GUATEMALA GEOGRAPHY &

Points of Interest

 

The Country of Guatemala
Size: 42,043 square miles
Population: 12,727,566
Capital: Guatemala City
Location: Central America; bordering Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador
Currency: Quetzal (Q); USD are accepted at most places of business
Government: Democracy 
Language: Spanish and 23 official Amerindian languages, including K’iche’ Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca
Time Zone: Central America (UTC -6)

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Guatemala City

Size: 736 square miles

Population: City: 2,110,100 Metro: 4,500,000

Location: The southern-central area of Guatemala lying within the Valle de la Ermita (Hermitage Valley) mountain valley. 

Significance: Capital and largest city of Guatemala; has the largest populous in Central America; Capital of the Guatemala Department; starting point for many tours within Guatemala.

What you will see: The city divided into 22 zones is also home to many museums and archeological sites, as well as a large market.

 

 

 

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La Antigua

Population: At Antigua’s peak in the mid 18th century, prior to moving the capital, Antigua was home to 60,000; now 45,669

Location: Central Highlands of Guatemala; departmental capital of Sacatepéquez Department; approximately 24 miles from Guatemala City

Elevation: 5,029 feet

Significance: Served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala prior to moving the capital in 1773 to Guatemala City, due to the constant tremors and damaging earthquakes in September and December of that year. La Antigua has been named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is a central location for many visitors. 

What you will see: Santa Catalina Arch; Volcán de Agua; Volcán de Fuego; Acatenango Volcano; San Francisco church and ruins; Santo Domingo ruins; La Merced church and ruins; Antigua’s market days.

Fun Facts: Panza Verde, or green belly was the name given to those that remained in Antigua after the capital was moved to Guatemala City. It is said that the people received this name because of their reliance on avocadoes for a food source after the damage to the city from earthquakes. Founded in 1542, Antigua was the first planned city in the Americas, structured on a rigid grid pattern, and is easily recognized by its cobblestone streets.

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Pacaya Volcano

Elevation: 8,372 feet
Volcano Type: Active complex basaltic volcano; most activity is Strombolian, with occasional Plinian eruptions, which have showered Guatemala City, Antigua, and the Escuintla Department with ash.
Location: The Pacaya National Park is part of the Central American Volcanic Arc located in the Escuintla Department; 19 miles southwest of Guatemala City and near the city of Antigua.
What you will see: Although active, may visitors are able to enjoy
the wonders of this volcano. Horseback or hiking, Pacaya is visited daily by individuals willing to get a close up view of the lava field surrounding it. While you will likely not see any molten lava, marshmallows can usually be roasted and enjoyed over the hot vent openings just below the crater’s base.

 

 

 

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Volcán de Agua - Water Volcano

Elevation: 12,356 feet
Volcano Type:  Dormant Stratovolcano
Location:  Located in the Sacatepéquez Department 
What you will see: The volcanic soil makes the Water Volcano a great
place for coffee, which is now a common crop on the lower slopes of the volcano.
Fun Facts: Originally called Hunapú, meaning “place of the flowers”,
by the Kakchikel Mayans, but it was renamed by the Spanish in 1541, after it buried Guatemala’s capital city, Cuidad Vieja, in lahar (mudflow from pyroclastic material and water). 

 

 

 

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Acatenango Volcano

Elevation: 13,045 feet
Volcano Type: Dormant Stratovolcano 
Location: Perpendicular to the Central American Volcanic Arc, close
to the city of Antigua.
Fun Facts: Guatemala’s 3rd largest Volcano; the best view of near by
active Volcán de Fuego (Fire Volcano), and far reaching views of Mexico and El Salvador from atop the crater of Acatenango; combines with Volcán de Fuego to form the volcano complex known as La Horqueta.

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Volcán de Fuego (Fire Volcano)

Elevation: 12,346 feet
Location: This twin volcano to Acatenango Volcano is located near
Antigua and can be seen emitting its regular steam and its occasional eruptions from the city.
Volcano Type: Active Stratovolcano, with strombolian activity and
occasional intense lava fountaining, which produce large ash plumes and pyroclastic flow.
Fun Facts: The world’s most active volcano, releasing steam and
gas about every fifteen minutes, everyday, with some larger periodic eruptions. 

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The Northern Department of El Petén

Size: 13,843 square miles
Population: 662,779
Location: Most northwest department in Guatemala, bordering Belize and Mexico
Landscape: Huge expanse of tropical rainforest, swamps and savannah forms part of an untamed wilderness that stretches into the Lacandón forest and collects Maya cities from late pre-classic and classic period (400 B.C. to 900 A.D.).
Fun Facts: The Department of Petén occupies approximately 1/3 of Guatemala’s area. It’s population represents only about 4% of Guatemala’s total population.
What you will see: The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tikal National Park, is located within the Petén Department. This 360 square mile protected national park is located on the edge of the “Reserva de la Biósfera Maya”, where a large assortment of animal species can be found. The park’s main attribute is the ruins of an ancient Mayan city, Tikal (Tik’al). The city was likely called Yax Mutal by its inhabitants and is one of the largest urban centers and archeological sites of the Maya Civilization, dating back to the 4th Century BC. Other places of interest within the Petén Department are Yaxha and Topoxte.

 

**To learn more about Tikal and take a virtual tour of the Tikal National Park Click Here.**

 

Wildlife: Commonly found within the Petén Department are agouti, coatis, gray fox, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, harpy eagles, falcons, ocellated turkeys, guans, toucans, green parrots and leaf-cutting ants. Other animals that make their home in this region are the Jaguar, jaguarundi, and cougars.

Tikal

Size: Tikal National Park encompasses 575 square kilometers of jungle and thousands of ruined structures.

Elevation: 400 feet

Location: The Petén Basin region of northern Guatemala.

What you will see:  Within the the great city of Tikal you will find tombs, monuments, temples and palaces. The national park is within the dense tropical rainforest and many wildlife species are abundant here.

Fun Facts: Tikal is also known as Yax Mutal. It is one of the largest cities and archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in Mesoamerica. The central part of the ancient city contains 3,000 buildings and covers about 16 square kilometers. Tikal is also part of the one-million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve created in 1990 to protect the dense forests of the Petén. Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. In 1979, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tikal Temple I, or Temple of the Great Jaguar, rises 47 meters (154 ft) high.

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El Mirador

Size: The civic center of the site covers approximately 10 square miles.

Elevation: The city of El Mirador sits atop an outcrop of limestone hills at an altitude of 250 meters.

Location: The northern part of the modern department of El Petén.

Wildlife:  Resident troops of howler and spider monkeys, toucans and scarlet macaws. The wildcat numbers in this area are some of the healthiest in Latin America. There is an estimated four hundred jaguar, and the addition of ocelot, jaguarundi and puma.

Fun Facts: The enormous city of El Mirador surpasses Tikal in size. The name El mirador means “the lookout” in Spanish, However, the city's name may have been Ox Te Tun, or the "Birthplace of the Gods". El Mirador was a Pre-classic capital of extraordinary scale. El Mirador flourished from about the 6th century BCE to the 1st century CE, reaching its height from the 3rd century BCE. The site boasts several thousand structures, including impressive architecture from 10 to 72 meters high.In the Mirador basin, the Maya developed an agricultural system of importing mud from the nearby swamps creating mud-covered terraces with lime  added to the soil to elevate the pH for planting crops. The Mayas grew crops of corn, squash, beans, cacao, cotton and palm. The city's fall around 150 AD was the first of two catastrophic collapses suffered by the Maya civilization.

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Yaxhá & Topoxte

Size: The Yaxhá kingdom is estimated to have covered an area of 237 square kilometres (92 square miles)

Population: At the kingdom's peak in the Late Classic period the population is estimated at 42,000.

Location: Northeast of the Petén Basin region, 30 kilometers southeast of Tikal.

Fun Facts: Although these sites are not as popular as “Tikal” or “El Mirador”, they were still very powerful in their time and very beautiful. Yaxhá is located over a hill surrounded by the Sacnab and Yaxhá lagoons. It is inside a zone of two square kilometers, where more than 1700 structures have been identified (Hermes, et al., 1999). The site was inhabited by the Maya civilization since the Pre-classic period (1500 B.C. – 250 A.C.) through the Classic period (250-950 A.C.). Yaxhá was a former ceremonial center and city of the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization. Yaxhá was the third largest city in the region and experienced its maximum power during the Early Classic period. The name of the city derives from the Mayan for "blue-green water"

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Flores Island

Size: Approximately ¼ mile.

Population: 13,700

Elevation: 417 feet

Location: Southern part of Lake Petén Itzá

Fun Facts: The northernmost landlocked Petén Department’s capital city of Flores was originally the Mayan city of Nojpetén. The Itza people that left the Yucatán region during the 13th century came to what is now Flores and built the city, which was also known as Tayasal, which became their capital city. They titled it Noh (Nohoch) Petén, which translates to "City Island". And was also called Tah Itzá, or 'Place of the Itzá'. Flores is known as a gateway to nearby Mayan ruins. Flores Island sits on Lake Petén Itza, which is the lake is about 20 miles long, 3 miles wide, and up to 500 feet deep.

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Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlan)

Size: 50.2 square miles; 1,120 feet deep

Elevation: Surface elevation: 5,148 feet

Location: Guatemala Highlands.

What you will see: Many traditional Mayan lakeside communities are found near Atitlán. The inhabitants of the area still dress in customary garb and practice many traditions of their culture, some with a fusion of Spanish influence, including the worship of Maximón.

Fun Facts: This volcanic crater lake is the deepest lake in Central America, and renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Multiple Mayan archeological sites have been discovered at the lake; the latest Mayan “underwater city” (located 55 feet below the lake’s level) discovered, dates back to the late pre-classic period.

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Rupalaj K’istalin (Indian Nose)

Elevation: 2,863 meters

Location: Guatemala Highlands on the Northwest shore of Lake Atitlan.

What you will see: In addition to the beautiful view of Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes, you’ll witness superb views of the villages of San Juan and San Pedro la Laguna.

Fun Facts: One of the most visited and hiked mountains on Lake Atitlan's shore. From atop the Indian Nose it is possible to watch the sunrise and the volcanic chain of Guatemala. This mountain is also known as The Mayan Face.

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Quetzaltenango

Size: 50 square miles

Population: City: 225,000 Metro: 661,375

Elevation: 7,640 feet

Location: Located in a mountain valley within Guatemala’s western highlands (Los Altos).

Landscape: The surrounding department of Quetzaltenango has landscapes including volcanoes, hot springs, rivers, mountains and valleys, with much of the land used for agriculture, including coffee, wheat, fruits and vegetables. 

What you will see: Natural hot springs at Fuentes Georginas; Volcán Santa Maria, 12,256 feet, and the extremely active Santiaguito crater are located just outside of the city; near by Salcajá hosts the first Western church in Central America and market days on Tuesdays; on the highway leading to the coast the town of Zunil is the center for worship of Maximon, the life-sized wooden sculptor bestowed with supernatural power.

Fun Facts: Better known by its Mayan name “Xelajú” or “Xela”, Quetzaltenango is the second largest city in Guatemala. It’s industrial development during 18th and 19th century gave the city the economic resources to become a powerful city. The city’s population consists of 61% indigenous and 34% ladino. The name Quetzaltenango was given to the city when the Spanish Conquistadors’ native allies, the Nahua, called the city Quetzaltenango, meaning the native Nahua “the place of the Quetzal bird”.

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Triangulo Ixil

Size: 1,4375 square miles

Population: No more than 90,000 Ixil people

Location: Department of Quiché; Sierra de los Cuchumatanes.

What is it: Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and Chajul are called “Triangulo Ixil”. These communities were affected by the 30-year civil war, which took place from the 60´s to 90´s. 

What you will see: Guatemala’s countryside full of the traditional Mayan lifestyle and culture, where the inhabitants continue to wear their customary attire. The Ixil ethnic group lives within the Triangulo Ixil; this is the smallest group in Guatemala, but has preserved its traditions and roots within the community.

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Chichicastenango

Size: 200 square miles

Elevation: 6,447 ft

Population: 152,833 with the addition of 45,549 in Urban areas.

Location: Department of El Quiché  within the Guatemalan highlands, northwest of Guatemala City.

Fun Facts: It’s known for its open-air craft market and indigenous Maya culture. The 16th-century Santo Tomás Apóstol Church has long been used for both for Catholic worship and Maya rituals. Market days are on Thursdays and Sundays. In 1935, one of the locations for the film The New Adventures of Tarzan was Chichicastenango.

What you will see: Vendors sell handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, pom and copal (traditional incense), cal (lime stones for preparing tortillas), grindstones, pigs and chickens, and hand tools. An import item sold here are the textiles, especially women's blouses. You will also find the mask factory where the masks for the dancers in traditional dances, such as the Dance of the Conquest are manufactured.

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Alta Verapaz Department

Size: 3,354 square miles
Population: 1,183,241
Elevation: 1,000-9,200 feet
Location: The Alt Verapaz Department is located in the north central part of Guatemala. It borders the El Petén Department to its north.
Landscape: This rainforest region is made up of several important natural reserves and home to many wildlife species.
What you will see: The breathtaking waterfalls at the Ram Tzul Natural Reserve; Semuc Champey’s shallow staircase of sublime turquoise pools, which can be viewed atop the 99 foot natural limestone bridge; Candelaria’s limestone mountains, full of caves; the National Park Laguna Lachúa’s circular lake surrounded by a dense tropical jungle; The Chelemhá  Cloud Forest Reserve, located within the Yalijux mountain range, is influenced by a weather regime dominated from the Caribbean Sea and hosts an annual rainfall of 160 in. The forest then filters high amounts of water from the clouds creating an evergreen, very humid broadleaf forest, which is a main element of the cloud forest. Chelemhá preserve’s pristine cloud forest hosts an average canopy height of nearly 100 feet.

Wildlife: Guatemalan Howler Monkey, Brocket Deer, Collared Pecary, Paca, Mexican Porcupine, Gray Fox, Cacomistles, Kinkajous, Pumas,

and Jaguars. The Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, can also only be found within cloud forests, which are located within the

Department of Alta Verapaz. Also found within these hotspots of biodiversity are birds such as the black-throated jay, highland Guan, green-throated mountain-gem, and the blue-throated Motmot.

Semuc Champey

Elevation: 1,247 feet

Size: 6.618 square miles

Location: The department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, near the Q'eqchi' Maya town of Lanquín.

Fun Facts: Semuc Champey is a natural national monument, which consists of a 300m long natural limestone bridge. The beautiful stepped bridge was naturally created over the Cahabón River and holds crystal clear turquoise pools that make for a wonderful swimming area.   

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Ram Tzul

Elevation: 1,500 - 2,348 meters

Size: 100 hectares

Location: Part of the Cloud Forest Biological Corridor located between Alta and Baja Verapaz, 98 miles from Guatemala City.

Fun Facts: Ram Tzul means “Spirit of the Mountain”. This name was given after the name of the god who protects nature and life who lives where the waterfalls are.

What you will see: Forest full of waterfalls, orchids, ferns, mosses, and bromeliads   

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B'ombi'l Peq (Bombil Pek)

Size: Main Cavern is 50m high

Location: The Limestone Mountains in Northern Alta Verapaz. The cave system is located in Chisec, Guatemala within the Department of Cobán.

Fun Facts: The name B'ombi'l Peq (Bombil Pek) Caves, means “Piedra Pintada” in Spanish, which translates to "Painted Stone" in English. The site is considered sacred to the surrounding community, El Porvenir.

What is it: A sinkhole with separate caverns.

What you will see: The small cavern walls host painted images of two monkeys, which is thought to represent the hero twins of the Popol Vuh.

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Candelaria

Size: The Candelaria cave network extends for 22km with subsidiary systems totaling more than 80km.

Location: The Limestone Mountains in Northern Alta Verapaz. The cave system is located west of Raxruhá and northeast of Chisec, Guatemala within the Department of Cobán.

Fun Facts: The main chamber is 30m high and 200m wide.

What is it: Complex cave network dug out by the subterranean Río Candelaria.

What you will see: The main chamber has stalagmites that measure up to 30m in length. In some areas of the caves natural skylights from holes are found in the roof allowing sunlight in creating magical reflections. 

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Laguna Lachúa

Size: ~2km in diameter and over 200m deep

Location: West of Raxrujá

What is it: The Parque Nacional Laguna Lachúa is a pristine circular lake surrounded by a dense tropical jungle. Laguna Lachúa was thought to be a natural sinkhole in the Earth's limestone crust. However, its circular shape has lead to the belief that it could have been created by a meteorite impact.

Wildlife: Tapirs and all Central American wild cats, including the jaguar are found on the reserve. You’ will definitely hear howler monkeys and spot armadillos and otters. Laguna Lachúa boasts an abundance of exotic birdlife including snail kites and flycatchers.

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Grutas de Lanquín

Location: The the caves are located in the Lanquín valley near a modest Q’eqchi’ village located northeast of Cobán.

What is it: A cave system that extends several kilometers deep into the earth.

Fun Facts: Hundreds of bats reside in the cave system. Try to time your visit with the sunset to watch hundreds of them fly out of the mouth of the cave. There are so many bats flying out at this time you won't be able to see the sky. Lanquín is a great place for spelunking or swimming or tubing in the river.

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The Pacific Coast- Monterrico

Elevation: 23.1 feet

Location: Guatemala’s Pacific Highlands in the Jutiapa region, about 75 miles from Antigua.

What you will see: The volcanic black sand beach offers ferry rides down the Chiquimulilla Canal, which is home to a Mangrove forest providing a great place to spot a large array of wildlife. Also in the area is a salt mine and most importantly, the tortugarios, or sea turtle hatcheries.

Fun Facts: Guatemala’s Pacific coast is twice as long as the Atlantic coastline, and is known for its volcanic black sand beach. In Monterrico, a daily baby sea turtle release is hosted, on the beach, by the CECON organization. Onlookers can purchase tickets to help fund CECON’s efforts and help guide the babies to a safe arrival into the ocean.

Wildlife: Four species of sea turtles; caiman; iguanas; many species of birds, including the white-bellied chachalaca, the limpkin and yellow warbler. 

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Takalik Abaj

Size of site: 2.5 square miles

Location: 9 miles west of Retalhuleu along Guatemala’s Pacific coast.

What you will see: Takalik Abaj, which means “standing stones,” was once an important commercial and political center for Pacific coast trade routes. As well as Mayan structures, alters, and engravings, the site is especially notable for its Olmec-influenced sculptures and structures.

Fun Facts: There are over 275 structures found in Takalik Abaj. And in 2002, an intact royal grave, thought to be the city’s last Mayan ruler, was unearthed. The excavation made headlines and was featured in National Geographic. Structure 5 is the tallest structure is 53 feet, which is found on Terrace 3. Terrace 3 is a rectangular temple that has three Olmec-style stone heads facing a Mayan altar.  The most impressive carved stelae are in front of Temple 12. Structure 12 is the site’s largest structure, with a base measuring 184 by 138 feet and dates back to 300 AD. The site of Takalik Abaj hosts incredible structures including zoomorphs, Olmecoid heads, and carved monuments.

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Puerto Quetzal

Importance: Puerto Quetzl is Guatemala's largest Pacific Ocean port, and is important for both cargo traffic and as a stop-off point for cruise liners.

Location: The Escuintla Department along the city of Puerto San José on Guatemala’s Pacific coast.

Things to do: At the Puerto Quetzal you can embark on many optional day  excursions. We offer a complete range of tours. You can find them on the Shore Excursions page of our website.

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The Department of Izabal

Size: 3,490 square miles

Population:  314,306

Elevation: Sea Level to over 4,000 feet

Location: Bordered to the north east by the Gulf of Honduras, the Department of Izabal is Guatemala’s gateway to the Caribbean Sea. The department borders Belize to the north and Honduras to the east, stretching the length of Río Dulce (Sweet River) from Lake Izabal to the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

Landscape: Izabal is home to Guatemala’s largest fresh water lake, Lago Izabal. Canons, waterfalls, lagoons, and rivers surround Lake Izabal, including the Río Dulce. Río Dulce flows into the Atlantic Ocean through Amatique Bay, where Livingston is located. The department hosts an aquatic ecosystem with vast wetlands and mangroves with a consistently warm and humid climate.

Culture: The culture in Izabal is like no other in Guatemala. Although the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ruins of Quiriguá is located in Izabal, the department hosts a unique cultural diversity that is surprisingly not a majority of Mayan decent. The department hosts three other major ethnicities, these are Ladino, Garifuna, and Afro-Caribbean. The Garifuna people are of a mixed-African and Island Carib decent and speak their own Garifuna language. Livingston, a town on the mouth of the Río Dulce, is known for its uncommon mix of the Garifuna, Ladino, Afro-Caribbean, and Mayan people.

What you will see:  The Department of Izabal centers around Lake Izabal, Río Dulce, and the Caribbean. The area is considered to be a paradise for boaters, sailors, and cruisers, with many cruise ships landing in Puerto Barrios. Many visitors come to enjoy bird watching and orchid spotting, where many unique species of aquatic birds can be found. Izabal is also a popular location for diving and fishing.

 

Wildlife: Many bird watchers come to Izabal to enjoy the vast array of species of sea, shore and wading birds. Such species include herons, pelicans, and toucans. This is likely one of the best locations for bird watchers in Guatemala, as several bird species are found in this department’s region of Tropical Rainforest, such as the Orange-breasted Flacon, White-collared Manakins, Olive-backed Euphonias, Gray-headed Tanagers, Golden-winged Warblers and Green-backed Sparrows. Other unique wildlife found in this region are the Caribbean Manatee.

Livingston

Weather: Average daily temperature of 77°

Location: South-eastern Guatemala within the Izabal Department at the mouth of the Río Dulce at the Gulf of Honduras.

Languages: A number of languages are spoken in Livingston including Spanish, Garifuna language, Mayan Q'eqchi', and English.

Fun Facts: Livingston offers a unique cultural mix of Garifuna, Afro-Caribbean, Maya, and Ladino people that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Set at the end of the Rio Dulce, Livingston hosts a few beautiful Caribbean beaches and plenty of activities (snorkeling, beach, relaxing, dancing, culture) and typical food from the area. It was Guatemala's main port on the Caribbean Sea before the construction of nearby Puerto Barrios.

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Quiriguá

Size of site: Quiriguá is a medium-sized site of Mayan ruins, covering approximately 3 square kilometers along the lower Motagua River.

Location: The department of Izabal in south-eastern Guatemala.

What you will see: The giant stelae on the Gran Plaza. Seven stelae,  were built during the reign of Cauac Sky and carved with his image. One of these stelae, Stela E, is the largest Maya stela known. It stands 8m above ground, with another ~3m buried in the earth. It weighs almost 60,000kg. You will find elaborate headdresses, beards on some of the figures, the staffs of office held in the kings' hands, and the glyphs on the sides of the stela.

Fun Facts: Quiriguá is an ancient Maya archeological site. During the Maya Classic Period, Quiriguá was in a crucial location as it was situated in the junction of several important trade routes. Quiriguá shares its architectural and sculptural styles with the nearby Classic Period city of Copán, with whose history it is closely entwined.

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