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.
Auguateca is located close to the small service town of Sayaxche, which is about 62km (38 miles) from Flores, a 1.5-hour trip. There are two rustic ecolodges (and some very basic hotels) in the working port on the Río Pasión, making this a good base for visits Aguateca and other nearby archaeological sites. Day trips are also easily arranged from Flores.
From Sayaxche, you’ll take a motorized canoe capable of navigating the shallow waters and mangrove swamps of the Petexbatun Lagoon, to Aguateca. The journey takes about an hour and a half. You may need to wade the last few meters to the site if water levels are low.