With a fascinating Maya history and more than 1,500 archaeological sites dating from 700 BC to AD 900, Guatemala is home to some of Central America’s most impressive ancient Maya ruins. Here are our picks for the best Mayan ruins in Guatemala.
Tikal in Guatemala’s Petén region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the country’s largest Maya site, with more than 3,000 ruins dotting the jungle-clad Tikal National Park. It’s a popular day trip from nearby Flores, but you can visit on a day or overnight tour by air from Guatemala City, Antigua, San Ignacio in Belize, or Cancun in Mexico. Highlights include the Great Plaza, Temple of the Jaguar, and Temple of the Masks.
Located between Tikal and Belize, the Yaxha archeological site is the third largest Maya site in Guatemala, with more than 500 ruins. Full-day Yaxha tours run from Flores by coach or Guatemala City by air, and many tours take in neighboring ruins of Nakum and Naranjo, which constitute the most densely populated region of the Maya Classic Period.
Aguateca also dates back to the Classic Period and is one of the best preserved Maya ruins in Guatemala, dating back to 300 BC. Visiting Aguateca is as much about the journey as the destination—cruise down the Rio Pasion, spot crocodiles and iguanas, then climb to the ruins and gaze out over Petexbatun Lagoon.
Ranking as Guatemala’s second-largest Maya site, El Mirador is home to the greatest concentration of pre-Classic Maya ruins in the world, with a history dating back as far as 2000 BC. Located in the Mirador-Río Azul National Park in El Petén near the Mexican border makes it a popular day trip from the Yucatan Peninsula.
Quirigua might be one of the smallest Maya sites in Guatemala, but it still packs in some impressive gems, including the largest block of stone carved by the Mayas, which weighs more than 65 tons (59 metric tons). Day trips from Antigua or Guatemala City often combine a walking tour of Quirigua with a trip into Honduras to see the UNESCO-listed ruins of Copán.
Located less than a two-hour drive from Guatemala City, Iximché was once the capital of the Kaqchikel Maya, and its magnificent ruins include ceremonial plazas, temples, and ball courts. Guatemala City tours often include a morning or afternoon trip to the ruins.
Just north of Guatemala City in Chimaltenango, Mixco Viejo is another easy day or half-day trip from Guatemala City. The former capital of the Poqomam Maya kingdom, the archeological site of Mixco Viejo is home to about 120 structures, including temples, pyramids, palaces, and ball courts.