If you’re traveling to Guatemala, then you can’t miss the opportunity to experience the country’s amazing ancient archaeological sites. Mayan ruins in particular abound, give testament to the civilization that once flourished here between 700 BC and 900 BC. With ruins that range from simple day-trips to week-long treks, there’s something for every level of adventurer in the country.
Here are four of our favorite ancient sites to experience in Guatemala:
Perhaps the most famous of Guatemala’s Mayan ruins, Tikal is part of the Tikal National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the middle of lush jungle, Tikal is in part so popular because it is one of the most massive Mayan sites of all. There are numerous temples to discover; at its peak, it is thought that Tikal supported more than 100,000 people. Arrive in the early morning if you don’t want to elbow for photo ops. You’ll also be rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise and the calls of howler monkeys.
Yaxha is much smaller than its counterpart Tikal, yet still the 3rd largest ceremonial site in Guatemala. The ruins were brought to popularity when they were chosen as a site for the reality TV show Survivor. Yet despite the brush with ‘fame’, Yaxha sees far fewer tourists than Tikal. Enjoy wandering around some 500 structures surrounded by jungle and wildlife, without having to share it with hordes of people.
One of the oldest ceremonial and trade cities in Guatemala, the ruins at Takalik Abaj are unique in that they showcase the early influences that the Olmec had on Mayan culture. Excavation of Takalik Abaj only began in 1976, and little remains to be known about the history of the ruins. The site lies in the Southwest of Guatemala; there is supposedly a great little eco-lodge adjacent to the ruins if you’d like to extend your discoveries in the region.
It’s not easy to arrive at this hidden gem, but the trek is certainly part of the adventure. Arriving at El Mirador can take anywhere from six to fifteen days depending on which tour you decide to take. The walking is suitable for all ages, but know that there is a lot of it! Once a thriving Mayan civilization, now the jungle has taken back most of the city, leaving only the occasional exposed stone wall or Mayan artifact. While you’re here, don’t miss the Tiger Temple, the largest known temple in the Mayan world at over 18-stories tall.
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