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The department of Peten is the largest one in Guatemala. This department 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. Its nature and the international importance of the archaeological sites have made Peten one of the most interesting tourist places of the world.

Tikal National Park is undoubtedly the most important of the archaeological sites. However, there is a long list of site worthwhile visiting, among them: Yaxha, Nakun, Nakbe, Aguateka, Petexbatun, Piedras Negras, and Ceibal.

One of Guatemala's most mystical features is its archaeological heritage, the heart of the Maya World. The signature site is majestic Tikal but recent decades have showcased spectacular San Bartolo, with its “Sistine Chapel” murals; and Yaxha wit its main walk ways and beautiful lagoon; El Mirador, the largest pyramid by volume in the world; TakalikAbaj 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.

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 of Peten, there are two Biosphere Reserves, 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 are protected lands, as large as the departments of Totonicapan, Quiche, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, Chimaltenango, Sacatepequez, and Guatemala all together.

Places to visit in Peten:

Tikal National Park

The National Park was instituted in may, 1955. In 1979, UNESCO declared Tikal a Cultural Treasure of Humanity. The whole park has an overall area of 576 sq. km. For more detailed information you can visit our Tikal Section.


This site is located 17km (ca. 10.5miles) southwest of Sayaxche along the river banks of La Pasión river at an altitude of 150m (ca. 492 ft.). It is placed within a humid tropical forest environment. Ceibal was declared National Monument in 1970. It was later declared National Cultural Heritage of the Nation in 1985, 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. The protected area of covers 31.66 sq. km (ca. 12 square miles). It 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 Román 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 fist archaeological surveyor of this site was Teobert Maler in 1895 and 1905. He named the place Ceibal due to the large number of Ceiba 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. Ceibal was the largest settlement during the Late Classic period, with more power on the west side of La Pasión River, by having a very favorable location as control and interaction point during trade and transportation activities, as well as social and military efforts. This site is located at the highest altitude, on top of a limentone slope 100m (ca. 328 feet) above the river.

The site in composed of a ceremonial center covering an area of 1 sq. km (ca. 10.7 sqare 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. 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:

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 Petexbatún creek, with a total journey of two h until ranching 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 h, either by foot or on horseback, while walking the first portion of the trail through privately-owned land without trees, farmlands and grazing lands, an finally entering a forest area that belongs to the protected area of the park itself. If you take, the trail that goes west and leads to Chico Zapote, La Montería, Las Pacayas, El Jordán and Nacimiento (approx. 2 h using 4x4 vehicle).

The ruins were discovered by brothers Jose María 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 to 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. It contains many rectangular platforms, some pyramid-shaped mounds and some palace-like buildings. It also has four staircases with glyphs, and other staircases with characters that resemble book-keeping. The most outstanding buildings in terms of construction are buildings L5-49, which was related to ruler I, and building p5-7 know as the Pyramid of the Elf, which is the tallest mound among the sites located 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.

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.

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.

The departament is divided as follows: 10 municipiums; 206 caserios (a group of houses in a determined area); 153 large towns; 42 farms; 8 towns; 11 other; five parajes; 17 colonias; two cities; one asentamiento (an illegal settlement).

Tours to the Archeological Sites

Local Fairs

Dolores, May 28; Flores City, January 15; La Libertad, December 12; Melchor de Mencos, May 7-16; Poptun, May 1; San Andres, November 30; San Benito, May 3; San Francisco, October 4; San Jose, March 19; San Luis, August 25; Santa Ana, July 26; Sayaxche, June 13.

Map of the Peten Department

View Peten Department - Tikal in a larger map

Google Earth 3D Map of Tikal

Panoramic View of Lake Peten Itza

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