Best Mayan Ruins

Guatemala & Honduras

Why is Guatemala the true heart of the Mayan civilization? Guatemala is located at the center of the geographical region where this civilization flourished thousands of years ago. It has been proven that the Mayan civilization emerged in the exuberant jungles of the North region of the country. This is where the greatest number and concentration of archaeological sites of this civilization are located and where the evolution of Mayan constructions can be established. In addition to this impressive historical heritage, there are still direct Mayan descendants living in Guatemala.

Temple of the Jaguar, Tikal

Sculpture in Copan

Yaxha Mayan ruins

Stela in Quirigua

Highlights

3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Tikal, Copan, and Quirigua. Mayan cities of Yaxha, Uaxactun, and Ceibal.

Itinerary

Day 1. Arrival

Upon your arrival at the international airport of Mundo Maya FRS, a representative will welcome you and take you to your jungle lodge in the National Park of Tikal.

Day 2. Uaxactun

After breakfast, together with a professional local guide you will embark on an excursion off the beaten track, in a dirt road in the middle of the jungle canopy to the Mayan site of Uaxactun. 

This is one of the oldest Maya cities in Guatemala and is believed to be the place where Mayans began to develop their calendar.  One of its most notable features is its astronomical observatory, composed of a series of three partially restored temples built from north to south side by side and a nearby temple facing the alignment of these three, all built with impressive precision to align with the sun on certain days of the year.

Located within the Maya Biosphere Reserve, this important mayan site holds the crumbled remains of temple palaces and  several stelae and altars.  The jaguar and snake stucco masks along the sides of some structures offer an interesting look at ancient Mayan culture. Around the ruins of Uaxactún spreads a small and friendly mayan village, in this remote jungle community locals gather forest products or work as guides to the visitors. 

Day 3. Sunrise in Tikal

You enter this captivating Mayan treasure  while it is still dark, hike through the jungle canopy in the obscurity to make it to the highest temple to climb to the top and see the sunrise over the jungle. It really is marvelous, to contemplate the first rays of light hitting the tree canopy, listening to the jungle life wake up. You will hear the eerie early morning thunderous call of the inhabitants Howler Monkeys echo around together with birds and creatures as you hike through the jungle. 

It is an exceptional experience, the cacophony of a jungle waking up, just as the first light of sun is peeping in the sky. Being able to experience this in Tikal, is one of the sole reasons why you should visit Guatemala. That combined with contemplating the sunrise over the Maya temples of Tikal and having the colossal place to yourself. Joining this journey should be an easy decision. 

After this excursion, you will have time to rest and relax in your jungle lodge. At the end of the day, we will come back to the park to see the sunset and more colorful birds and wildlife. 

Day 4. Discover more of Tikal

The National Park of Tikal is located in an area of 576 square kilometers, it is undoubtedly worth it to explore it for two days. Today, you will see more plazas, temples and explore more of this extinguished Mayan City with your guide.  

Located in the heart of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, Tikal National Park has been declared as a World Heritage Cultural and Natural Site by UNESCO; one of the only three sites in this category in all of the Americas. The National Park is one of the most important cities of the Mayan Classic Period, with striking and exquisite architecture. A stroll through the Grand Plaza is all a traveler needs to witness its monumental temples. 

For thousands of years, the city has been safeguarded by a majestic tropical jungle, home to hundreds of Flora and fauna species. A visit to Tikal National Park is for sure a magical and unforgettable experience, not to be missed!

Day 5. Mayan ruins of Yaxha

Today’s expedition is also off the beaten path, we will discover another hidden Mayan treasure, mostly unknown for the typical tourists… The awesome Mayan ruins of Yaxha. 

These Mayan ruins are located at the core of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. Due to its lagoons and wetlands, the area has been designated as a Ramsar Wetland of Global Importance. It encopasses four amazing Mayan Cities that were very important in the course of this civilization: Yaxha, Naranjo, Nakum, and Topoxte. 

Topoxte is located on the southeast end of the Yaxha Lagoon, and it is only accessible by boat. The Nakum and Naranjo archeological sites are located 17 and 24 kilometers north. The park contains a significant extension of a tropical forest that is home to hundreds of exotic species of flora and fauna.

Day 6. Aguateca and Ceibal

Today we will visit the Mayan sites of Aguateca and Ceibal. The site of Aguateca is only accessible by boat, which makes this expedition unique. 

The first is one of the largest Mayan archaeological sites in Guatemala’s southern lowlands and some of its monuments have a visible outside influence. Ceibal is located in the middle of the forest and its four groups of structures are connected through causeways.

This site is famous for its impressive stelae with exquisite carvings, whose state of preservation is partly due to the use of hard stone. In the Central Plaza there are some of the best examples, and adjacent to it you can see temples that have not yet been restored and are covered by dense jungle.

Surrounded by numerous water births, the Mayan site of Aguateca undoubtedly possesses an impressive natural and historical beauty. With more than 700 structures and defensive walls and 14 monuments, among stelae and altars, this site continues to be continuously excavated and restored. One of its biggest attractions is the impressive natural crevasse that runs through the site.

Often compared to Pompeii, the quick fall of Aguateca allowed archaeologists to find a wealth of information, here they have been discovered from artifacts such as high quality vessels, bone ornaments, greenstone beads to a great variety of tools like shells, bones, hides and stone tools used to process seeds and grains. In sume a interesting mayan site surrounded by lush vegetation and beautiful natural landscapes.

Day 7. Dos Pilas

Today we will discover the Mayan ruins of Dos Pilas. This site owes its name to two natural springs very close to the place that are shaped like piles. Declared a National Monument in 1970, this Mayan archaeological site is mostly unexcavated and receives very few tourists, so you will have the site almost to yourself.

It has an immense historical wealth, around 490 mounds that include ancient Mayan constructions, pyramids, stairways, various archaeological artifacts and caves in which archaeologists found evidence of Mayan rituals.

Among its most interesting attractions is the building known as “La Pirámide del Duende”. The goblin’s pyramid with almost 20 meters of height, its newly discovered and impressive hieroglyphic steps, stone stairs richly decorated with Mayan glyphs and some of the tallest and intact stelae known in the Mayan world.

This pyramid has some over 15 feet tall with extraordinarily detailed and well preserved carvings and of course its proximity to another tourist destination in Guatemala, the beautiful Petxbatún Lagoon.

Day 8. Lake Peten & Rio Dulce

In the morning you will have a boat tour to discover the last Mayan City defeated by the Spanish, Tayazal. We will also visit an animal hospital and reserve. During this tour you will have the opportunity to spot birds and see the natural beauty of this wonderful lake. At the end you will have to swim and relax. 

Later we will drive to Rio Dulce where you will have a boat excursion to the Castle of San Felipe.

Day 9. Mayan Ruins of Quirigua

After breakfast, we will drive to Quirigua. This site was a small city from the Classic Period, featuring one of the largest plazas of the Mayan Civilization. Its lack of monumental buildings is compensated by a fascinating array of sculptures.

It houses the highest sculpted monument in the region, the famous ‘Stela E’. Due to its striking sculpted temples and the influence of this ancient city, UNESCO declared the ruins a World Heritage Site. Quirigua has close ties with Tikal during the Early Classic Period. It is thought to have been established by Copan (Honduras) as a center to control the Motagua river trade route.

For years, the city was governed by Copan, until the year 736 BC, when its ruler established an alliance with the ruler of Calakmul (Mexico) to free the city of the power of Copan. After this, Quirigua led to its maximum architectural and artistic splendor, building palaces, stelas, altars, and zoomorphic sculptures.

At the end of the tour we will drive to Copan, Honduras. The vibrant, cultural town of Copan has attractions antique and contemporan. The town has a welcoming atmosphere, with friendly locals going about their daily-life along cobblestone streets, a local choice of restaurants, and coffee shops with some of the best coffee in the world. You will have free time to explore the town, have dinner and relax.

Day 10. Copan ruins

Today, we will discover the ‘Paris of the Mayan’, the Mayan ruins of Copan, with the extensive site displaying unspoiled and ornamented symbols of fascinating Mayan art and ceremonial temples. Neighboring nature reservoirs give landscapes especially rich in many types of birds, such as magnificent toucans, macaws, and parrots. 

Copan ruins has approximately 250 acres (100 hectares), counting the residential areas. Its central section has 54 acres (22 hectares) and consists of magnificent temples, various stairways and plazas, two great pyramids, and a ball game court.  

The majority of these structures centre on a lifted platform which is known nowadays as The Acropolis. That was the architectural centre of this Mayan City. The city has been distinguished for the decorations on various of its temples and the portrait sculptures on its many stelae. The Hieroglyphic Stairway on one of the temples, is exquisitely sculptured with about 1,260 hieroglyphic symbols on the risers of its steps. There is documentation that astronomers in Copán estimated the most correct calendar made by the Maya up to that age.

At the end of the tour, we will drive to the hot springs Luna Jaguar where you will have enough time to rest and relax after this captivating journey discovering the fascinating Mayan World. 

Day 11. Drive to Guatemala City

Today we will drive to Guatemala City, where you will spend the last night of your trip.

Day 12. Return home

Today a driver will take you to the international airport for your flight back home. If you would like to extend your tour, please don’t hesitate to contact us, we will be more than happy to assist you.

Expenses included

12 days & 11 nights

From $2,500

Private transportation, door to door service

One way domestic flight Guatemala City to Flores Island

11 nights accommodation in jungle lodges and boutique hotels

Local certified onsite guides

All park entrance fees

Daily breakfast

Taxes

Price varies by group size

Not included: flights, travel insurance, and other expenses than indicated

Extensions
Xunantunich

The ruins with the most archeological relevance in Belize. Established in the lush forest, the site accommodates one of the tallest Mayan temples in the country. The Castle was constructed on an imposing hilltop overlooking a river. Additionally, the constructions found here are the most complex and intricate of those found elsewhere in the country. Duration: 1 day. Price per guest: $110

Kayaking

Go on a kayak excursion and visit adjacent villages and small waterfalls over the jungle. This spot inside the jungle is absolutely fabulous. Going there by kayak is likewise fascinating. Discover a dazzling river and see a few villages. Not many travelers go to this hidden section of the river. It is a unique experience. Duration: 2 hours. Price per guest from: $25

Laguna de El Tigre

An ample wilderness of seasonally flooded jungle cut through by slow-moving rivers, this massive park in the northwest corner of Guatemala models the biggest protected wetlands area in Central America. For most, this kind of deep rainforest, middle-of-nowhere contact is Guatemala at its very best. Birders, nature-lovers, and those travelers looking to bask in the simple things will love it here. Duration: 2 days – Price from $380

Caribbean trip

One of the most beautiful boat excursions in Guatemala is a trip on Rio Dulce to Livingston. The excursion takes you through a protected area with an unbelievable number of exotic birds, mangroves, canyons and pelicans, to the Caribbean. In Livingston you will discover a quite distinct side of Guatemala. Currently, this town is remote with a fascinating blend of cultures, the Mayan live here along with the Garifunas. Duration: one day. Price per guest from: $70

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