GUATEMALA CITY - From Mexico's Maya Riviera to ancient sites in Guatemala, the region foresees a tourism bonanza from the fateful December 21 date in the Mayan calendar, but indigenous groups are fed up with the doomsday myth.
With one month to go before the end of the calendar's 5,200-year cycle, tourists will find all-inclusive excursions and religious ceremonies in holy sites across Central America and Mexico.
It is also a chance to celebrate the contributions of the Mayan civilization to mankind, but indigenous groups have accused governments and businesses of profiting from Hollywood-inspired fiction about their culture.
"The world has been marked by a very peculiar interpretation given by Hollywood, without much knowledge about it," Alvaro Pop, an indigenous leader in Guatemala, told AFP.
"In Mayan culture, scholars never were prophets. That's why there shouldn't be interpretations based on supposed prophecies that don't exist," he said.
The US blockbuster "2012" depicted the Earth being swallowed by floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the date in the Mayan calendar merely refers to the end of a cycle, not the end of the world.
Guatemala's indigenous groups have prepared their own activities, separate from official celebrations, in five cities and six natural sites considered sacred to them. More than half of Guatemala's population of nearly 15 million are from indigenous groups of Mayan descent.
But the end of the world tales mean brisk business for others.
Guatemala expects to greet two million foreign visitors in 2012, an 8% increase from the previous year, according to the Guatemalan Tourism Institute.
Activities are planned in 13 archeological and tourism sites on December 20. And on December 21, President Otto Perez will attend a televised ceremony at the archeological site of Tikal, home to majestic pyramids.
In Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, home to white sand beaches, the Cancun Hotels Association says 90% of rooms are booked for the second and third weeks of December, compared to 81% last year.
Conferences and ceremonies are planned at the El Tortuguero archeological site in the state of Tabasco, where the stone calendar that foresees the end of the current cycle was discovered.
The ancient site of Chichen Itza, with its 365-step pyramid, will play host on December 21 to an event dubbed "The End of the Long Count Mayan Calendar."
A ceremony will also be held that day in Copan, the main Maya site in Honduras, with the country's President Profirio Lobo in attendance.
But an attempt by the Chorti ethnic group to recreate an ancient Mayan ball game as part of the festivities has failed.
In neighboring El Salvador, Tourism Minister Jose Napoleon Duarte told AFP that a light show and a "night of contact with the stars" are planned in the El Tazumal and Joya de Ceren sites in the west of the country.
The December date represents the end of a cycle in the Mayan long count calendar that begins in the year 3114 before Christ.
It is the completion of 5,200 years counted in 13 baak t'uunes, a unit of time. One baak t'uune is equivalent to 144,000 days, or roughly 400 years.
The Mayan culture enjoyed a golden age between 250 AD and 900 AD before its steady decline and the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century.
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