10 Important Archaeological Sites in Guatemala

When you come to Guatemala, you probably don’t imagine the huge amount of activities that you can experience and the many archaeological sites that you can visit. We have created a list of places, that any good tourist must know in Guatemala. 

1. Tikal

Nothing you can read – and there certainly has been a lot written – can prepare you for your first encounter with the magical world of Tikal. Located an hour from the island city of Flores, the capital of the Petén department, Tikal National Park welcomes you from 6 AM to 6 PM daily. Here – in what was one of the most majestic cities of the pre-Columbian era in the Americas – you’ll witness the history of Mayan civilization.

2. El Mirador

El Mirador is the pyramid of La Danta, measuring 72 meters, being the largest building in Pre-Columbian America; Ss the view from the top is really amazing and something you should not stop experiencing. The second pyramid of this archaeological site is called Pirámide Del Tigre, which measures 55 meters. To arrive to this spectacular place, it is necessary to take a 4-day trip – back and forth – from the Carmelite city; but do not worry, you can also opt for a helicopter flight.

3. Sayaxché

It is a city in Petén that has great natural resources and diverse archaeological vestiges: Ceibal – that is to 22 km of Sayaxché – has squares, mounds and beautiful stelae of stones; Aguateca, that has a great bridge, hollows and diverse Mayan stelae; Dos Pilas – 28 km from Sayaxché – with two crystalline water slopes very well preserved, which give a beautiful view and Cancuén, on the banks of the river La Pasion, with wide green areas and Mayan vestiges.

4. Uaxactún

Los visitantes a Tikal notarán un cartel escrito a mano que dice Uaxactún y que apunta hacia un estrecho camino no pavimentado que desaparece entre árboles, enredaderas, y hojas de gran tamaño del parque. Veintitrés kilómetros al norte de Tikal, este sitio maya estuvo poblado desde los primeros tiempos de la historia maya y una vez fue un poderoso rival de Tikal. En 1984, el camino a este lugar remoto fue mejorado y ahora es generalmente transitable por vehículos particulares y una diaria camioneta local.

5. Iximché

La antigua capital de los Maya Kaqchiquel en Tecpán, se remonta al año 1463. A una hora y media de La Antigua, una visita al sitio arqueológico y el museo es un agradable descanso en tu camino al Lago de Atitlán o al Altiplano Occidental. Explorar los templos, las plazas y el campo del juego de pelota maya es una manera fácil de satisfacer tu Dora la Exploradora interior.

6. Quirigúa

In the northeast of Guatemala, on the road to Puerto Barrios and Río Dulce, is a city which was of great importance for the Mayan civilization. Quiriguá is a site with pyramids and stelae (standing stones) which date from the Mayan Classical Period (200-900 AD). The site was declared a National Monument in 1970 and an Archaeological Park in 1974 by the government of Guatemala, and UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1981, like Tikal National Park and the city of La Antigua Guatemala (both declared in 1979). The site is surrounded by jungle teeming with iguanas, armadillos, bats, tepezcuintles, and countless species of native and migratory birds, in addition to various types of reptiles.

7. Yaxhá

In the north of Guatemala, between Lake Sacnab and Lake Yaxhá, on the highest part of a hill, is what many consider to be one of the largest (and best kept) secrets of the Maya World: Yaxhá. This ancient ceremonial center and archaeological site – the third largest in Guatemala – is located in the northeast of the department of Petén, about 30 kilometers southeast of Tikal. Its name, which can be read on its emblem glyph – represented by the head of a parrot – as yax (blue/green) plus ha (water), is translated as “green water” and is thought to refer to its geographic location between the lakes.

8. Reino Poqoman

Built in the early 12th century, this site was the capital of the Poqomam kingdom and its name was Saqik’ajol Nimakaqapek. Today it’s known as Mixco Viejo and is an ideal destination for a day trip. Although it’s not that far – it’s located in the department of Chimaltenango – getting to Mixco Viejo will take at least two hours if you travel from La Antigua. Along the way, you will be treated to fantastic mountain scenery and views of abundant vegetation in addition to typical postcard-like vistas of the countryside.

9. Bilbao

Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa is a Municipality in the Department of Escuintla that is located 34km from the regional capital and 90km from Guatemala City. This Municipality is home to various archeological sites in amongst the cane fields – some of them visible to the naked eye and others underneath the earth – that have borne silent witness to the great civilization that spread from Suchitepéquez to El Salvador. One of these archeological sites was given the name of Bilbao and it can be found at a distance of at least 4km as you leave the Municipality of Santa Lucía, travelling North. It is known that this site was connected to one other site known as El Baúl by a huge causeway and to another known as Castillo.

10. Tak’alik ab’aj

This 6.5 square kilometer archaeological site in the department of Retalhuleu dates from the 9th century BC through the 10th century AD; the city flourished during the Pre-Classic and Classic periods. The architecture, sculptures, and monuments have characteristics from both the Olmec and early Mayan civilizations. The site also has a small facility housing rescued indigenous animals. Surrounded by lush jungle, it’ll definitely satisfy your inner Indiana Jones.

Photos by: Javier Ordoñez

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