The Bak´tun Route

Guatemala is the Heart of the Maya World and the country where the Maya civilization reached its maximum splendor, making it the ideal place to experience the culmination of the Maya calendar cycle 13 Bak´tun and the start of a new era for humanity. To commemorate this important historical event, we’ve designed The Bak´tun Route.

This route allows you to visit 11 ancient Maya cities that were important witnesses of historical events associated with the Maya Calendar, similar to what will happen on December 21, 2012 with the completion of the 13 Bak´tun.

In The Bak´tun Route you’ll find monuments, stelae and structures related to the Long Count and / or the Solar Calendar, as well as sites that are still considered sacred places and where Maya people perform religious ceremonies.

Guatemala is the ideal place to understand this concept of time and the perfect setting in which you can LIVE the beginning of this new era. Its ancient ceremonial plazas, impressive archaeological sites and complex texts carved in stone, bear witness to the importance that calendars had during the grandeur of those kingdoms and dominions. In addition, the Maya population of Guatemala has kept alive its Cosmology with many religious manifestations that are practiced daily in various regions and ceremonial sites.

This 2012, the Mayan give us a great lesson that can be transmitted around the world: We need changes in society and human nature, to reach balance and harmony between human beings.

Visit Guatemala and live the change!


CEIBAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

Deep in the Maya lowlands’ tropical rainforest in southern Petén, on the banks of La Pasión River, you will find Ceibal, one of the most important and monumental cities in the region. This city was named after the numerous kapok trees found there (called Ceiba in Spanish) and one can still admire very fine and well-preserved temples and stelae at the site.

To get to Ceibal, you can embark on a boat ride through La Pasión River, peacefully admiring the tranquility and majesty of the Petén rainforest. If you’re lucky, you could also observe herons, crocodiles, turtles, and even hawks.

At the site, you’ll find pyramids, ceremonial temples, dwelling complexes, and an Astronomical Observation Complex, also called “Grupo E” (E Group), all surrounded by the breathtaking rainforest, and the singing of birds and howler monkeys.
The main attractions in Ceibal are the five stelae commemorating the end of the Bak´tun 9 and beginning of the Bak´tun 10. These five stelae are located in a pyramidal temple (A-3 structure) on the city’s main square, and they are the finest and best preserved from the Late Maya Classic Period (600-900 AD). Four of these stelae are pointing towards the cardinal points, and the fifth is in the center, referencing the end of the Bak´tun 9 and the beginning of the Bak´tun 10 (829 AD).

Getting there
Ceibal Archaeological Park is located in Petén, 18 km away from Sayaxché (a 45 minute ride by dirt road). To get there, you can take a direct bus from Guatemala City to the Island of Flores in Petén with several bus companies. In Flores, take the road to Sayaxché heading towards Raxruhá (2 hours). Ceibal is just a few minutes away from Sayaxché, through a dirt road that’s accessible for most of the year (it is advisable to check the accessibility in advance during rainy season).You can also take a boat in Sayaxché and navigate through La Pasión River (1 hour) until you reach the Ceibal pier. Walk uphill for 30 minutes until you reach the visitors’ center and the main plaza. 


IXIMCHE ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

The Kaqchiquel people from the Guatemalan highlands consider Iximche Archaeological Park sacred. Its name comes from the kaqchiquel words Ixim (corn) and Chée (tree), meaning “corn tree” and referring to the breadnut or Maya nut tree (Brosimumalicastrum) that was the basis of the daily diet of the prehispanic Maya people. 

The Maya rulers Junton and Vukubatz founded Iximche in 1470, after the alliance between the Kaqchiquel and the K´iche was broken. Moreover, it was the last Kaqchichel capital, as it was set on fire by the Spaniards during the conquest, and then, became the first Spanish capital of the Mesoamerican region (in 1524).

One of the four plazas found at Iximche is used as a ceremonial center. Since many spiritual guides and priests from different ethnic groups in Guatemala come here to perform contemporary Maya ceremonies, the city is known as a place of pilgrimage and Maya rituals.

Getting there
Iximche Archaeological Park is located in Tecpán Guatemala, Chimaltenango, 56 km away from Antigua Guatemala and 91 km from Guatemala City (1 hour). Take the CA-1 road heading west for 88 km. Then, take the detour to the left that takes you to the town of Tecpán, and follow the paved road for 3 km until you reach the archaeological site.


KAMINALJUYU ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

Within Guatemala City lies Kaminaljuyu Archaeological Park. This city was a very important trading center for the Mesoamerican region from the Preclassic (1200 BC) to the Postclassic period (900 AD). While a great portion of this ancient k´iche city has been destroyed by the urbanization of modern Guatemala City, one can still find a fraction of this site in the city’s zone 7.

Kaminaljuyu was inhabited by the k´iche from the Preclassic (2000 BC – 250 AD) until the Late Classic Period (600-900 AD), when the population began to divide into the K’iche, Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel groups. This city had great control over the production and export of obsidian in the region, given its proximity to different mines, making it a very important city since obsidian is a type of volcanic glass that was used to produce defense artifacts and everyday tools.

The majesty and importance of this city is also revealed by its complex water supply system, called “Montículo de la Culebra” (The Snake Mound), which consisted of an elevated 5 km long channel that supplied water to the entire city, making it the largest construction in Mesoamerica.

To this day, Kaminaljuyu is still of great importance to the indigenous groups of Guatemala, who continue performing Maya ceremonies in the main plaza, and in a special area designated for this purpose.

Getting there
Kaminaljuyu Archaeological Park is located in Guatemala City, at 11th street and 24th avenue, zone 7.

You can also visit the Miraflores Museum, where you will find archaeological remains found in Kaminaljuyu and in Miraflores. This museum is at 7th street, 21-55 zone 11.


QUIRIGUA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

Quirigua is not only recognized for having the largest and best-preserved stelae of the Maya World, it also shelters a great diversity of species, native to the tropical rainforest north of the Motagua River. Because of its great cultural and natural significance, Quirigua was declared by UNESCO as a Cultural Heritage Sitein 1981.

In the ballgame plaza of Quirigua, a zoomorphic figure (a stone figure in the shape of an animal) narrates the city’s founding under the supervision of Mo´ K´inich Yax K´uk, founder of Copán. Initially, the city shared its power with Copán, but during the Classic period (250 – 900 AD), after defeating and sacrificing the ruler of Copán, 18 Conejo or Uaxac Laun Ubac Cauil, Quirigua became one of the most important cities. It was then when the ruler Kawak Cielo or K´ak´-Tiliw Chan Yopaat, started the project of sculpting zoomorphic monoliths and stelae.

Stelae  C at Quirigua has Long Count inscriptions referring to August 13th, 3114 BC. This date is known in Maya culture as “year zero” or “era date”, which is considered the date in which the gods set the stones of creation, and is used as the beginning of the Long Count Calendar.

Getting there
Quirigua is located on the eastern region of Guatemala, in Los Amates, Izabal, 57.5 km from Rio Dulce and 208 km from Guatemala City. To get there, drive on the CA-9 North highway from Guatemala to Los Amates for 204 km. Turn right at the park’s entrance sign and take the paved road for approximately 5 km, driving through banana plantations, until you reach Quirigua Archaeological Park.


Q´UMARKA´AJ ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

Located in the Maya Highlands of Guatemala, Q´umarka´aj is surrounded by the stunning natural and cultural beauty of Santa Cruz del Quiché. Walking though the site’s paths, among cypress and pine trees, you’ll be able to enjoy the tranquility only nature can provide.

Q´umarka´aj, one of the largest cities in its time, was the birthplace of prince Tekum, who is thought to be Tecun Uman, Guatemala’s national hero who died in battle against the Spaniards. This city, inhabited from approximately 1250 AD, was also the last capital of the K’iche kingdom, which dominated most of the highlands at the time. Despite its long occupation period and great power, Q´umarka´aj was destroyed when it was set on fire by Pedro De Alvarado after learning of a plot against him in 1524.

The city was located on a plateau formed by three architectural complexes divided by ravines. Each of these complexes was inhabited by members of different lineages and where separated according to their power. Four temples commemorating the four founding gods of Q´umarka´aj are found in the main plaza: the temple to Tohil (god of the sky) is located to the East, to the West is the temple to Awilix (god of the moon), the circular temple of the feathered serpent Q´uq´umatz in the center, and to the South, the temple to Jakawitz (the god related to the mountain). A cave system forming a series of tunnels is found on the northern end of the site. It is thought that these caves might represent the “Place of the Seven Caves”, TulánZuyuá, described in the legend of the Popol Vuh.

Although the city was looted during colonial times and the structures’ materials were used for the construction of buildings in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Q´umarka´aj continues to be a place of great importance to the Maya K´iche people. The site is visited daily for the celebration of religious ceremonies in front of the central plaza and in the caves where it is allowed.

Getting there
Q’umarka’aj is located in Santa Cruz del Quiché, 30 km from Chichicastenango (approx. 30 min), and 167 km from Guatemala City. To get there, take the Inter-American Highway (CA-1) toward Los Encuentros, and turn right on the National Road 15 that leads to Chichicastenango. Continue on for 19 km until you reach Santa Cruz del Quiché. The site is 2.5 km from the town (approx. 10 min by bus). You can also take a bus from Guatemala City straight to Santa Cruz del Quiché, and once you’re there, ask for directions to the archaeological park.


TAK´ALIK AB´AJ ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

Located in the municipality of Retalhuleu, among the slopes of volcanoes and mountains of the Pacific, Tak´alikAb´aj is unique and interesting both for the natural beauty of its surroundings, and for its archeology and history.

Tak´alikAb´aj was inhabited from the Mid Preclassic (800 BC) until the Late Classic Period (900 AD), and played a very important role in the region’s trade before it was later dominated by the K´iche in the Postclassic Period (900 – 1200 AD). Because of its long period of occupation, its monuments have depictions of Olmec culture as well as trends of the beginning of traditional Maya style. Among these, there’s evidence of the origins of the Maya Calendar and its relation to astronomy.

While most of the monuments in the site have been dated by using the style in which they were carved or made as a time reference, dynastic stelae (portraying rulers or governors) with Long Count dates have also been found. Stela 2 at Tak´alikAb´ajis one of the earliest Bak´tun monuments found in the Maya World, with an inscription dating back to the Bak´tun 8.

Tak´alikAb´aj continues to be of great importance as a ceremonial site to the Mam and K´iche, who still visit the site to perform rituals and ceremonies to bless their crops, family and for important dates such as the Maya New Year.

Getting there
Tak´alikAb´aj is located 199 km from Guatemala City, in the municipality of El Asintal in Retalhuleu. To get there, take the CA-2 road towards the Mexican Border until the detour to El Asintal (km 190.5), which also leads to Tak´alikAb´aj Archaeological Park. Follow this paved road for 4 km until you reach the entrance to the park.


UAXACTUN ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

Uaxactun Archaeological Park is located close to Tikal, in Petén, and is surrounded by 47 hectares of dense tropical rainforest. In addition to its unique natural beauty, this city was an important center for the development of monumental art during the Preclassic Period (2000 BC – 250 AD).

Uaxactun, meaning “eight stone”, was named after a stelae with an inscription of the Bak´tun 8 in the Long Count Calendar, which was the earliest known date in the Maya World at the time it was discovered.

This city’s importance lies in the development of monumental art, evident by the presence of the largest masks in the Maya area.

The Astronomical Observation Complex found in Uaxactun is still very important for the celebration of Maya ceremonies and rituals. Equinoxes and solstices are celebrated every year during the Uaxactun Festival.

Getting there
Uaxactun is located 23 km away from Tikal. To get there, you can take a direct bus from Guatemala City to the Island of Flores in Petén with several bus companies. In Flores, take the CA-13 road towards Melchor de Mencos, taking the detour on the left in the village of Ixlu towards El Remate, until you reach the entrance to Tikal National Park. Then, follow the dirt road for 23 km until you arrive at Uaxactun. Collective buses are available daily from Flores to Uaxactun.


TIKAL NATIONAL PARK

Declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Tikal National Park shelters the remains of one of the largest and most important cities in the Pre-Hispanic history of the Maya Civilization as well as 550 square kilometers of exuberant rainforest, home to a great diversity of flora and fauna.

The city of Tikal was inhabited for nearly 1,500 years, starting in the Mid Preclassic (800 BC), until it was abandoned during the ninth century. The structures and monuments found at this site relate the important role Tikal played in measuring time with the Long Count Calendar, and the commemoration of the beginning of various K´atun periods and of the Bak´tun 9.

To this day, Tikal has the oldest Long Count date recorded in the Maya Lowlands (Stelae 29, 292 AD), indicating that it was the first or one of the first cities to establish a dynastic government that recorded its rulers in stone stelae with hieroglyphic inscriptions. Therefore Tikal recorded a dynastic sequence of 33 successive kings.

One of the few commemorations of the beginning of the Bak´tun 9 is found in Stelae 31 of Tikal, which narrates the story of its first 15 rulers. Other stelae found here also show reference to the celebration of the end of several periods of 20 Tuns (almost 20 years) called K´atuns.
Getting there

Tikal National Park is located north of Guatemala in Petén, 495 km away from Guatemala City (9 hours) and only 64 km from the Island of Flores, Petén (1 hour). To get there, you can take a direct bus from Guatemala City to the Island of Flores with several bus companies. In Flores, take the CA-13 road towards Melchor de Mencos, taking the detour on the left in the village of Ixlu towards El Remate, until you reach the entrance to Tikal National Park. Collective buses from Flores are available daily.


YAXHA-NAKUM-NARANJO NATIONAL PARK

Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo is an extensive park that shelters four different Maya cities–Yaxha, Nakum, Naranjo and the Island of Topoxte-. The park is also declared as a wetland of global significance and is home to a great variety of migratory birds. The ancient city of Yaxha, located on the banks of the Sacnab and Yaxha lagoons, presents a very unique landscape.

Yaxha is one of the largest Maya cities in Petén, and together with the other cities located in this park, played an important role in the social and political organization of the Central Maya Lowlands. This city was in habited from the Middle Preclassic (1000 - 350 BC) to the Postclassic (900 - 1200 AD) and reached its highest development during the Early Classic, maintaining an important role in the Maya World for over1,500 years. Much of its political history is known from carved monuments found at the site.

In Yaxha there’s evidence of the use of the Solar Calendar or Haab as there are architectural complexes, known as E Group, that were used to mark the solar cycle (solstices and equinoxes). There is also a Twin Pyramids Complex, similar to the one in Tikal, which was used to mark and celebrate K´atun cycles (approximately 20 years) of the Long Count Calendar.

The four cities within this park are still of great importance and are visited by several Maya groups for the celebration of religious ceremonies.
Getting there
Yaxha is located approximately 70 km from the Island of Flores in Petén. To get there, you can take a bus from Guatemala City to the Island of Flores with several bus. In Flores, take the CA-13 road towards Melchor de Mencos for 62 km until the village “La Máquina”. Turn left and continue on a dirt road for about 11 km until you reach the entrance to the park. There are buses that can drive you to La Maquina village daily.


MIRADOR-RÍO AZUL NATIONAL PARK

At El Mirador-Río Azul National Park, located within a world lost in miles of rainforest you’ll find the ancient Maya city of El Mirador, five times larger than Tikal, with thousands of mounds still waiting to be explored. El Mirador is a spectacular site where you’ll see great diversity of natural resources as well as the largest pyramid in the world.

El Mirador, a city 1,000 years older than Tikal, is the oldest and largest city known to this day for the Preclassic period (2000 BC - 250 AD). It is believed that this city was the capital of the Kan Kingdom, which according to legend is where the Maya culture originated, and was inhabited at the same time the Olmecs flourished in the South Coast. The Maya who lived in El Mirador developed systems for writing, astronomy, mathematics, and agriculture, among others, making them a very sophisticated culture a thousand years earlier than previously thought.

Among the temples and monuments of this site is the tallest pyramid in the Maya region and largest in the world, the Danta Pyramid (300 m wide by 800 m long and 72 m high). There are also astronomical observatories and triadic groups characterized by having one main pyramid and two smaller ones symbolizing creation according to Maya mythology. These triadic groups are associated with the beginning of the Long Count Calendar.

Getting there
Mirador-Río Azul National Park is located in northern Petén, 160 km from Flores, at the heart of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. To get there, you can venture on a three-day trek from the nearest village, Carmelita (60 km away), or you can take a 30-minute helicopter ride from Mundo Maya Airport in Santa Elena.


EL BAÚL ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE

This archaeological site is located within the former sugar mill called “El Baúl”, in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa. This ancient city used a very special style for art and sculpture known as “Cotzumalguapa art style”, which is unique in the Maya World and is very different from other regions.

The earliest date ever recorded in the entire Maya World was found at El Baúl! Stelae 1 from El  Baúl is a monument from the Bak´tun 7. This stelae, dated to the year 36 AD, shows one of the first records of the Long Count Calendar and it portrays a ruler who has decapitated a person and planted his head on either a stake or a throne.

Because of its unique style of writing, art, architecture, economics and politics, it is very difficult to determine who lived in this region. However, there is evidence that after the city was abandoned during the Terminal Classic Period (900 BC - 100 AD), Pipil groups settled at the site.

To this day, El Baúl is still an important site for several Maya groups who perform religious ceremonies at a prehispanic altar known as the “Dios Mundo” (World God), which is at the highest point on one of the structures.

Getting there
El Baúl Archaeological Site is located in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, in the department of Escuintla.
El Baúl Museum is located within the premises of the former El Baúl sugar mill in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, 3 km from the village and 2 km from the archaeological site.

Contact Us

Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo -INGUAT-

7 av. 1-17 zona 4, Centro Cívico, Guatemala City.
Phone: (502)24212800
Email: info@inguat.gob.gt