About Dos Pilas
Dos Pilas in northern Guatemala was an ancient capital city of the Maya civilisation. The name Dos Pilas is Spanish for ‘two wells’ – it’s unclear what the site would have been called in Maya, although its glyph is the same as Tikal’s.
History of Dos Pilas
Originally settled as early as 300BC, the city of Dos Pilas was founded by the Tikal King Kinich Muwaan Jol II in 629 AD as a kind of breakaway city following Tikal’s capture by its rival, Calakmul. Twinned with nearby Aguateca, Dos Pilas thrived in the seventh and eighth centuries AD thanks to its strategic river location, which allowed the city to control much of the commerce along this stretch of river.
Dos Pilas clashed with most of the major powers in the region following its founding, including the larger sites of Tikal, Calakmul and Yaxchilan. It took control of El Ceibal successfully. At various points it seems Dos Pilas was protected by Tikal and Calakmul, but in 761AD, Tikal crushed Calakmul and the inhabitants of Dos Pilas fled to the better defended city of Aguateca.
The city was razed by its enemies – a smashed throne stands as testament to some of the destruction wreaked here. A small group seem to have returned to the ruins of Dos Pilas following its abandonment: the ruins of defensive walls they constructed by stripping destroyed buildings can still be seen.
The ruins of Dos Pilas were first reported / ‘rediscovered’ in the 1950s, and excavations started in the 1990s.
Dos Pilas today
Today, Dos Pilas contains a reasonable set of ruins including a staircase which has carvings chronicling important historical events of the time, several pyramids, temples and a central plaza. The site contains many stelae, which have helped historians decipher the city’s complex history in nuanced detail. Given Dos Pilas’ relations with surrounding cities, this is invaluable.
The site has 3 main groupings of buildings. Bring plenty of water, snacks and insect repellent – the Peten jungle can get hot and sticky and there aren’t any amenities nearby.
Getting to Dos Pilas
Like all Maya sites in this region of Petén, you’ll need to start at Sayaxché: from there, you can either hire a 4×4 or get a boat. It’s not a trip for the faint-hearted! Sayaxché itself is about an hour south of Flores, just off the main highway. Buses will drop you there.