Guatemala

Images of Tikal National Park, Guatemala

In my previous post on Tikal, I explained the important details to help ensure a successful visit. In this post, I’ll share images of the beautiful ruins. The order of images below is in the approximate order of our visit over about 7 1/2 hours in one day. Tikal is a large park and it will take a full day to see most of the ruins. The ancient city covered about 25 square miles and only about 15% has been excavated, meaning there is far more out there than meets the eye.

Map of Tikal, Guatemala

Map of Tikal National Park, showing the proximity of the major sights to one another. You can reference this map with the images below for an idea of the layout and structures in the Park.

Gran Plaza

This is the focal point of a visit to Tikal, and the “postcard” view spot. You can climb up Temple II, for a view of Temple I and the Plaza, as shown below.

Gran Plaza, Acropolis Norte, Temple 1, Tikal, Guatemala

Gran Plaza, Acropolis Norte to the left, Temple 1 (Gran Jaguar) on the right.

Temple 1 (Gran Jaguar), Gran Plaza

Temple 1 (Gran Jaguar), Gran Plaza, in the early morning mist.

Temple II, Gran Plaza, from Acropolis Norte.

A framed view of Temple II, Gran Plaza, from Acropolis Norte. This temple can be climbed from a stairway on the back side.

Acropolis Central, Gran Plaza, Tikal, Guatemala

Acropolis Central. This acropolis is on the south side of the Gran Plaza.

Temple III

Hidden behind Temple II just to the west of the Gran Plaza is Temple III. It is hard to see it through the trees, you’re looking straight up trying to find it! Most of this temple is still covered with jungle foliage.

Temple III, Tikal, Guatemala

Temple III, just behind Temple II. Most of Temple III is unexcavated, making a photo difficult. It dates from 810 CE.

Plaza de los Siete Templos

This site is at the southwest side of the Park, and was very quiet during our visit. While the structures may be a bit less grand here, it was a fun area to explore with no other tourists in sight. This site gets its name from seven small temples at one end of the plaza. There are 3 ball courts here, which is unique in Mayan archeological sites.

Plaza de lost Siete Templos, Tikal, Guatemala

Plaza de los Siete Templos is a bit off the beaten path.

Plaza de los Siete Templos, Tikal, Guatemala

One of the structures in Plaza de los Siete Templos, in its more natural ruined state.

Mundo Perdido

Also tucked away in the southwest corner of the Park is Mundo Perdido, or “Lost Word”. It kind of feels like that. This was one of my favorite locations in Tikal, partially due to the remote setting with the huge temples and the views from the top of the Great Pyramid.

Great Pyramid, Mundo Perdido, Tikal, Guatemala

This structure, called the Great Pyramid, is the oldest in Tikal and is part of a complex called Mundo Perdido (Lost World). Great views from the top!

Tikal, Guatemala

View from the top of the Great Pyramid, Mundo Perdido. On the right are the tops of Temples I and II (the Gran Plaza), on the left is the top of Temple III.

Sloping Panel Temple, Tikal, Guatemala

This is the Sloping Panel Temple, also part of Mundo Perdido (Lost World).

Palacio de las Ventanas (Palace of the Windows)

Another spot a bit off the beaten path. If you like bats, you’ll find them here. This structure is between Mundo Perdido and Temple IV. You can climb into the structure, at least there were no signs indicating this wasn’t allowed.

Palacio de las Ventanas, Tikal, Guatemala

A bit of a hike up to the Palacio de las Ventanas – somewhat steep and slick.

Palacio de las Ventanas, Tikal, Guatemala

Another view of Palacio de las Ventanas.

Temple IV

Temple IV is at the far west end of the Park. You can climb it (via a wooden stairway) for a view of the surrounding structures in the Park.

Temple IV, Tikal, Guatemala

This is Temple IV, it is extremely difficult to get a picture of, due to thick jungle growth all around it. It is the tallest temple in Tikal at 70 meters (230 ft).

North Zone, Complex “P”

We visited Complex “P” after Temple IV. It was a 20-25 minute walk. This complex is on the northern edge of the Park, and once again it was very quiet, I think we were the only tourists out here at the time.

North Zone, Complex "P", Tikal, Guatemala

These temples are part of the North Zone, Complex “P”.

North Zone, Complex P, Tikal, Guatemala

Another view of Complex “P” in the North Zone.

North Zone, Complex "Q", Tikal, Guatemala

Also part of the North Zone, Complex “Q”. Complex Q is closer to the Gran Plaza and therefore had more visitors. Note the stelae in front of the structures (the upright stones and circular altars) – their function is unclear, but they might have been used in worship rituals or commemorating various important events. Note: the map I have names these structures “Complex O” but the sign in the Park called these “Complex Q”).

Temple V

Temple V is on the south side of the Gran Plaza in its own little corner. On the signpost at this temple, it shows some photos of the excavation process – what a lot of work!

Temple V, Tikal, Guatemala

This is Temple V, it is 57 meters (187 feet) high, and dates from 650 CE.

Plaza Este y Mercado

Plaza Este y Mercado, Tikal, Guatemala

The Plaza Este y Mercado is located just to the southeast of the Gran Plaza. As its name implies, this must have been a commercial or shopping area.

Palacio de las Acanaladuras

Palacio de las Acanaladuras, Tikal, Guatemala

The Palacio de las Acanaladuras was a residential area. It is located about halfway from the Gran Plaza to Temple VI

Temple VI

Probably the most remote ruin in the Tikal visitor circuit, it’s a good temple to see on your way out, since it’s at the southeast end of the Park, and from here it’s a straight shot back to the main entrance.

Temple VI, Tikal, Guatemala

This is the back side of Temple VI. Although very hard to see, there are hieroglyphs on the upper part of this side, the most extensive amount found in Tikal to-date.

Temple VI, Tikal, Guatemala

Front view of Temple VI, very hard to get a good photo of this temple also.

As shown above, there’s lots to see in Tikal. Plan for a full day, put on some comfortable shoes and have fun exploring this magnificent Mayan site, one of the grandest and largest in Central America.

Exploring the town of Flores and Yaxha Archeological Site, Guatemala

After our day trip to Antigua and Iximche, we flew early the next morning to Flores, Guatemala (Mundo Maya Airport), a great home base for visiting the stellar Mayan archeological sites of Yaxha and Tikal, and other more remote sites if you have the time.

The flight to Flores from Guatemala City was short, less than one hour. From the small Mundo Maya airport, it is only a 5-10 minute drive to the town of Flores.

Guatemala plane to Tikal

Our tiny plane for the trip to Flores from Guatemala City.

 

Flores

The main town of Flores is situated on a small island in Lake Petén Itzá, connected by a causeway to the mainland.

Flores, Guatemala

View of Lake Petén Itzá from the town of Flores.

We stayed in Flores where there are a number of boutique hotels along with restaurants that cater to the tourist crowd. You can walk across the island town in about 15 minutes.

Flores, Guatemala

Street scene in Flores.

Guatemala Flores Town1

Our hotel in Flores. It had a nice atrium and breakfast veranda overlooking Lake Petén Itzá from the rear of the hotel.

Since we arrived at our hotel around 8:30 am, our room wasn’t ready yet and so we had a leisurely breakfast and then asked the hotel staff to arrange a tour to Yaxha for that afternoon (and for Tikal the next day), giving us some time to wander the town and prepare for the long (but enjoyable) afternoon/evening ahead.

Yaxha Archeological Site

I am so glad we took the time to see Yaxha our first afternoon before going to Tikal the following day, there is quite a bit to see here and it’s relatively quiet from a tourist standpoint – it felt a bit off the beaten path. Yaxha is growing in popularity, but still does not receive near the visitors that its more famous neighbor does. We were in a mini van with perhaps 10 other tourists. The road to Yaxha was not paved and very rough in spots. In fact, at one point the van could not make it up a hill (due to slick mud) and several passengers had to get out and walk while the driver made a couple more attempts to climb the hill, which he was finally able to do. At the parking lot in Yaxha, we saw just a handful of other tourist vans. The drive from Flores took about 1.5 hours, mainly due to the rough dirt “road” to the site after turning off the main road. This Wikipedia site give some good information on Yaxha, including a map of archeological sites in the Flores region.

The images below are in the approximate order of our visit to the main sites within Yaxha.

Minor Astronomy Complex, Yaxha, Guatemala

This structure is part of Yaxha’s Minor Astronomy Complex (also called Plaza C), near the parking lot.

Yaxha Juego de Pelota del Palacio, Guatemala

This site is known as Juego de Pelota del Palacio, or Palace Ball Game site. The ball court area sits behind this structure.

Yaxha Ruins Major Astronomy Complex, Guatemala

This unexcavated pyramid is part of the Major Astronomy Complex in Yaxha. From the top (called Mirador Lookout, using the stairway), you have a view of Lake Yaxha and some of the surrounding pyramids.

Plaza de las Sombras, Grupo Maler, Yaxha, Guatemala

Plaza de las Sombras, Grupo Maler, at Yaxha. This grouping was the farthest point in our exploration that afternoon, about 30 minutes walk from the parking lot.

Plaza de las Sombras, Grupo Maler, Yaxha, Guatemala

Another big temple structure at Plaza de las Sombras, Grupo Maler, Yaxha.

Acropolis North, Yaxha, Guatemala

You can climb one of the pyramids in Acropolis North, in the distance (called North Pyramid). There were numerous Howler monkeys in this area, and boy are they loud and scary sounding!

Acropolis North, Yaxha, Guatemala

Looking over the Acropolis North, from the North Pyramid. These are probably the most complete set of excavations in Yaxha.

Acropolis North, Yaxha, Guatemala

Another view within the Acropolis North, a huge pyramid on the east side of this complex.

After exploring the Acropolis North, it was time to make our way back to Las Manos Rojas pyramid, part of Acropolis East, to watch the sunset over Lake Yaxha. It is the highest spot in the archeological site.

Las Manos Rojas, Yaxha, Guatemala

The Las Manos Rojas (Red Hands) pyramid (also known as Structure 216), from which we watched a very peaceful sunset over Lake Yaxha. Our tour guide asked everyone to stop talking for about 15 minutes so we could enjoy a little quiet time as the sun set – a great idea.

Lake Yaxha sunset, Yaxha, Guatemala

The sun setting over Lake Yaxha, from the top of Las Manos Rojas pyramid. There is a stairway down to the lake if you wish to reach its shore.

We felt that a half day in Yaxha was sufficient, we were able to see everything we wanted to in that time and still have plenty of time to take photos and enjoy the evening quiet that comes over the remote jungle (once the Howler monkeys decide to go to bed!). Our entry tickets, transportation and tour guide all came together in one price. It was a long but perfect day (since our flight had left Guatemala City at 7 am and we didn’t get back to Flores until about 8 pm that evening). But what a way to spend one of our 4 precious days in Guatemala!

 

 

Four Days in Guatemala

We combined a visit to Guatemala with a few days in Costa Rica and therefore our time was at a premium in both of these fabulous countries. Here’s how we made the most of four days in Guatemala.

Day 1 – Guatemala City

You could argue that a precious day in Guatemala could be spent elsewhere. However, we were waiting for our daughter to fly into the country that morning and spending our first day in the city made sense based on our schedule. It also allowed us to see the “real” Guatemala – there wasn’t another tourist in sight in the capital city.  Since we were there right before Christmas, there was a lot going on in “Parque Central” (the main plaza) – live music, ice skating, and numerous clothing and food stalls. We enjoyed wandering around and taking in all the festivities.

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Ice skaters in the December 70 F degree weather in Guatemala City. Behind the skating rink is the National Palace of Culture, formerly the headquarters of the president of Guatemala, now a museum. All roads in the country originate from this spot, known as Parque Central.

Guatemala City, Guatemala.

One of the many tasty food stalls we saw during the Christmas celebrations in Guatemala City. We tried some good dishes!

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Wandering the colorful clothing shops set up near Parque Central in Guatemala City.

Guatemala City, Guatemala

A family strolling the main plaza in Guatemala City. The traditional women’s clothing is worn as everyday wear and is not just for “show”.

Guatemala City Cathedral, Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala City Cathedral, which dates from 1783. It has suffered damage over the years from numerous earthquakes, but is still standing near the main plaza.

Guatemala City Cathedral 2

Nativity display in Guatemala City’s Cathedral.

Day 2 – Antigua and Iximche Ruins Day Trip

This was a very enjoyable and full day, we combined a visit to a small collection of ruins in Iximche (I’m a ruin junkie!) with a tour of the colonial town of Antigua. I felt an afternoon in Antigua was sufficient and splitting the day between the two sites worked out well.

Iximche, Guatemala

Ruins of Iximche. A small Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archeological site and one of the closest to Guatemala City. Its heyday was in the late 15th century.

Antigua, Guatemala

View of the quaint Spanish colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala.

It was less than a 2 hour drive to the Iximche ruins from Guatemala City and then about 1.5 hrs from Iximche to Antigua and only about 45 minutes from Antigua back to Guatemala City. I will do a separate post with more detail on this day trip.

Day 3 – Fly to Flores and a Visit to Yaxha Ruins

We caught a 6 am flight from Guatemala City and arrived in the small town of Flores by 8 am or so. The town is on an island (connected to the mainland by a causeway) in Lake Peten Itza and made a great place to stay – lots of small hotels and close to Tikal and other Mesoamerican archeological sites, such as Yaxha. We wandered the town in the morning and then took a tour of Yaxha in the afternoon, which included taking in a beautiful sunset over Yaxha from the top of a temple.

Acropolis North ruins, Yaxha, Guatemala

My daughter and son in the Acropolis North ruins at Yaxha.

Lake Yaxha, Guatemala

Sunset over Lake Yaxha in the Yaxha archeological park.

A separate post on Yaxha will be forthcoming!

Day 4 – Visit Tikal Ruins and Fly to Guatemala City

This was very long but great day. We got on our tour bus in Flores at about 4:30 am and we were at the archeological park by 7 am. We exited the park around 3 pm.

Temple 5, Tikal, Guatemala

Temple 5 in Tikal.

We arrived back in Flores by about 5 pm, had dinner and then took a flight back to Guatemala City around 7:30 pm. We then flew out of Guatemala City early on Day 5, traveling to San Jose, Costa Rica. I will do a separate post on Tikal. (Posts on Costa Rica to follow Guatemala!)

With all of our flights into and out of Guatemala City, we stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, only about 15 minutes from the airport. The hotel is in a nice section of Guatemala City and there are good restaurants nearby. We found the Guatemalan people to be very friendly, kind and prompt. The food was excellent and prices were very good for most items. The weather in Guatemala City is lovely throughout the year and December was warm and pleasant with low humidity.

Kacao restaurant, Guatemala City, Guatemala

A fantastic dinner spread at the Kacao restuarant, near the Courtyard Marriott hotel, Guatemala City.