Archaeologists are in awe of elegant ceremonial construction dated to 900BC, among the earliest known monumental architecture in the Mayan world. Most visitors, however, will remember El Ceibal for its remarkably detailed stelae and sculptures, many carved after 800 AD, when the rest of the Mayan Empire was already in a state of collapse. Rendered in unusually hard stone, these detailed portraits and glyphs were influenced by foreign civilizations, and are unusually beautiful. This is why El Ceibal is sometimes called the “Mayan Art Gallery.”
The city was built on several elevated terraces overlooking the river, and is relatively small, covering about one square kilometer (2.5 acres). Plan to spend two or three hours exploring.
From Sayaxche, you can make the 17km (11-mile) trip to the ruins by public bus, though you may need to catch a pickup truck for the last few kilometers. Consider spending a few extra dollars to make the trip by boat, a lovely 45-minute trip up La Pasión River. There are no restaurants, shops, or hotels, so pack water and snacks.