Best Mayan Ruins

12 days in Guatemala and Honduras

Some of the best Mayan ruins are in Guatemala. Why is Guatemala the true heart of the Mayan civilization? Guatemala is at the center of the geographical region where this civilization flourished thousands of years ago. The Mayan civilization emerged in the exuberant jungles of the country’s northern part.

The north is where the most significant number and concentration of archaeological sites of this civilization are and where archeologists can establish the evolution of Mayan constructions. 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 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, with a local professional guide, you will embark on an excursion off the beaten track on a dirt road in the middle of the jungle canopy to the Mayan site of Uaxactun.

Uaxactun is one of the oldest Maya cities in Guatemala, and they believe it’s where Mayans began to develop their calendar. One of its most notable features is its astronomical observatory which has 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. They made the temples 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 exciting look at ancient Mayan culture. Around the ruins of Uaxactun spreads a small and friendly Mayan village; in this remote jungle community, locals gather forest products or work as guides to 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, climb to the top and see the sunrise over the jungle. It 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 booming call of the inhabitant’s 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 sun’s first light peeps into 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. We will return 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 in an area of 576 square kilometers; exploring it for two days is undoubtedly worth it. Today, with your guide, you will see more plazas and temples and explore more of this extinguished Mayan City.  

Located in the heart of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, Tikal National Park is 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 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, primarily unknown to typical tourists—the extraordinary Mayan ruins of Yaxha.

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

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

Day 6. Aguateca, Ceibal & Dos Pilas

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

Ceibal is in the middle of the forest, and its four groups of structures are connected through causeways. Ceibal 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 are some of the best examples, and adjacent to it, you can see temples that still need to be restored and are covered by dense jungle.

Surrounded by numerous water births, the Mayan site of Aguateca undoubtedly possesses 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.

The Mayan site of Dos Pilas owes its name to two natural springs very close to the place shaped like piles. Declared a National Monument in 1970, the jungle still covers this Mayan site; Aguateca receives very few tourists, so you will have the place almost to yourself.

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

Day 7. El Mirador

Today, you’ll have the option to join a helicopter tour to El Mirador. Presently, no excavated ruin is more isolated, secluded, and genuinely lost than El Mirador, and it has the most significant known pyramid in the Maya world. The reward for those travelers who choose this expedition is glorious – an opportunity to observe the most extraordinary jewel of Maya culture.
Note: the price doesn’t include this tour.

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 beautiful lake. In the end, you will have time 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. A fascinating array of sculptures compensates for its lack of monumental buildings.

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.

For years, the city of Copan governed Quirigua until 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 contemporary. The city 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.

The ruins of Copan ruins have 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.

Most of the center of the ruins are on a lifted platform known nowadays as The Acropolis, which was the architectural center of this Mayan City. The city is famous for the decorations on various temples and the portrait sculptures on its many stelae. They sculptured the Hieroglyphic Stairway on a temple with about 1,260 hieroglyphic symbols on the risers of its steps. There is documentation that astronomers in Copán estimated the 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. Guatemala City

Today we will drive to Guatemala City, where you’ll have a city tour. You will have the opportunity to visit the seat of the Guatemalan government, the National Palace of Culture, and the Metropolitan Cathedral. The cathedral is the main church of Guatemala City and stands in the center of the city. Gaze at the beauty of its structure, size, altars, and pillars.

If your travels do not allow you to see all of Guatemala at this time, you can view it on a 100-year-old 3D Relief Map during this tour. It depicts the details of the terrain on a 1:10,000-kilometer scale. This day tour will show you some rich pieces of history and culture.

Let yourself fall back through the years to experience colonial art through today’s art. The Mayans have exceptional talents that you’ll see throughout this day. Your visit to the Ixchel Museum of the Mayan Costume will allow you to learn more about the weaving heritage. You will see around 6,000 woven items on display, created in the late 19th century until now.

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.

map, expenses & price

Best Mayan Ruins

Expenses included:
-All private transportation.
-Flight Guatemala City – Flores Island
-Eleven nights of hotel accommodations.
-Tours and excursions as listed.
-All park entrance fees.
-Professional local guides.
-Daily breakfast.

Per person starting at $2,000

Extensions

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Xunantunich

Xunantunich ruins are the ones with the most archeological relevance in Belize. The ruins are in the middle of 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: one day.

Mayan temple in Xunantunich, Belize.
Toucan in the jungles of Guatemala

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Laguna del Tigre

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

Jungle shoreline in Rio Dulce

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Kayaking in Rio Dulce

Go on a kayak excursion and visit adjacent villages and small waterfalls over the jungle. This spot inside the jungle is fabulous. Going there by kayak is likewise fascinating, and you can discover a stunning river and a few villages. Only a few travelers go to this hidden section of the river, and it is a unique experience. Duration: half day.

Playa Blanca in Livingston, Guatemala.

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Livingston

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

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