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The unbelievable flight of the Papantla flying men

If you are a fan of aerial dance, there is a Mexican pre-hispanic tradition you must be aware of. Probably one of the first aerial dancers in history were the Papantla flying men.

This Mexican tradition has been around for the last 500 years and it is now protected as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
As part of the cultural offer at Costa Maya in Mahahual, you will be able to see these fearless dancers performing a ritual flight right in the middle of the Mayan village.

Traditional Papantla flying men in Costa Maya
Traditional Papantla flying men in Costa Maya

Also known as “The dance of the flyers”, this ceremony consists of 5 flying men climbing a 30-meter pole from which four of them will launch themselves at the same time tied with ropes to descend to the ground. In the meantime, the fifth man dances on top of the pole playing a drum and a flute while bending fully backward to acknowledge the god of the sun.

Traditional clothing of the Papantla flying men.

They are dressed in red pants, white shirts and a hat, with a red cloth across the chest. This clothing is heavily decorated with handmade embroidery, especially the hat, which is decorated with flowers, mirrors and ribbons to represent fertility, the sun and the rainbow respectively.

The significance of the ritual

According to the tradition, the 4 flying men who descend from the pole represent the 4 cardinal directions, relating each one the 4 elements, earth, air, fire and water and to the 4 birds of the sun: Macaw, eagle, quetzal and mockingbird. The fifth man is called “Caporal” and represents the connection with the sun.

Before climbing the pole, the 5 men are purified with the help of incenses, copal, herbs and chants, so their sacrifice is pleasant to the gods, who in exchange will send rain and prosperity to the village.

The birdmen will circle the pole 13 times before landing, while the caporal plays “The Song of the descending”
Once the flight is completed, the caporal will join the other flying men to keep dancing and playing ritual music on the ground.

This ritual is usually performed as a religious ritual during major festivities, but at Costa Maya, every day is a festive day! That is why you will find these splendid birdmen enacting this traditional flight every hour to welcome the thousands of tourists who come to this port looking for cultural experiences.

The best spot in the port to enjoy this fabulous ritual is on Café Mexico, where you can hide from the sun while enjoying a frozen cappuccino to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Don´t miss the opportunity to learn more about this and other fantastic Mexican traditions while visiting Costa Maya, a port of call who invites you to discover the unexpected.