which I’m reluctantly going to tell you about is Playa Escondida. It’s in the area of Catemaco, in Veracruz, where we shot all of the jungle scenes in Apocalypto. The locals, and some of the crew, had been telling me throughout the shoot that Playa Escondida, which literally translates as Hidden Beach, needs to be visited, that it is the most beautiful beach in Mexico and the most remote - nothing there but lush cliffs, sand and water, but supposedly of immaculate beauty. Finally, a week before wrapping, I took a 4x4 and my wife and I drove out to find it. “Off the beaten track” doesn’t begin to describe it. The car nearly sank in quick sand at least twice and we had to use twigs leaves and a lot of pushing and finger crossing to keep going. At a certain point you can’t continue by vehicle, you get out and hike and it’s a hell of trek. But when we finally saw it, well, all I will say is that when you close your eyes and imagine what the beaches in paradise look like, they look like Playa Escondida.