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