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Guatemala

Main attractions

Antigua Guatemala and Agua volcano, Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala and Agua volcano / Stacy Cashman, Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

The number of exciting landmarks in Guatemala is very high.

By far the most important landmarks in Guatemala are Maya archaeological monuments and heritage of other Pre-Columbian cultures.

Guatemala together with the nearby Mexican states were the cradle of the Mesoamerican civilization - one of the great civilizations of the world. In some regions of the country it is even hard to single out separate archaeological sites - wast areas are dotted with thousands of ruined structures, roads and other monuments. In Guatemala are located some of the largest prehistoric structures in the world (La Danta temple in El Mirador).

Among the other highlights could be mentioned:

  • Historical cities - especially Antigua Guatemala.
  • Renaissance and Baroque churches - some of the oldest churches in America.
  • Volcanoes and volcano related features.
  • Ecosystems - this mountainous country has huge diversity of interesting ecosystems - from mangrove forests to cloud forests, pine forests and scrublands in the mountains. Here live hundreds of species of animals and plants, which are not met outside the country.

Natural landmarks

Caves

In Lanquín Caves, Guatemala
In Lanquín Caves / Walter Rodriguez, / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Candelaria Caves - Alta Verapaz. Magnificent system of natural caves, total length of passages is 80 km, the main passage is 22 km long. In 12.5 km long distance through the cave flows Candelaria River. Sacred cave to Maya, with petroglyphs, carvings, ceramics.
  • Chicoy Cave - Baja Verapaz. Sinkhole - natural cathedral, with approximately 60 m wide opening. In the morning this sinkhole is filled with mist. Site of legends, reportedly with mystical properties.
  • Chiquibul Cave System - Petén and mostly - in Belize, Cayo District. Group of giant caves, one of the longest cave systems in Central America. Earlier served also as an underground bed for Chiquibul River. Contains some of the largest known cave passages (often 100 m wide and 50 m high) and rooms (Belize Chamber - 200 m wide and tall) in Western Hemisphere, countless dripstone formations. Total length of hydrologically linked explored passages - 97 km. Four largest caves are - Actun Kabal, Actun Tun Kul, Cebada Cave and Xibalba. Contains Maya artefacts.
  • Grutas Rey Marcos - Petén. Some of the most beautiful caves in Central America.
  • Lanquín Caves - Alta Verapaz. Approximately 2 km long show cave with beautiful speletohems. Sacred place for Maya.

Waterfalls and tufa formations

Semuc Champey tufa terraces, Guatemala
Semuc Champey tufa terraces / Mickaël T, / CC BY 2.0
  • Chilascó Falls - Baja Verapaz. 130 m tall waterfall.
  • Las Conchas - Petén. Series of rimstone pools, formed by a water from karst spring.
  • Semuc Champey - Alta Verapaz. Tufa terraces over a 300 m long section of Cahabòn River, forming a group of small, emerald colored pools. These pools are in a deep, dangerous canyon and end with a cave, where the river disappears.
  • Yolnabaj Lake Falls - Huehuetenango. Beautiful falls over the tufa, falling directly in the turquoise blue Yolnabaj Lake (Laguna Brava).

Other natural landmarks

  • Jadeite mines near El Ciprés - Zacapa. Some of the best finds of Maya jadeite - beautiful green gemstone of great importance to ancient Mesoamerican cultures.
  • Laguna Lachuá - Alta Verapaz. Unusual, rounded lake, possible karst sinkhole. Depth of this lake is 222 m, width - up to 2.6 km. Lake water contains much dissolved calcium carbonate and has light sulphurous smell.
  • Riscos de Momostenango - Totonicapán. Visually interesting "forest" of sandstone needles.
  • Tecuamburro volcano - Santa Rosa. In the crater of this volcano is located acidic crater lake, fumaroles, hot springs and mudpots are found here.

Man made landmarks

Maya cities

Quiriguá in Guatemala, Stela E - the tallest stone monolith in Maya culture
Quiriguá, Stela E - the tallest stone monolith in Maya culture / Jan Pešula, / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Aguateca - Petén. Well preserved ruins of Maya city, which was established sometimes around 300 BC and suddenly abandoned at about 800 AD due to warfare. City was built on 90 m tall limestone outcrop and reinforced with 4.8 km long fortification walls. Home utensils were left in haste thus providing rich information for archaeologists.
  • Dos Pilas - Petén. A city - predator, attacking nearby cities and gradually increased its influence until the flourishing in the 8th century. Abandoned in 761 AD. Several caves - sites of religious importance - have been found at the city.
  • El Mirador - Petén. Ruins of the largest Maya city which flourished in the 3rd century BC - 150 AD, last time abandoned around the 9th century AD. At times here were living more than 100 000 people - thus it was one of the largest cities in the world then. Central part of the city takes some 26 km². Tallest pyramids are more than 70 m tall (La Danta) and belong to the largest constructions in the ancient world. There are other enormous pyramids: El Tigre is 55 m tall, Los Monos - 48 m tall. City is connected to the neighboring cities with magnificent straight roads - sacbeob.
  • El Tintal - Petén. Ruins of major Maya city where enormous buildings were constructed. Flourished in 300 BC - 150 AD. Tallest pyramid - Catzin in La Isla complex - is 50 m tall.
  • Iximche - Chimaltenango. Ruins of large Maya city, capital of a local kingdom from 1470 to 1524. Site contains numerous pyramids, palaces, two ballcourts. The first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, soon abandoned. Thanks to the alliance of the Spanish with local rulers, this city has been largely preserved.
  • Ixkun - Petén. Ruins of large and interesting Maya city, flourished in the 8th - early 9th century AD. Found 51 architectural groups with diverse buildings including two pyramids. Very impressive are steles - some of the largest ones in this region. Stele 1 is 4.13 m tall and might depict the union of two cities against the third one.
  • Ixtonton - Petén. Ruins of Maya city, inhabited starting from 400 BC and possibly until the coming of Europeans in the region. Over the area of some 6 km² have been found many interesting structures and stelae.
  • Kaminaljuyu - Guatemala. Site of large and important Maya city - predecessor of the modern Guatemala City. Kaminaljuyu was settled sometimes around 1500 BC and occupied up to 1300 AD. Much of the ruins have been eliminated by later construction, but many valuable artefacts have provided much knowledge to the science.
  • La Blanca - Retalhuleu. One of most important regional centres of Pre-Classic Maya. Here in 900 - 600 BC were built monumental buildings, such as 25 m tall pyramids.
  • Nacbe - Petén. Ruins of large Maya city, established sometimes around 1400 BC, flourished until 200 - 100 BC. City was established at major limestone mines and thus it was important economically for the whole region. Already in the 8th century BC here were built up to 18 m tall ceremonial platforms. City had very impressive system of sacbeob - ancient roads, which rised up to 4 m above the surroundings.
  • Quiriguá - Izabal. Ruins of a very interesting Maya city, which was founded sometimes around 200 AD and abandoned by 850 AD. Here have been preserved some of most elaborate stone sculptures in Central America and the tallest prehistoric stone sculptures in America. Stela E is 10.6 m tall and weighs approximately 65 tons, it has been brought from quarries 5 km away. Some other stelas are very large as well. Site contains sculpted Maya calendars which have provided much knowledge about this civilization.
  • Río Azul - Petén. Ruins of large Maya city, which flourished around 400 AD. Remnants of 752 buildings, the tallest pyramid in the city is 47 m high. In the city was found a beautiful chocolate pot with a screw for lid.
  • Ruins of Tikal in the endless forests of Petén, Guatemala
    Ruins of Tikal in the endless forests of Petén / Dennis Jarvis, / CC BY-SA 2.0
    San Bartolo - Petén. Remnants of interesting, old Maya city. City contains 26 m tall pyramid Las Ventanas, which was built from 300 BC to 50 AD. Las Pinturas temple contains unique murals with religious content which seem to be influenced by Olmec art. Found also samples of early, undeciphered Maya script.
  • Seibal - Petén. Ruins of large and important Maya city. City was inhabited in 400 BC - 200 AD, then for some time it was in decline and flourished again in the 9th century, when here lived up to 10,000 people. Found remnants of thousands of buildings, last monuments were built in 889 AD.
  • Tikal - Petén. One of the largest and most important cities of Maya civilization. City flourished in the 3rd - 10th century AD. City contains impressive complex of ruined structures, including Temple IV - 64.6 m tall structure and 47 m high pyramid. Numerous art values - stelae, burials.
  • Topoxte - Petén. Ruins of once important Maya centre, which was built on the islands of Yaxha Lake. Islands were densely built with interesting structures from different periods of Maya history.
  • Zaculeu - Huehuetenango. Well preserved ruins of Maya city which was established sometimes around 250 AD and captured by Spanish after lengthy warfare in 1525. Site has 43 structures, many of them well preserved. Largest pyramid is 12 m high.
  • Yaxha - Petén. Ruins of important Maya city with more than 500 structures found in it. The site has retained its original name.
  • Xultun - Petén. Ruins of large, little explored Maya city with many interesting monuments, such as 35 m tall pyramid, two ballcourts. Here has been found a mural with Maya calendar, which illustrates that Maya did not think that world's end will come in 2012.

Other Pre-Columbian settlements

  • Monte Alto - Escuintla. Ruins of settlement, which was established by an early Mesoamerican culture sometimes around 1800 BC, regional centre in 400 BC - 200 AD. Here have been found 45 large structures, the largest is 20 m tall pyramid. In the site have been found interesting sculptures which may have been carved according to their magnetic properties.
  • Takalik Abaj (Tak'alik Ab'aj) - Retalhuleu. Ruins of an interesting Pre-Columbian city which bears influences of both Olmec and Maya civilizations. City flourished in the 9th century BC - 10th century AD. Here have been found colossal head sculptures typical for Olmecs, petroglyphs, some of the earliest Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions and impressive Maya structures.

Pre-Columbian temples

Temple of the Great Jaguar in Tikal, Guatemala
Temple of the Great Jaguar in Tikal / Walter Rodriguez, / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • El Diablo temple in El Zotz - Petén. 45 m tall temple, located on the tallest outcrop in this fortified Maya city. Here is located also natural cave where hundreds of thousands of bats live. Workmanship of this temple is of high quality. Royal burial from the late 4th centtury AD was found here in 2010.
  • El Tigre temple in El Mirador - Petén. Enormous structure topped with 55.8 m tall Maya pyramid, constructed in the 1st century AD.
  • La Danta temple in El Mirador - Petén. Possibly the largest ancient man made structure in the world, 70 m tall Maya shrine, the tallest structure in Pre-Columbian America. 2.8 million cubic meters of building materials have been used for it. Constructed in the 1st century AD.
  • Los Monos temple in El Mirador - Petén. Poorly researched, 48 m tall Maya temple.
  • Tikal Temple I (Temple of the Great Jaguar) - Petén. 47 m tall pyramid, built sometimes around 730 AD. Built as a tomb of ruler Jasaw Chan K'awiil I.
  • Tikal Temple III (Temple of the Jaguar Priest) - Petén. Approximately 55 m tall pyramid, built sometimes around 810 AD, possible burial site of ruler Dark Sun. Last major centre in Tikal.
  • Tikal Temple IV - Petén. 64.6 m tall pyramid, 190,000 m³ of construction material has been used for this structure. Built in 741 AD, possible burial site of Yik'in Chan K'awiil.
  • Tikal Temple V - Petén. 57 m tall pyramid, built sometimes around 700 AD. Offerings and burials of huge importance for science have been found here.

Other archaeological monuments

  • Cancuén palace - Petén. Ruins of the largest Maya palace, located in Cancuén - once important city. Palace was constructed sometimes around 770 AD, initially some 200 rooms in a complex with area of 23,000 m² was found but now it is considered that it was much larger.
  • Naj Tunich - Petén. Unusual Maya archaeological monument in a cave, extremely rich with artefacts. Buildings inside the cave, the only known masonry tombs of elite inside a cave known to science, petroglyphs, inscriptions.
  • Possible Maya bridge at Yaxchilan – Petén un Mexico, Chiapas. Structures at the banks of Usumacinta River and in the middle of it hint at existance of the longest bridge of the ancient world. Bridge was approximately 200 m long and had two pylons in the river.
Old Flores from above, Guatemala
Old Flores from above / Javier Aroche, / CC BY 2.0

Historical cities

  • Antigua Guatemala - Sacatepéquez. Historical city with well preserved and beautiful buildings in Baroque and Mudejar style, one of most beautiful historical cities in Americas. This was the third capital of Guatemala, established in 1543 and destroyed by earthquake in 1717, when more than 3,000 buildings collapsed. City was destroyed once more in 1773. Since then the capital of Guatemala is in Guatemala City.
  • Tayasal - Old Flores (Noh Petén) - Petén. Last Maya city - Tayasal - existed on the island in Lake Peten Itza. It was conquered in 1697 and contemporary Flores city was developed here instead. Nowadays this small island is densely built area with many historical buildings.

Churches and convents

Santo Tomás Church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala
Santo Tomás Church on the top of Maya pyramid in Chichicastenango / chensiyuan, / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Capuchin Convent in Antigua Guatemala - Sacatepéquez. Beautiful convent, built in 1731 - 1736. Here nuns obeyed to very strict regulations.
  • Cathedral of Guatemala - Guatemala. Enormous cathedral in late Baroque - Neo-Classicism style. Main part was built in 1782 - 1815, towers were completed in 1867.
  • Chapel of San Jacinto - Quetzaltenango. One of the oldest churches in Central America, founded in 1524. The crooked, sophisticated building is an interesting example of Spanish colonial architecture.
  • Esquipulas Basilica - Chiquimula. Large church in Baroque style, built in 1758. Important pilgrimage centre.
  • La Merced Church in Antigua Guatemala - Sacatepéquez. Beautiful Baroque church, built in 1749 - 1767 and designed to withstand earthquakes.
  • San Agustín Acasaguastlán Cathedral - El Progreso. Baroque cathedral in a beautiful mountain setting. Constructed in 1654.
  • San Andrés Xecul Church - Totonicapán. Church in Baroque style from the middle of the 17th century. Facade of the church is adorned with gaudy frescoes.
  • San Jose Cathedral in Antigua Guatemala - Sacatepéquez. Large and architecturally interesting cathedral, rebuilt several times due to earthquakes. Current one was built in 1680 in Baroque style and has been much altered since then. Underground passages start under the cathedral.
  • Santo Tomás Church in Chichicastenango - El Quiché. Church in Renaissance style, built in 1545 on the top of Maya temple platform. Steps of Maya pyramid are revered by Maya up to this day. Nearby is a sacred, carved stone Cofradia of Pascual Abaj.
San Felipe de Lara Fort, Guatemala
San Felipe de Lara Fort / Adalberto H. Vega, / CC BY 2.0

Other man made landmarks

  • San Felipe de Lara Fort - Izabal. Historical fort at the entrance in Lake Izabal, built in 1644 to protect Lake Izabal from pirate raids.
  • Hermano Pedro's Hospital - Sacatepéquez, Antigua Guatemala. Hospital with church, founded by Dominicans in 1663, operates up to this day. Group of ornate buildings in Baroque style.
  • National Palace in Guatemala - Guatemala. Monumental palace, headquarters of the President of Guatemala and museum. Constructed in 1937 - 1943.
  • Museo Popol Vuh - Guatemala. One of the largest collections of Maya art in the world. Contains a collection of Maya ceramics, small stone sculptures.

List of described attractions by departments

Guatemala is divided into 22 departments.

Alta Verapaz
Baja Verapaz
Chimaltenango
Chiquimula
El Progreso
El Quiché
Escuintla
Guatemala
Huehuetenango
Izabal
Jalapa
Jutiapa
Quetzaltenango
Petén
ArrowEl MiradorAncient cities
Retalhuleu
Sacatepéquez
San Marcos
Santa Rosa
Sololá
Suchitepéquez
Totonicapán
Zacapa

Map of Guatemala

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