Guatemala Feature


Dos and Don'ts for Visiting Ruins

Don't ever take any artifact from a Mayan site, not even a tiny pottery shard. The theft of Mayan antiquities is a serious crime. Luggage is often searched at the international airport, and if any Mayan artifacts are found you could be in hot water.

Do climb the temples and enjoy the views from the top. At most sites you're free to climb the ruins. The views from El Castillo at Xunantunich, from structures at Cerros of Chetumal Bay, and from Lubaantun to the sea, are among the most memorable. Be warned, though: most of the steps are very steep.

Do descend into Xilbalba. The Maya called the underworld Xilbalba. You can experience it by visiting one of the caves once used by the Maya. Though not Mayan ruins, per se, the elaborate system of caverns around Cobán, under Alta Verapaz, was thought by many to be the entrance to Xilbalba, and you can still stumble upon ceremonial rituals taking place in the caves of Lanquín.

Do look for wildlife at the ruins and en route. Guatemala preserves many of its Mayan ruins in national parks, which are home to many birds and wild creatures. On the drive through Tikal National Park, for example, you'll pass through broadleaf jungle, and you may see brocket deer, howler monkeys, oscellated turkey, and coatimundi.

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