Mayan Cities in Guatemala

by Ana Cetina, Oct 25, 2017

Guatemala, Cradle of Maya Civilization, has an archeological wealth with monumental sites all over the country, which date back more than 3,500 years.

Mayan Ruins, Tikal

Let’s start with the periods of the Mayan Civilization. The experts in Archeology have learned that the Mayan Civilization is divided for its study in general chronological periods that vary according to the site:

Early Preclassic, Middle Preclassic, Late Preclasic, Protoclassic, Early Classic, Late Classic, Epiclassic or Terminal Preclássic (not all the experts agree on the name), Early Postclassic and Late Postclassic.

In Guatemala, the Mayans built one of the most refined civilizations of the world and history. Between the most important Mayan cities we can find The National Park El Mirador – Rio Azul (Blue River) and Tikal National Park, this last one was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in in 1979.

National Park El Mirador – Rio Azul
El Mirador – Rio Azul is the largest Mayan city discovered to date in Guatemala. It has two large architectural complexes: El Tigre Complex and La Danta.

El Tigre (The Tiger) complex has 18 platforms reaching 60 meters in height, occupies a base of 5.8 km. One pyramid is flanked by two smaller ones.

La Danta Complex has a height of 75 meters, located to the east, leans on a hill making it easily distinguishable. There are other sites in the park, such as El Tintal, La Florida, La Muralla and Wakna. Depending on availability the visitor can add these sites to the visit. Visitors can spend several days in the National Park El Mirador if they want to visit all the Mayan roads, monumental structures and the Reserve of the Mayan Biosphere.

Tikal National Park
The Maya City of Tikal is the largest pre-Hispanic settlement in Guatemala, with more than 3,000 archaeological structures. It represents an ancient capital that dominated a vast territory during the Preclassic and Classic periods. Tikal means City of Voices and its main characteristic is the size of its buildings. The city was occupied for more than fifteen hundred years, during this time the city played a leading role in the social and political organization of the Lowlands. Its temples are shaped like staggered pyramids, among the main ones are: The Great Jaguar, The Temple of the Masks, The Temple of the Bicephalon Serpent and the Temple of the Inscriptions. In Tikal you can also find squares, commemorative sets, balls and a large number of peripheral sites around it. Currently Tikal is one of the most important tourist destinations in Guatemala.

Other archeological sites
Yaxha – Nakum and Naranjo was the capital city of a vast territory that dominated the northwest part of Peten and had strong ties to Tikal, Caracol in Belize and Calakum in Mexico. It has monumental complexes with pyramid temples, acropolis, twin pyramids, memorial complexes, ball courts, palaces and residential complexes. The park has several cities being the most important Yaxha, Topoxte, Nakum and Naranjo. From the main pyramid in Yaxha you can appreciate the two lagoons located inside the park. In one of the lagoons you can find an island, this island is home for the Mayan City of Topoxte.

Quirigua, located in Izabal, houses the largest and best preserved Mayan steles in the Mayan World. Originally the city was under the control of the Copan City’s dynasty but later they were able to gain their independency and even subjugate Copan, after which the city reached its splendor. In Quirigua you will find Estele E, the biggest and larger stele of all the steles found in the Great Plaza.

Iximche was one of the most important city/fortress in the Postclassic period, located in the highlands of Guatemala, along with the archeological sites of Gumarkaa’j in Quiche and Mixco Viejo in Chimaltenango. Iximche means Corn Tree in Kaqchikel, was the last capital of the maya-kaqchiquels and in 1524 was converted into the first capital of the Spanish conquers. Today it is still a sacred place for the indigenous people in the area and it is possible to see Mayan ceremonies preceded by shamans of the different ethnical groups.

Aguateca (K’inich Pa’Wits) means Shining Split Mountain in Mayan language and is located on the shores of Petexbatun lagoon. From the Late Classic period, it was a Mayan fortress located in a strategic point, protected by ravines and cliffs making the access difficult and protecting the city from invaders. The city has over 700 buildings but only 11 are restored. When visiting Aguateca, tourist can observe an artificial rock bridge that crosses the natural crack that divides the site, which remains solid and in use since the original occupation of the city.

Additional archeological sites located in Guatemala are: Tak’Alik Ab’Aj, Piedras Negras, Chuwa Nima’Ab’Äj’ or Mixco Viejo, Kaminaljuyu, Iximche, Gumarkaa’j, Ceibal, Cancuen, Aguateca and Zaculeu.