Olmec meets Mayan at Takalik Abaj, a little-known complex of ruins tucked away in the southwestern corner of the country. Historically, this lowland location gave far better access to central and southern Mexico than did sites elsewhere in Guatemala, and the Olmec influence was stronger here than other places around the country. Inhabitants of Takalik Abaj also formed strong commercial ties with Kaminaljuyú, on the site of present-day Guatemala City.
The name means
"standing stones" in Quiché, a moniker given to the site by those who uncovered it in the 1880s. (No one is certain what its original inhabitants called the place, as is the case with the majority of Guatemala's indigenous ruins.) What is known is that the site dates from the Preclassic period, and was inhabited from the 8th century BC to AD 9th century, peaking about AD 200. The standing-stone name is apt: Takalik Abaj is home to almost 300 well-preserved stelae, made of granite, unlike the limestone used at ruins in northern Guatemala's Petén region. Several small pyramids round out the offerings on the site.
Guides staff the booth at the site entrance, and can provide you with a tour. These folks don't see a lot of visitors, so a Q15 tip is always appreciated. Alternatively, the nearby Takalik Maya Lodge can set you up with a tour.