Aguateca is an important and well-excavated ancient Maya ceremonial site in Guatemala’s Petén Region.
History of Aguateca
Thought to have been one of the two capitals of the Maya Dynasty in the region – together with Dos Pilas – from around 700 AD, Aguateca was a vital stronghold thanks to its natural defences – cliffs and a ravine. In fact, in the eighth century, Dos Pilas was abandoned and its people sheltered at Aguateca. Carved stelae on site detail Aguateca’s military successes and have greatly helped historians decipher Aguateca’s history.
The city was finally abandoned sometime around 800AD – arrowheads and skeletons, the remains of burnt buildings, and scattered valuables imply that the city was attacked and partly destroyed by invaders, leading to its sudden abandonment.
The remains of the city suggest that it was a centre for craft production and trade: obsidian was found in quite large quantities, which is evidence of trade with other city states. A half constructed temple has also been unearthed, which provided insights into Maya building processes and materials.
There are two main groups of ruins to explore at Aguateca: the Grupo del Palacio (where the royal family lived) and the Plaza Mayor. The remains of the Palace are impressive – it appears the royal family knew of an attack and escaped with their valuables. The Plaza Mayor contains the majority of the stelae. Many have fallen but there are impressive copies.
There’s also a mirador (lookout) which is worth visiting for magnificent views.
You’ll end up crossing the ravine a couple of times – some parts of it are 70m deep, so consider this as a factor if you have vertigo.
There’s a visitor centre with many of Aguateca’s archaeological finds in. Guides are available, but there aren’t many amenities – stock up if you don’t want to pay a premium for food and drink on site.
Getting to Aguateca
Aguateca is located in northern Guatemala, in the region of Petén. It’s relatively remote, accessible only by motorboat from the nearby town of Sayaxché, via the Río Petexbatún: the journey takes just under an hour each way. Sayaxché itself is off the main highway PET-11 to Flores – buses should be able to drop you there.