Quirigua Archaeological Park | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Quirigua Archaeological Park

Los Amates, Izabal, Guatemala

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Milosz Maslanka / Shutterstock

About Quirigua Archaeological Park

Quirigua Archaeological Park in Izabel, Guatemala is an historic site housing the remains of a Maya settlement.

History of Quirigua

Whilst thought to have been inhabited from 200 AD, most of the structures at Quirigua date back to the mid-sixth century AD and include numerous carved stone objects and structures, such as an acropolis and a pyramid temple, centred on three main plazas.

Quirigua was an initially relatively small city and certainly smaller than its counterpart Copan in what is now Honduras. However, in the eighth century the ruler of Quirigua, Cauac Sky (723–784 AD) was determined to be independent and achieved this when he captured the leader of Copan. Quirigua was thereby autonomous and the capital of its state and, with plentiful resources such as obsidian and jade, was a prosperous society.

One aspect for which Quirigua is famed is for its collection of stelae, each elaborately carved and one of which, at 36 feet high, is the tallest one of its kind in the world (although only two thirds of it protrudes above ground). Quirigua’s artwork also includes a series of pictures of human-animal hybrids known as “zoomorphs”.

The city was abandoned in around the tenth century, although the reason for this remains a mystery.

Quirigua today

Quirigua has one of the best collections of Maya stelae known, and they are pretty awe-inspiring. The largest of them, Stelae E, weighs over 60,000. Some of them are quite worn (one group has been covered by a thatched structure to stop further deterioration) but the detail on them is phenomenal. Bring a torch if you want to examine them in closer detail.

Note that following a major victory over nearby Copan in 738AD, the central plaza in Quirigua was rebuilt as an imitation of Copan’s, so if you’ve visited the ruins over the border it might look familiar!

There is also the remnants of two watchtowers, used to scout out potential threats and control traffic and commerce on the routes. These are testament to the longstanding rivalry between Quirigua and Copan.

This part of Guatemala is particularly sticky and humid – bring plenty of water, a hat, and insect repellent. It’s also advisable to wear long loose clothes to protect yourself against bites.

Getting to Quirigua

Quirigua is about 5km off the main road (CA9), which links Guatemala City to San Pedro Sula, across the border in Honduras: it’s not far from the turn off to Copan. It’s possible to drive here yourself, although many get the bus from the town of Rio Dulce, which is about 90 mins away. Ask to be let off at the intersection of CA-9 and Ruinas de Quirigua: you can normally hail a tuk tuk from the junction, or it’s about a (sweaty!) 45 minute walk to the ruins.

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