10 most important Mayan ruins to visit in Guatemala

10 most important Mayan ruins to visit in Guatemala | GuatexplorerArea of Guatemala, Yucatan peninsula, Chiapas, along with some regions of Honduras, Belize and El Salvador is called Maya World. Historically, this was the playground of that huge culture. When you live here, you'll be often offered to visit some particular sites with an explanation why it's important to do so. Therefore, let me try to do the same.

Only Guatemala allegedly has 11.000 archaeological Mayan sites. This culture was very much alive through last two millennia and left a lot of ruins, locations, artefacts. So, let's see which ones are really worth a visit because in each of them you'll learn something different.


A must-do of your Mayan archaeology visits. This ancient city is a raw model of how it used to be unce upon a time, especially in the so-called Classical period. City-state, surrounded by trenches that stretch dozens of miles with very developed and preserved stone centre with pyramids and other huge temples. All of that is located in a rainforest, rich with animals and plants. Takes hours of walking to see it almost all.

What it teaches you: how the life of the Maya was in their Classical period, times of prosperity.

Tikal | Guatexplorer

El Mirador

Tricky one. Either you have enough $$$ for a helicopter that will bring you there, or you're ready for a two-day jungle adventure. In any case, the result is a visit to a site that is just being excavated by archaeologists. And it is a place of enormous La Danta pyramid, that is claimed to be the largest in both Americas (up to 180 m of the height of pyramids and platform on which they were built). But, who knows, because it is not excavated yet. Exciting!

What it teaches you: there is no end of the Mayan wonders + you can see scientists in action

El Mirador | Guatexplorer


Considered to be the most beautiful site, Yaxha is not spectacular ruins, especially after you visit Tikal and become stunned by those pyramid skyscrapers. Something else is hiding here and it has a deep connection with an origin of the name: blue-green water. Yaxha is located right between the two lakes, in a splendid harmony with nature. And sunsets watched from the top of the pyramid are breathtaking.

What it teaches you: understanding that Maya lived in a harmony with nature.

Yaxha | Guatexplorer


Definitely a site that is often offered to the groups of visitors. And many people stay a bit disappointed after a visit. No pyramids, no temples, small site. The attention of the visitor here must be aimed at big stone stelae that this place is swarming with. Each of them is carved with important information. Quirigua is the best place to understand Mayan long-count of the time. Here you can learn about baktuns and almost reach eternity. Information leaves you speechless.

What it teaches you: all about time and how insignificant our modern history really is

Quirigua | Guatexplorer


Handy to visit, Iximche was a capital of Kaqchikel Maya from the year 1470 until the fall in 1524. Compared with other sites it is virtually unimportant, too modern and too regulated. You have to look from another side. Iximche shows a site that was relatively recently destroyed by the Spanish, still has visits of the local Mayan priests and ceremonies are frequently performed on the site. Also, the site was visited by George W. Bush in 2007, so Mayan shamans did a lot of spiritual purification to clean his presence there.

What it teaches you: about the era of Conquest and era of purification

Iximche | Guatexplorer

Q'umarkaj (Utatlan)

Same here, like Iximche, recent site. Only, the site is not at all regulated and not at all presented. Now, before the very bloody split between Kaqchikel and K'iche' Maya in 1470, it was their mutual capital city. After that, might of K'iche' grew so big that their state stretched between Mexico and Honduras, covering almost all the highlands (except Iximche, you guessed good). When the Spanish came, their first care was to defeat K'iche' and after many battles well-known arsonist Pedro de Alvarado finally came to burn Q'umarkaj. Here enters the drama: K'iche' hid their loved and important ones into an artificial hand-carved cave under the city, but Spaniards discovered it and mercifully killed all.

What it teaches you: how bloody and dramatic it really was in the history

Utatlan | Guatexplorer

Takalik Abaj

This site, located just outside of the city of Retalhuleu, is very different. First, it is located in Pacific lowlands. Next, it is a Mayan site with strong Olmec features (therefore considered multiethnic). Third, it lies on pleasant slopes in the middle of several coffee plantations. It is a splendid walk. If you want to see something old, come here: the place is inhabited since 1000 BC, and there are ruins from that time to be seen.

What it teaches you: Maya came from somewhere and emerged using previous achievements

Takalik Abaj | Guatexplorer


The road for this one leads you to Huehuetenango. Just outside are the ruins of Zaculeu, a capital of Maya Mam. It was used since AD 250 until, you guess again, K'iche' came and took over, just to be destroyed by the Spanish. After the Second world war site was given as a gift to the mighty United Fruit Company and they made a restoration. A complete one. They rebuild the place and literally plastered it claiming that's how original looked like.

What it teaches you: how NOT to do reconstruction of the archaeological site by giving it to corporate bosses

Zaculeu | Guatexplorer

Mixco Viejo

The site was a subject to a lot of scientific confusion. First archaeologists thought it was a capital of Poqomam Maya. Only, it was not. Mixco Viejo is, in fact, Jilotepeque Viejo, a capital of the one branch of Kaqchikel Maya. To be more precise, real name in Chajoma language was: Chuapec Kekacajol Nima Abaj, meaning "Great stone in front of the Cave of the Children of Night". That already sends shivers down your spine, not to mention wonderful scenery there. The site was restored by The Museum of Man from Paris.

What it teaches you: since vegetation is absent, you can study the layout of the place and see how Maya did it. Also, that's the way you do restorations and reconstructions on some site.

Mixco Viejo | Guatexplorer

Any town and village where Mayan people live

After you have seen the ruins, you have to see the people that built it all. Luckily, they are not extinct. They live in every small town or village. All around Guatemala you can meet them, hear some of the 23 languages they speak like in the ancient times. You can see their colourful dresses, their customs, their everyday life. No, they are not so mighty and great as they used to be. But, they're here.

What it teaches you: draw your own impressions and conclusions.

Mayan village | Guatexplorer


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