Cities of the Ancient Maya

Ancient Maya Cities

The jungles of Guatemala’s northern Peten Basin shroud the remains of dozens of ancient Maya cities and settlements.

While Tikal is undoubtedly the most famous, many other sites can be just as rewarding.

Often, you’ll find yourself able to explore these lesser-known sites in near solitude–an unforgettable experience.

Great plaza of Tikal in Guatemala, showcasing Temple I, The Temple of The Great Jaguar wreathed by dense green forest


Located 62 miles northeast of Flores on a jade-green lagoon, Yaxha (yahk-shah) is made up of more than 500 ancient structures.

Examples include two ballcourts, nine temple pyramids, and 40 stelae.

This site is still under excavation, offering visitors the opportunity to observe archeologists at work.


Topoxte (toe-poke-shtay) is an island site, located across the lagoon from Yaxha.

Its central plaza is flanked by three Post-Classic Period temples. Signs of human sacrifice have been identified at its Building C pyramid.

Yaxha Ancient Ruin Site in Guatemala

Nestled eleven miles north of Yaxha, on the Holmul River, Nakum (nah-koom) is rarely visited.

Rediscovered in 1905, modern excavations are incomplete.

Nukum’s highlights include ornate temples, 15 stelae, a 44-room palace, and an astronomical observatory.


The city of Uaxactun (wah-shock-tune) can be found 14 miles north of Tikal.

These cities were rivals until Tikal subdued Uaxactun in 378 AD. The ruins at Uaxactun are clustered in five groups.


One of the temples, E-VII-Sub, is thought to have a foundation dating back 4,000 years.

Remains of a pyramid at Ancient Maya Ruin site of El Ceibal in Guatemala, surrounded by green forest and grass

Visits to Uaxactun can be arranged in conjunction with tours of Tikal.

Ceibal, Aguateca, and Dos Pilas

The town of Sayaxche, approximately 40 miles southwest of Flores, is surrounded by fascinating Maya cities.

Most can be reached by boat. Ceibal (say-ball) is located on the Pasion River, east of Sayaxche.

This site is famous for its numerous stelae. Some of these stone monuments have design features suggesting unusual foreign influences.

Petexbatun Lagoon: Aguateca, Dos Pilas, and More

The Petexbatun Lagoon, southwest of Sayaxche, is surrounded by at least five Maya sites.

The largest of these are Aguateca and Dos Pilas. Aguateca, on the lake’s southern shore, is known for its stelae and low temples.

Lizard stretching out from a tightly-woven tree trunk resembling a bunch of vines near Tikal ancient maya site in Guatemala

Seven miles to the northwest, Dos Pilas is home to both finely carved stelae and an intricate hieroglyphic staircase.

Nearby caves show evidence of human sacrifice.

El Mirador

The largest Maya site in Guatemala is hidden deep within the jungle, near Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico.

Thousands of structures lie within the ten-square-mile city center.

Most are still covered by dense tangles of vegetation.

Ancient Maya ruin site in thick green forest in Guatemala

El Mirador’s monuments are thought to have been constructed between 500 BC and 150 AD.

El Tigre and La Danta

Highlights here include the 180-foot El Tigre pyramid and its twin La Danta temple.

Far wider at their bases than the temples of Tikal, El Tigre and La Danta are among the most massive ancient structures in the world.

Reaching the site is an adventure in itself: a forty-mile trek each way.

Pink sunset over an ancient structure at Tikal Ruins in Guatemala, photographed during private travel

The round-trip journey from the town of Carmelita and back usually takes four or five days.

Alternatively, LANDED arranges privately chartered helicopter flights to El Mirador from Flores, Antigua, and Guatemala City.

Thinking of visiting Guatemala? When you travel with LANDED, our team of travel experts and network of local contacts are at your service. We’ll handle the details, freeing you to savor the moments. Call us today at 801.582.2100. Dream big. We’ve got you.

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

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