The little-touristed ruins of Aguateca are worth the long trip for at least three reasons. First, to get here, you’ll traverse Petexbatún Wildlife Refuge, a birders paradise of mangroves and marshlands, in a motorized canoe. Second, the city was abandoned so suddenly, during a massive attack in 830AD, that everyday relics were preserved Pompeii-style, in place, offering archaeologists an unprecedented look at everyday Mayan life.
Finally, Aguateca is strategically located atop a 90-meter (300-foot) limestone bluff, fortified with defensive walls. These form a massive ravine that divides the city, La Grieta, traversed by an old stone bridge. Amazing.
More than 700 structures still stand at this site, with its epic views over the Petexbatún Basin, far from the tour buses and casual tourists. Several plaster walls and murals dating from the Classic Period, when Aguateca and neighboring Dos Pilas formed the region’s dominant polity, are unique in the region.