Mayan Ruins in Guatemala

By Viator, August 2013

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Guatemala is home to over 1,500 Maya sites, making it one of the best countries to visit for history buffs and archeology enthusiasts. Many structures are hidden amongst the dense jungle terrain, a living testament to the skill of the ancient Mayans. The Mayan culture thrived between 700 B.C. to 900 A.D. and it is believed only a fraction of the ancient cities have been excavated.

A majority of the most noted Mayan Ruins in Guatemala are located in the Petén department. Because of its natural flora and fauna and its importance in the Mayan ruins, the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén area has been designated a UNESCO – Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Reserve.

If you are traveling to Central America with plans to visit at least one Mayan ruin in Guatemala, here are some of the most recommended ones in the country.


Tikal is undoubtedly the most well-known Mayan site in Guatemala. It attracts travelers from Mexico and Belize who sometimes plan a visit to the country just to see Tikal. There are more than 3,000 structures at Tikal, many of which were built around 700 A.D., which is believed to be the height of the Maya culture. Tikal was once home to over 100,000 inhabitants and extends over six miles, comprised of temples, ceremonial platforms, palaces, ball courts, steam baths and more. Tikal has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its important combination of nature and archeological structures.


Situated halfway between Tikal and the Belize border, the archeological site of Yaxha achieved international fame after it was utilized as the filming location for the television show Survivor in 2005. It is third largest Mayan site in Guatemala, after Tikal and El Mirador, with over 500 structures. With neighboring Nakum and Naranjo, the three make up the cultural triangle, which is the most densely populated region of the Mayan Classic Period.


Aguateca dates back to the Mayan Classic Period and is one of the best-preserved and restored Mayan ruins in Guatemala. The journey to Aguateca is an experience in itself as you must take a boat and if the water level is not high enough, you will be walking the shallow parts. There are defensive walls surrounding the city on tall limestone buffs.

El Mirador

El Mirador is located near the Mexican border and is the second largest Mayan site in Guatemala. It’s important not only for its size, but also in that it is home to the greatest concentration of pre-Classic Mayan ruins in the world. The pre-Classic Mayan era dates back as far as 2,000 B.C.


Quirigua is one of the smallest Mayan sites in Guatemala, but it is home to some of the best displays of monuments, including the largest block of stone ever carved by the Mayas. The tallest carved stone, or stela, measures 35 feet and weighs more than 65 tons.


Located near Tikal, Uaxactun is one of the oldest Mayan sites with structures dating back to 330 B.C. It is believed this is the primary place where the Mayans developed their calendar based on the four ruins built in alignment with the sunrise during equinoxes and solstices.

Located in western town of Huehuetenango, Zaculeu is about a one-hour drive from Mexico. It is renowned for its use of a completely different material than other Mayan sites. It is believed to have served as the center for the Mam Kingdom and the word Zaculeu means “white earth” in Mam, the material used to build their city. The site contains a series of plazas, temples, a ball court, and stepped pyramids.

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