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The department of Peten is the largest one in Guatemala. It is a vast territory of savannas, swamps and rainforests that inspired the Guatemalan writer Virgilio Rodriguez Macal to write the book “La Mansion del Pajaro Serpiente”. This region is of an incredible natural beauty and is considered one of the most important ecological areas in all Central America. It extends from the South of Mexico, through the area of the Lacandón, all the way to the mountains of the North of Belize. It is a large wildlife reserve, part of the territory stay Virgin, with old trees of fine wood, like kapok and mahogany. Its extensive territory is considered to be one of the lungs of the planet, due to its lush vegetation. Its nature and the international importance of the archaeological sites have made Peten one of the most interesting tourist places of the world.

One of Guatemala's most mystical features is its archaeological heritage, the heart of the Maya World, whose signature site is Tikal National Park. This is undoubtedly the most important of the Mayan archaeological sites, including those located throughout the southern part of Mexico and Central America. However, it is not the most important discovery, or the larger Mayan metropolis. . In Peten there is a long list of site worthwhile visiting, among them: Yaxha, Nakun, Nakbe, Aguateka, Topoxte, Petexbatun, Piedras Negras, and Ceibal. For the true adventurer, the visit to the Mirador is a must.

Recent decades have showcased spectacular San Bartolo. Visitors come, attracted by its “Sistine Chapel” murals; Similarly, the number of visitors to Yaxha has increased. They are attracted by its major walkways; and with, and its beautiful lagoon. Peten is a paradise for bird watchers: the climate and the widespread green areas guarantee a wide variety of different species. Guatemala is famous among birdwatchers because it is in the North-South migratory path of birds from South and North America, the two coasts of the United States and Canada.

In the department there are two Biosphere Reserves −one of them the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, with over a million hectares of subtropical rainforest− There are also seven national parks, five wild life protected areas, four protected Biotopes, three Cultural Monuments, and a Biological Reserve. All of them, in addition to the splendid nature, are settings for the invaluable archaeological sites. An area of almost 17,000 km² is protected lands, as large as the departments of Totonicapan, Quiche, Quetzaltenango, Solola, Chimaltenango, Sacatepequez, and Guatemala all together.

The Department currently has several protected areas, such as the Maya Biosphere Reserve, with more than one million hectares of subtropical rainforest. Flores is the departmental capital of El Peten, nestled in a picturesque Lake island.


The Maya civilization occupied an area of approximately 400,000 km2, ranging from the South of Mexico, in the States of Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Chiapas, occupying the Guatemalan territory and western portions of Honduras and Salvador. Its pre-Hispanic history develops for more than 3,500 years and is divided into three well known stages: Pre classic, Classic and Post Classic.

It is estimated that the establishment of the first settlements or villages was around 2000 BC, through the golden age, until such time as the Spanish occupation. Those who came to America found small populations scattered throughout the region. Populations that lacked the organization and opulence that distinguished its golden age, when they built large cities and developed its largest base of scientific knowledge: the Mayan calendar, their writing, and the extended use of the zero.

Pre-Classic Period:

At this stage, the Mayan culture devotes much of its activity to develop agriculture. Also develops the Mayan language from which the 24 languages currently spoken in Guatemala are derived. They begin to appear some cities in the basin of el Mirador. Among them Nakbe, Cival and El Mirador.

Classic Period:

Starting from the year 320 to 987 A.d. For some time it was believed that during this period who ruled they were priests, who possessed the political, economic, social and cultural power. Now it is known that although the Priests had great importance, there was always a noble ruling class. The main cities built during this period were Tikal, Uaxactun, Yaxha, Quirigua and others.

During this time, even though war among the different populations was constant, they still managed to have great breakthroughs in agriculture, which was carried out by large groups of people. This created a need for a complicated division of labor that gave rise to many social strata.

Post Classic Period:

Cover the years 1000 to 1600, and it is a time in which are abandoned the great religious centers or cities of the Maya heart. The people of the cities, weakened by wars, and possibly famine, begin to migrate south from Mexico and established port Cities, Cozumel and Xcaret, as well as cities inland, such as Chichen Itza and Chetumal.

The Conquest:

One of the last places in Guatemala to pass by the process of colonization from the Spanish was the territory of Peten. It is known that the territory was one of the first to be visited by Hernan Cortez, but the place not found it of great interest, so it was not until 150 years later, when Peten became a trade route, efforts were made conquest. Which was accomplished until 1697 when after several years of efforts was the final defeat of the Itza, and their incorporation into the Spanish Kingdom.

In 1821, after the independence of Guatemala, Peten remained corregimiento Spanish, to then adhere to the territory. For 1884 already was defined by the borders between Mexico and Belize, as they are up to date. With the exception of some areas that today they are cause for dispute between Guatemala and Belize.

Population growth and population migration to Peten starts from 1850. At that time, thanks to population migrations, they begin to appear new municipalities, which gives rise to that in 1866 was appoint Department.

Places to visit in Peten:

El Mirador

The Mayan city of El Mirador holds the largest pyramid by volume in the world; Takalik Abaj with ten terraces rising 1500 m from the Pacific and spanning the Olmec to the Maya civilization. Peten is one of the most important areas during the Pre-Columbian occupation and therefore the large number of archaeological sites located in this region, which are considered invaluable and have been declared as a patrimony of men. A walk to Tayasal will soon take you to the imaginary time of the Prehispanic occupation. The current itza'es and the mixed peteneros still tell stories about the history of these warriors.

Tikal National Park

Located to the North of the Department of El Peten, 65 Km away from the city of flowers, it is part of the Maya Biosphere reserve. With an area of more than 57,600 hectares, the Park is covered almost in its entirety by mature forests with large number of plant species, many of them endangered, like mahogany and cedar trees.

Tikal, is not only a refuge of most mammals of Guatemala, but one of the places that allows you to watch them more easily. Spider monkeys and howler monkeys or “Saraguate” monkeys do not go unnoticed by the visitor, who, with a little luck can also observe coatis, raccoons and white-tailed deer. Encounters with pumas and Jaguars are unlikely on the areas open to the public. In the Park, there are over 300 species of birds that have been recorded, ranging from hummingbirds, to huge birds of prey. Reptiles, especially snakes, are also abundant. The principal interest of the area consists of the assembly of the natural environment with the archaeological remains of the ancient city.

Tikal was perhaps the most important urban center of the Maya area of his time. Can be accessed via a paved road 65 km. that connects the park with the city of Flores. The distance is traveled by tourism cars and buses on a regular basis. Tikal is one of the protected areas that are better attended. It has two museums, interpretive trails, guided tours, health services, areas of camping, hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. The National Park was instituted in May, 1955. In 1979, UNESCO declared Tikal a Cultural Treasure of Humanity. It is the only place in the world that has been declared both, Cultural and Natural Treasure of Humanity by UNESCO. The whole park has an overall area of 576 sq. km. For more detailed information you can visit our Tikal Section.

The city of Tikal was one of the great centers of the Mayan culture and It got to have a population of 60,000 inhabitants by 150 A.d. approximately. For a long time Tikal remained buried under vegetation, and today is part of one of the national parks of Guatemala: the Tikal National Park. There might be more than 3,000 buildings scattered in about 16 km. square which covered the original city on it splendor. Tourists will appreciate from palaces and monumental temples to terraces, homes, stone altars and many other jewels of the Mayan legacy.

Tikal is considered one of the most important archeological centers of the world. The impressive Plaza Mayor, in the midst of lush vegetation and variety of fauna, opens the door to the visitor for a trip to the past and to the heart of the Maya enigma.

In 1848 Colonel Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut, Corregidor and Governor of Peten respectively, carried out the first official assessment of the place. Up to this date the mapped area is approximately 16 kilometers and more than 4,000 structures of different nature can be found in here. The first evidence of occupation of the site is traced approximately to the year 800 BC in the middle Preclassic period. The latest constructions found correspond to the late classic period (900 years ad).

These 1,500 years of consecutive occupation contributed to reach a high cultural, artistic, architectural, urban, mathematical, astronomical, agricultural and commercial development. This has been cause for admiration and international scientific interest.


This site is located 16km (ca. 10.5miles) southwest of the Municipal District Capital, Sayaxche, along the river banks of La Pasión river at an altitude of 200m (ca. 492 ft.). It is placed within a humid tropical forest environment. Its name refers to the large number of kapok (ceiba) trees that exist in the place.

Ceibal was declared National Monument in 1970. It was later declared National Cultural Heritage of the Nation in 1985 by Accord of the Ministry of Education; which guarantees prohibition of archaeological predators, hunting, mining explorations and wood- cutting. The reservation area not only protects the archaeological heritage but also the plants and animals of the area to preserve the environment thus avoiding and factors that could incite the destruction of the monuments. The protected area of covers 31.66 sq. km.

This protected area includes two additional archeological sites: Arroyo de Pierdra, 4 km east of Dos Pilas; Tamarindo, 3 km northeast of Arroyo de Piedra, and several caves with evidence of pre-Hispanic occupation. To the south of the park is the village of Nacimiento to, to the west lies Reserva de San Roman and to the north is the cooperative area of Manos Unidas.

The existence of Ceibal was first reported by Federico Artes in 1892. He named the place Saxtanquiqui, which is Mayan name for a white bird indigenous to the region. The first archaeological surveyor of this site was Teobert Maler in 1895 and 1905. He named the place Ceibal due to the large number of Ceiba (Kapok) trees that still can be found in the area. He also drew the first map of the site, which he published in 1902. Later, in 1914 and 1915, Sylvanus Morley arrived at the site interested in the large number of sculpted monuments. The site was also visited by Francisco Villacorta in 1928 and 1930, Richard Adams in 1961 and Ian Graham 1967.

The systematic research and restoration work done on some of the main buildings, as well as the standing of the steles, was performed by scientists of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, between 1964 and 1968.

During the late classic, Ceibal was the largest settlement on the West side of the Passion River, and the strongest one due to a very favorable location as a point of control and interaction for transport and trade activities. The site occupies the highest point, located on a limestone Escarpment that rises about 100 meters above the river level.

The site in composed of a ceremonial center covering an area of 1 sq. km (ca. 10.7 square feet) and is distributed on three high hills, each one separated by deep ravines that drain into the river. On each hill there’s a high number of buildings that have been named Groups A, B, C and D. The 31 monuments with hieroglyphs sculpted from limestone where manufactured in the late classic period. Its most notable feature is the group of characters depicted, which differ from those of the southern classic Mayas of the lowlands. A central figure is the most outstanding one, which reflects a return to the classical period style from the early stage of cultural development where the figure in question is standing with its toes pointing outward.

Aside from the non-classical elements added to classical monuments, there is a clear omen of the arrival of final downfall and decadence. Although the sculpture is clearly artistic in nature, the carvings are very wide and rough, compared to monuments 20 years older found at the site. Group A contains most of the monuments: 15 steles and 9 glyph panels in front of A-14 building. Monuments 5 and 7 depict ball players. The stelae 8 to 11 are sited in each of the cardinal points of the building A-3. Stele 21 is located in the upper part. Three Stales are located where streets II and III intersect, with an altar near platform C-18. The round altar with its jaguar head is located in front of building 79 at the end of Street II.

Dos Pilas:

This site is located 17 kilometers south-west of the Municipal District Capital, Sayaxche, at a height of 150 meters above sea level. It is in the area of the Tropical Rain Forest. There are two ways to reach the site, either by water or by land. The first is from Sayaxche by boat, along La Pasión River, while going southwest so to take the Petexbatun creek, with a total journey of two hours until reaching a place called Paso Caribe, from where the 12-h walk starts until reaching the site.

During the dry season, you can make the journey in 3 hours, either by foot or horseback riding, crossing the first portion of the trail through privately-owned land, free of forest, farmlands and pasture lands for cattle, and finally entering a forest area that belongs to the protected area of the park itself. By land, leaving from Sayaxche, there is a dirt road leading to Alta Verapaz to the village of Las Pozas (1 hour approx.) then take a road or trail heading to the West and leads to the villages of Chico Zapote , La Monteria, Las Pacayas, El Jordan and Nacimiento (approx. 2 hours using 4x4 vehicle).

The archaeological remains were discovered by brothers Jose Maria and Lisandro Flores in 1954. The first name given to the site was Caribal or Caribe. In 1960 the French writer and ethnologist Pierre Ivanoff Christens the place as Dos Pozas, due to the streams that flourish nearby. That same year, G.L. Vinson changes this name and assigns it the name of Dos Pilas. This site does not show any exposed architecture, but comprises 492 mounds oriented on an east-west axis within an area of 71 hectares; many rectangular platforms; some pyramid-shaped mounds and some palace-like buildings. It also has four staircases with glyphs, that he mentioned the life and events in the lives of the different Kings.

The most outstanding buildings in terms of construction are buildings L5-49, which were related to ruler I; and building p5-7 known as the Pyramid of the Elf, which is the tallest mound among the sites located along the La Pasión River. The Building L4-4 has a glyph seat in what are assumed to be the residential quarters of the spouse of Ruler I. Its architecture does not show clear examples of domed rooms, nor stone roofs. It does have several mounds with pyramidal bases, quite possibly with temples built atop its superstructure, palace-type building, U-shaped buildings and low rectangular platforms. To the Northeast, at 3 km, a 400-metre-long causeway is located.

The whole site is very compact and follows a linear pattern. Most of the mounds are oriented eastward, very few southward and even less to the north or west. This site also has a defensive system through concentric walls surrounding the main square. The concentric walls hold no more than 30 mt of space between each. Very few strategically placed entries have been found along the walls. According to Stephen Houston’s hypothesis (1986), the high classes of Dos Pilas settled near the river. From this location these people had control over their visitors.


Yaxha means place of blue-green water and the name makes reference to the waters of the lagoon of the same name, where the pre-Hispanic settlement was built. The lagoon is where one of the largest populations of crocodiles Moreletti and the white turtle may be found. Both originating in the region. In addition, visitors can find with howler monkeys, spider monkeys, armadillos, ocelots, tapirs, cotuzas, pacas, wild hog, white-tailed deer, and other animals that make the reserve their habitat.

Unlike the majority of the ceremonial centers of the Classical period, where an urban design may be found, Yaxha has two sections with different quadrangular architectural structures, aligned so that they form a network of streets and squares. The road that leads to this site part of the city of Flores, and the distance that separates both cities is 80 km.

Located barely 30 km southeast from Tikal National Park, Uaxactun is considered one of the main tourist attractions. It is part of the Maya Biosphere and tourists flock to see the Sun fall from the top of one of the pyramids of the Park, where you can admire the breathtaking view of the Sun hiding behind the tree tops while its beautiful reflection on the Yaxha lagoon, make everything become orange and gold.

Here more 500 structures were found, among which are 40 stelae, 13 altars, 9 pyramids, 2 ball fields and a network of roads, called sacbe, that connect the Central Acropolis with those North and East. Positioned In square C is a unique complex of twin pyramids, outside of Tikal, which was built to commemorate a Katun (a 20 years period). It is considered that the Road of the Lake, 80 m long, was the official entrance to the city in the old days, and connects it to Lake Yaxha.


It is the oldest and larger of the Mayan cities and is believed to be in it where the Mayans strengthened its culture, perfected their writing system and began to develop their Calendar. It is located 24 km. Tikal. During the Maya era it was known by the name of Siaan Ka'an, which means “born of the sky”. The name of Uaxactun was given by Sylvanus Morley, as a result of an inscription that he found when decoding a stele that had been given by the King of Tikal, once the King of Uaxactun defeated him. This Stele began with the number eight, hence the name which means: "Place of the eight stone".

When visiting Uaxactun, one shall not leave without going to the "Temple of the masks", built with primitive and proportioned forms. It has stairs on all four sides and on the upper platform there are holes, believed to be used to insert columns that possibly were part of a shrine structure in the form of ranch crowned by a roof of wood and straw. Its name is due to the fact that it has 16 large figures that represent a mixture of human and Tiger, spread over, four per side.

El Mirador

It is only 7 km away from the border with Mexico, and it has the largest number of buildings have been found to date in the Mayan area. To reach this archaeological site you must enter the Maya Biosphere Reserve. It can only be accessed by helicopter; or by reaching the village of Carmelita, and from there take a two days walk, walking or horseback riding through nine hours each day. Nine additional sites, including El Tintal, are located and are visited along the way. El Tintal and El Mirador, both cities larger than Tikal, were United by a Mayan road (Sacbe) 20 km long and 40 meters wide.

The first reports of the El Mirador date back to 30´s, after the expedition of the Carnegie University, of Washington, whose members were at the site for just few hours. However, it was not until 1962 that the first map of the site was drawn, and the first excavations were performed. The greatest attractive of this site is that it is a work in progress, so visitors get an even bigger sense of discovery. The Main Temple of El Mirador is La Danta (the tapir), which is the pyramid of greater volume (2´800, 000 mt³) in the world. Despite its great volume is not the tallest pyramids in America, whose title still possess the structure IV of Tikal; Nor it surpasses the height of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, Keops; but it exceeds its volume, since the latter only measures 2´600,000 mt³, 200,000 less than La Danta. The Central Plaza of El Mirador, is 4 times greater than the one of Tikal.

There is conclusive evidence that the Mayas of El Mirador developed, a thousand years before what was thought, the agricultural, writing, astronomical and mathematical systems that made the Mayan culture the most developed and sophisticated culture of the world. The kings who ruled El Mirador were measurement of Ramses II and Keops.

For information on expeditions to this site please click here Tours to El Mirador.

El Naranjo

Naranjo is located 18 km from the Yaxha lagoon near Nakum, not too far to the border of Belize. To get there, a series of paths through the jungle should be followed. It has impressive architectural structures and numerous stelae with valuable information. Its most important monuments with a staircase covered with hieroglyphs and a ball game Court. Studies have revealed that El Naranjo was closely related to Tikal.

Its origin and disappearance are still unknown, as looting has made disappear many key pieces of its history. However, it is known that its original name was Wal Kab'nal or Saal, It is believed that the worse plunder was made during the 30 years of war.


Aguateca is at 190 mt above sea level, in the basin of the Usumacinta River. It was part of the set of cities that settled along the river, neighboring the city of Dos Pilas. This city is surrounded by cliffs, which offers a breathtaking view to the visitor. The original name was K´inich Pa´Wits, which means mountain split glittery.

Its main feature is that it is located in the upper part of the slope of the Petexbatun lagoon. This is a strategic point, protected by ravines and cliffs, which impeded access and were guarding it against invasions. There are no impressive buildings at this site, but the city has more than 700 building, 11 of them fully-restored. On the bright side it is a very interesting visit for travellers and scholars of Mayan culture, due to its glyphs and its stelae; or for lovers of the adventure, since it can only be reached by Seaway, unless the Petexbatun lake water level is very low and some parts of the route should be crossed by foot.

The 28 km travel through the La Pasion River, and across the lagoon add charm to the journey that begins in the city of Flores. It should be taken into account that that journey to Sayaxche is approximately 1.5 hours, in paved road, and that the boat trip will take approximately two additional hours. The journey culminates with the tour at Aguateca, which can take around 2 to 3 hours, depending on the chosen path. The motives by which its inhabitants abandoned the city in a race are unknown. However this situation allowed archaeologists to find a large number of abandoned artifacts of everyday life. Pottery, basalt mortars and other abandoned objects that can be seen in their small museum.

Other Information

In Peten the original languages are the Itza and Mopan, but in areas adjacent to Mexico they speak the Lacandón, and Mayan Yucateca maya also. Most residents speak the Spanish as a popular language; there are also a large number of people that speak the Q'eqchi ' language.

Ecological Data

In addition to the archaeological treasures, that constitute the main attraction of domestic and foreign tourists, Peten has natural beauties like the caves of Naj Tunich, which was the cave which began archaeological interest in Mayan caves, and Jobtzinaj; Yaxha and Sacnab lagoons, among other small lakes, which despite being small, possess great beauty.

There are more than 700 species of birds in Guatemala. Only in the area of El Mirador and El Tintal, ornithologists from Cornell University were able to report 182 different species. Some of them as rare as the Bat Falcon, and Orange Chested Falcon. Among the species reported in the Cahui hill are: Tropical birds: Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, Gray-headed Tanagers, Royal, Sepia-capped Flycatchers, Flycatchers, and Golden-crowned Warblers; And Neotropical Migrants: the Magnolia, Kentucky and Worm-eating Warblers, and Yellow-bellied and Great Crested Flycatchers.

Patronage Fairs

30 may, Virgin of Dolores.

El Chal
March 14.

January 15, black Christ of Esquipulas.

La Libertad:
December 12, Virgin of Guadalupe.

Las Cruces:
1 to 5 may, in honor to the Santa Cruz.

Melchor de Mencos:
18 may, San Martin de Porres.

April 29, San Pedro Martir de Verona.

San Andres:
November 30, San Andres Apostle.

San Benito:
April 3, San Benito de Palermo.

San Francisco:
October 4, St. Francis of Assisi.

San Jose:
March 19, San Jose.

St. Louis:
25th August, San Luis IX Rey de Francia.

Santa Ana:
July 26, Santa Ana.

June 13, San Antonio de Padua.

Municipal Districts

  • Dolores
  • El Chal
  • Flores
  • La Libertad
  • Las Cruces
  • Melchor de Mencos
  • Poptun
  • San Andres
  • San Benito
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • San Luis
  • Santa Ana
  • Sayaxche
Tours to the Archeological Sites

Map of the Peten Department

View Peten Department - Tikal in a larger map

Panoramic View of Lake Peten Itza

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