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Mel Gibson's movie, Apocalypto, brings the Mayan civilization to life. Filmed in Veracruz, Mexico, the film is based on the Mayan prophecy, Fin de los Tiempos, which predicted the end of the world's 5,200-year fourth and current cycle on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012.

Movie backdrops range from the jungles of Catemaco to the City of Veracruz, offering an excellent look at the southeastern Mexico state. Filmed in the Yucatec Maya language, Apocalypto has a cast of indigenous Mayan actors. Although the Mayan cities portrayed in the movie are gone, their ruins remain.

Mayan culture was one of the greatest civilizations of all time. Like the Greeks, the Mayans were very enlightened for their time. Although the height of Mayan civilization ended 1,600 years ago, their legacy spreads from Central Mexico to Honduras.

The Mayan civilization extended throughout northern Central America, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and El Salvador, as well as the southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan.

Mayan history covered three major periods: the pre-Classic from 2000 BC to 200 AD, the Classic from 200 AD to 900 AD; and the post-Classic era from 900 AD to 1521 AD. Cycles played a major role in Mayan culture. The Mayans studied astronomical rotations and their synchronicity to human events.

The Mayans developed the most advanced written language in the hemisphere. They were highly skilled mathematicians, used complex calculations and were the first in the world to develop the concept of zero. Mayans were also adept at urban planning. Their grand cities contained monumental temples, built without the use of tools as we know them today.

Mayan cities were carefully designed with temples in the center and a ball court, where Mayans played a game considered to be the precursor to soccer. The ruins of many of these amazing cities are found throughout Mexico, especially in the Yucatan.

Chichen-Itza is one of the most famous Mayan sites. Located in Yucatan State, Chichen-Itza is one of Mexico's most visited archeological sites. The Mayans built Chichen-Itza so that, during the spring and fall equinoxes, the setting sun casts a shadow of a serpent descending the northern steps of the Pyramid of the Serpent God, Kukulkan. Chichen-Itza became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

Chichen-Itza reached its peak between 700 and 1200 AD. It was the political, economic and military power in the area. Its pyramids and temples are surrounded by green vegetation, underground rivers, natural wells and limestone, which the Mayans used to construct their buildings. Scenes in Apocalypto show the Mayans covered in white limestone dust during construction of the temples.

Built on a limestone cliff above the Caribbean Sea, 75 miles south of Cancun, Tulum is the only completely walled Mayan settlement. Located in Quintana Roo state, Tulum draws nearly 2 million visitors annually.

This group of temples was a major trading center and port for the 4,000 Mayan canoes that paddled between Mexico's northern coast and South America. Loaded with feathers, furs, jade, medicinal herbs, salt, and honey, these canoes navigated a network of inland canals dug by the Mayans to facilitate travel. Tulum's largest temple, El Castillo, was probably a lighthouse, which guided sailors through an opening in the coral reef.

Uxmal is located 50 miles south of Merida, on the Yucatan Peninsula. Uxmal's ruins are examples of classic Pu'uc architecture, named after the hilly Pu'uc region of northwestern Yucatan, where the Pu'uc style attained its ultimate refinement.

Uxmal is also the largest site, known for its exquisite proportions. A local cement, made from seashells, allowed them to build broad arches, large gateways and impressive rooms.

Mexico's Yucatan State also offers ecotourism and adventure tours. Visitors can enjoy water sports at Yucalpeten. Birdwatchers can view a wide range of species in El Palmar and flamingos at Celestun. Yucatan State obtains water from a complex system of underground rivers. Limestone sinkholes or cenotes attract scuba divers and snorkelers.