Guatemala Travel Planner - (Page 12)

inGuat 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 partially excavated. 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. 12 5-12 Cities .indd 12 6/21/13 12:17 PM

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Guatemala Travel Planner

Editor's Notes
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