Guatemala Travel Planner - (Page 12)
tik al in E l P eten.
pacific coast continued
And along the coastal highway is Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa,
another important stop for those interested in archaeology. In the
fields and sugarcane fincas near the town, stand great stone heads
carved with grotesque faces and fine relief scenes, the product of
the enigmatic Pipil culture that flourished about A.D. 500-700.
The main and close-by sites to visit from here are El Baul hilltop
site, a pagan site where Maya people still (and especially on weekends) make offerings; and the Museo Cultura Cotzumalguapa,
with a collection of sculptures.
E l P eten: M ay aland M aj esty
Scarcely a month goes by without a new discovery among the ruins
of the ancient Maya Empire, whose cities and ceremonial centers
spread throughout present-day Mexico and four Central American
countries, with the largest number of the early ceremonial centers
concentrated in Guatemala.
During the first millennium A.D., the Maya settled mostly in El
Peten, Guatemela’s northernmost department, whose capital is
Flores. While the ancient Maya moved through this heavily forested
tropical region on foot and by boat, today’s travelers enjoy nonstop
air service—as well as ground transfers via luxurious bus service—
from Guatemala City to Flores.
While this region has thousands of archaeology sites, the centerpiece of Guatemala’s El Peten region is Tikal, the grandest of the
Maya cities, which flourished in the Classic period from A.D. 250
to 900. Today its remains cover a 25-sq.-mile area with hundreds
of temples, palaces, shrines, ceremonial platforms, ball courts and
plazas. At the heart of the excavated part of the site is the Great
Plaza, whose surrounding five temples were the Americas’ first skyscrapers—the highest group of structures in the New World before
the 20th century.
The temples that face each other across the Great Plaza—Temple
of the Great aguar or the Pyramid of the Masks—are a definite
must-view, but one should also explore smaller structures and
ponder the hieroglyphs carved on dozens of stelae. Not far away,
Temple IV rises through a sea of treetops to a height of 230 ft.,
indeed the tallest ancient building in the world, and stretching beyond lie the ruins of some 3,000 other structures, recorded but only
Built on a small island in Lake Peten-Itza and connected to the
mainland by a causeway, Flores is not only the gateway to Tikal—25
miles away—but to other magnificent Maya sites, many of which
border the region’s network of rainforest-bound rivers. Combining
boat and overland travel, local tour operators have developed adventure itineraries that take travelers through the heart of Mayaland.
On day trips from Flores or Tikal, the most accessible and excavated Maya ceremonial centers include El Ceibal and Yaxha. El
Ceibal sits in a beautifully wooded site and whose stelae are among
the finest sculptures of the Late Classic period; from Flores, the trip
takes you to Sayaxche to board a boat for the 11-mile trip up Rio
d e la P a s ion . Yaxha, which after Tikal and the newly discovered
El Mirador to the north, is the third largest Maya ceremonial city in
Guatemala; more than 400 buildings, five acropolises and three ball
courts have been found here. Must do: climb Temple 216 in the East
acropolis for a bird’s-eye view of lakes Yaxha and Sacnab. Longer
trips from Flores are required to visit Dos Pilas and Aguateca, two
of the many ancient sites along Rio de la Pasion in the southwestern
corner of El Peten.
The most rugged region of all is north central Peten, where
archaeologists have found El Mirador and Nakbe, neighboring
sites close to the Mexican border. Carved stone monuments, nine
large stucco masks and a number of enormous pyramids have been
investigated to date.
Although restoration is still in progress—and will be for many
years—these exciting new areas of Maya discovery require 5-day,
4WD trips that begin in Flores and end in the Carmelita community,
all accompanied by guides; the last stretches are covered by mule
and on foot (recommended only February-April). For a day trip,
small (four to five passengers) charter aircraft are available to
visit El Mirador.
5-12 Cities .indd 12
6/21/13 12:17 PM
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Guatemala Travel Planner
Hotel Desk: Eleven Experience
Tour Talk: DuVine Cycling Adventure
Expedition Cruising: Explore the Unexplored
Eleven Experience's Chalet Pelerin
Brazil Travel Planner
Grand Solmar Land's End Resort & Spa
Guatemala Travel Planner
Latin America Specialist Courses
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs
5 Ways to Adventure in North America
Swain Tours Shines in the Land Down Under
Seeing African Wonders Through a Viewfinder
Trinidad & Tobago
Soaring to New Heights in Saint Lucia
Guatemala Travel Planner