Not as popular and big as the ancient city of Tikal, Yaxhá is the perfect extend for those who want to explore more the Mayan culture and get an easy access to it.
Guatemala is known for having thousands of archeological Mayan ruins and while the lost city of Tikal is known as the capital of Mayan civilization, there are still more than 60.000 hidden Mayan structures. Most of these are located very deep in the jungle and some have not even been discovered by archeologists yet.
Petén: The heart of Mayan culture
The region of Petén is probably where the Maya empire started and the best location for travelers to start exploring the Maya culture. Here, Tikal is a must, but for those with some extra time and a desire to explore a less touristic, more natural and at the same time well preserved Maya city, Yaxhá is the place to go.
Yaxhá is located only 30 km southeast from Tikal and this former Maya city is one the most beautiful archeological sites in Petén. Its well-preserved structures and impressive architecture astonish travelers looking to get a more real perception of the Maya culture and how it was to explore these hidden cities hundreds of year ago. Reaching Yaxhá from Flores takes several hours, and most tour companies combine tours to Yáxha and Tikal.
Tikal and Yaxhá were only neighboring cities, but nowadays they look very different. Each of these locations have its own beauty and although visiting both at the same time sounds the easiest and most comfortable way to explore Guatemalan ruins, these Mayan sites are better to visit separately and in a very slow pace. Traveling around these two places in the same day can be a little bit exhausting and overwhelming – climate is hot and humidity averages 85% all year round.
As many archeological Mayan sites in Guatemala, the Mayan city of Yaxhá is part of a national park and just like Tikal, visitors have to pay an entrance fee (80 GTQ). However, Yaxhá is not as commercialized as Tikal and travelers visiting this national park will feel way closer to nature. Structures have been restored over the years and the jungle fauna and flora has been preserved in a great way. The park has been serving as a refuge for several species of animals and listening the calls of howler monkeys or toucans while wandering inside the jungle became for me at some point very common – still, it never stopped surprising me. For moments I could imagine how it felt for the Spanish conquerors to walk around the Guatemalan jungles and hear all these kinds of exotic animals just meters away.
Inside info: Visitors can stay overnight at Yaxhá. Budget huts next to the lakeside are available and there is even an ecological hotel located only 5 minutes away from the ruins. Glamping has become also another option for those you are looking for a more adventurous, but at the same time luxurious experience.
A world that has not been fully discovered
Yaxhá is not the only archeological site you can visit. For those with bigger interest in Mayan history and adventure, there are more ruins deeper in the jungle and available to the public. The archeological sites of El Mirador, Dos Lagunas, Uaxactun and the southern cities around Petaxbatun area are playgrounds for those who love trekking, camping in the middle of the jungle and exploring places rich in history and culture.
In the bigger picture, we just know a little bit about the Mayans and many archeological sites are still unexplored by archeologists. However, there is an important recognition about the significance of these sites in history and the Guatemalan government is taking proper care of it.
Visiting Yaxhá means getting lost in between more than 500 archeological structures, including clusters with pyramidal temples, astronomical observatories and abandoned complexes. Yet, the Yaxhá National Park as well Tikal National Park are just the tip of the iceberg and a visit to Petén can be as adventurous, individual and exciting as you want it to be.
Yaxhá took me around two hours to walk around and unfortunately, I had to go. Still, if I had the chance to go back there, I would simply find a spot for myself, sit down for some hours, close my eyes and hear the harmonious sounds of the jungle in its purest form.