One of the most beautiful things about Guatemala is the way in which nature and Mayan history seamlessly intertwine allowing travelers to enjoy these great aspects at the same time. This is especially true in Guatemala’s largest region of Peten which has numerous and important Mayan archaeological sites surrounded by pristine jungle and stunning vistas. With the majority of Mayan legends being born in this region of Guatemala; means that you will be able to experience the Mayan world and culture like nowhere else on the planet.
Quaint Flores Island
Although located almost 100 miles from the warm waters of the Caribbean, the small island of Flores has all the charm and attractiveness of a secluded Caribbean Island. Flores is the capital of Peten, and is located in the second largest lake of Guatemala, Lake Petén Itza.
Looking out across the calm blue water from the main plaza built at one of the highest points of the island further enhances the feeling of a secluded and paradisiacal Caribbean Island.
The island of Flores was once a Mayan settlement and therefore acts as a great addition to your vacation whilst visiting the surrounding Mayan ruins notably, Yaxha and Tikal. This peaceful town is filled with colonial treasures, pretty red-roofed buildings and quaint cobblestone streets, which is perfect to stroll around after a day of exploring the ruins. Instead of staying in the town of Flores, there are unique jungle lodges located between Flores and Tikal which adds to your Guatemala vacation and experience.
The Impressive Site of Tikal
The word Tikal means ‘places of voices’ and today, the chatter of archaeologists, local Mayans and like-minded travelers can all be heard from the central plaza. This impressive site is the biggest known and studied Mayan city with the protected Tikal National Park stretching over a vast area of 220 square miles (576 square kms). Declared a UNESCO site of Human Patrimony, this famous and remarkable site is one of the highlights of Guatemala and Central America. Within this imposing Mayan lost city, there is a stunning collection of mighty temples which are located in the center of this enormous National Park.
Tikal consists of five main temples which with your bottles of water prepped, comfortable shoes on and having taken a deep breath; you can scale them for magnificent and uninterrupted views!
You may also be able to spot other structures in the distance poking through the jungle canopy of the Mayan Biosphere that are yet to be fully explored by archaeologists. The Tikal National Park is not only a haven for those seeking to explore the Mayan history and culture. Surrounded by lush green jungle, you will be able to hear the calls of the howler monkeys and exotic birds coming from the tree canopies.
Scenic Ruins of Yaxha
Located on the top of a hill overlooking the Yaxha and Sacnab Lagoons, is Guatemala’s third largest Mayan site, Yaxha. Made up of over 400 structures, including 5 acropolises and 2 astronomical observatories; Yaxha is said to have been the home of more 20,000 Mayans.
When translated and also due to its lakeside location, Yaxha means ‘green water’, however you might want to think twice before taking a dip, as there are some local Guatemalan crocodiles patrolling these waters!
With archaeologists still excavated parts of the site today; you get the real sense that there are many more Mayan mysteries to be uncovered and you might be lucky enough to be there when they make a discovery! From Yaxha, you can also make the short journey to the shore of the nearby Yaxha Lagoon to another archaeological site called, Topoxte. Here you will find a be able to explore a cluster of interesting Mayan temples and dwellings spread out across a number of small islands within the Laguna Yaxha.
No more than a hop, skip and a jump across the Guatemalan border and you will arrive in Belize’s Cayo District also known for its impressive Mayan ruins such as, Xunantunich. Being no more than a couple of hours drive from the town of San Ignacio in Belize’s adventure-filled district of Cayo; adding on the sites of Flores, Tikal and Yaxha make for a great addition to any vacation in Belize. Not only does Peten have some of the most scenic views but exploring this region will give you a unique insight into the incredible and mysterious world and history of the Mayan civilization!