Guatemala’s Mayan ruins are generally less busy than some of their world famous Mexican counterparts and can be combined with a stay at a nearby jungle lodge, right in the heart of the action and allowing you to miss the midday rush.
The country’s best and most visited archaeological site is without doubt the 4th century Mayan citadel Tikal, buried deep in the tropical rainforest in the north of the country. It is one of the biggest Mayan sites in Latin America and, as well as size, boasts an incredible collection of structures which demonstrate the architectural brilliance of the ancient civilisation. The park is centred around the Gran Plaza and famed for its soaring temples. The 64 metre climb to the top of Temple IV affords wonderful sweeping views across the verdant canopy and the chance to spot the birdlife that decorates the jungle here. There are few better places to understand Mayan history and culture than in Tikal, or to experience an unforgettable sunset.
Situated in the east of the country, Quirigua is a smaller park which offers impressive 8th century ruins, including large Mayan sandstone stelae (stone columns decorated by intricate carvings) and sculptured calendars. Complex pyramids, staircases and terraces populate the park, whilst the Gran Plaza was said to be the largest public space in the entire Mayan empire. In its heyday Quirigua was an important administrative centre and royal residence.
Very much off the beaten track, the archaeological site of Aguateca is set within stunning jungle natural scenery, with abundant flora and fauna, on the shores of Petexbatún Lagoon. Its mysterious moss-covered ruins are wonderfully preserved, some dating back to around 600 AD.
Other notable archaeological sites include the stone carvings at El Ceibal, El Mirador, with fantastic panoramic views and what is claimed to be the largest pyramid in the world and Yaxha, the third largest in the country and which gets its name from the green-blue colourful of the nearby lake of the same name. Copán, just over the border in Honduras is another important Mayan centre with wonderfully-preserved ruins.
Tenango - Visit five archaeological sites on this 12 night itinerary which takes you on a journey through both present day Guatemala and deep into its fascinating past