Santa Ana, (El Salvador)

“Sihuatehuacán: Place of Priestesses”, “La Grande”, “Third largest city in El Salvador”

Santa Ana, El Salvador, January 2016

The third largest city in El Salvador, and without any doubt the most beautiful in the entire country that we visited, for the amount of well preserved colonial architecture and great shape and care of everything, even if the refurbishment and restoration of many buildings is still ongoing. Important to add here is that after the extreme disappointment of the disastrous capital city San Salvador, and overall the entire country, it is this area on the west where you can find really pretty villages and charming little cities right in the middle of unspoiled nature. While we decided to do the Maya Route, you can also do what is called the Route of the Flowers which for sure you won’t be disappointing, to the point you will actually keep a great memory of your trip to El Salvador.

For us, unfortunately, time was on our back all the time, and I did not even heard about the Route of the Flowers until after our Maya Tour and Santa Ana. This meant leaving us without any possible change of plans around to get onto that tour.

Santa Ana for us was one of the highlights in the Maya Route. So right after visiting Joya de Ceren and San Andres, our guide took us to Santa Ana where we had time to explore this beautiful city and enjoy lunch on what was another splendid sunny and hot day. It is true we would have welcomed to spend a bit more time in this city, but the overall tour was already long and busy enough therefore it just hit the spot. It was perhaps some 3 hours no more until returning to the transit and move on to the last site of this tour, the ruins of El Tazumal, nearby. (more…)

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Joya de Ceren, San Andres, Tazumal (El Salvador)

“Pompeii of the Americas”, “The best preserved indigo factory from the Maya world”

Joya de Ceren, San Andres & Tazumal, El Salvador, January 2016

Continuing our tour in El Salvador, we spared today for doing what is known as the Maya Route. Although within the country there are many hundreds of known Maya places, the majority of them remain unexcavated, with only 8 sites out of 11 in total currently open to the public (as of January 2016). 3 of them are the ones offered in this route, which also are the best ones and unique not only to El Salvador but across the entire former Maya civilisation area. The good side is that all of them are within easy reach from the capital, hence another reason why to have your base in San Salvador would work perfectly as we did.

Joya de Ceren, nicknamed as the Mayan Pompeii or Pompeii of the Americas, is not for coincidence. The fate of this ancient city was the very same as that of the Roman city in Italy. The volcano next door once abruptly erupted and buried the city well deep in hot ash and pyroclastic flow, 10 layers to be precise, meaning the level of conservation is quite immaculate and to this date, the only one example of Maya city where one can see how the people really lived 1400 years ago, with their houses, their utensils, cultivated land and even food. That’s right, it was dinner time when the eruption occurred and while the people had enough time to flee for their lives, they left absolutely everything behind. A proper time capsule like no other that brought to live many of the unknown facts of the daily lives of the Maya. No corpse whatsoever have ever been found in the site, another indication that proves they could escape prior to the destruction.

Although it is known to be there at least 40 structures, only 10 have been entirely excavated and put on display at great care. The reason why they cannot continue excavations is that once open and exposed again to the air after that many hundreds of years, they cannot stop nor control them from deteriorating. Nevertheless, the ones you can see today are an amazing example to give you an idea. (more…)

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Copan Ruinas, (Honduras)

“Oxwitik”, “Three Witik”, “One of the four Maya capitals”

Copan, Honduras, December 2015

At one of the highlights on this Central America trip without any doubt! The ancient Maya city of Copan in Honduras, which in fact was one of the four capitals of this ancient civilization, in this case the eastern capital. The others were Tikal to the north (in Guatemala), Palenque and Calakmul to the west (in Mexico). Having been already in Tikal before, now in Copan, the remaining 2 as of today are on the scope to be the next candidates, hopefully soon. The four capitals were also some of the largest Maya cities and as such, the incredible amount of structures to see is large, yet bearing in mind only a small portion is excavated on them. Did I also mentioned Honduras counts as of today as a new country that I have not been before? This means country visited number 74!.

While if Tikal was an easy trip from Flores in Guatemala, the nearest larger city, and the visit itself, even through right in the middle of the jungle, was quite easy to navigate; in the case of Copan this was way much more laid back, and reaching this place from Guatemala City was a lengthily but comfortable bus ride. Go and back in the same day. Exhausting and tiring but well worth it if you ask me.

Both Copan and the northern capital, Tikal, have a lot to share in common. While if architecture, structures and construction across the Maya civilization do not vary much (unless for the the northern region of Yucatan with the clear Puuc style), the location of the cities vary. In this case, both were created in the middle of the jungle hence why they were “lost” for so many centuries, buried deep beneath the overgrown nature. It is up to date that excavations are still ongoing, and you can guess the many small buried pyramids and other structures under the massive roots of the trees and vegetation. Only a small portion of the city has been uncovered. (more…)

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Guatemala City, (Guatemala)

“La Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción”, “Tú eres la ciudad: You are the city”, “Guate”

Guatemala City, Guatemala, January 2014

Heading south to the capital of Guatemala at just one hour flight from Flores, where we got to enjoy the roots of the Maya civilization at the most powerful of their capitals, Tikal; this would be our next base along our Central America trip. Yes, we decided to rather be based in the capital in order to make day trips the following days to the major tourist spots the country has to offer around than having to sleep each night at a different place and having to pull the luggage on and on.

A key point before I continue, is that you should not be scared of being in Guatemala City. It is sad to read such articles and comments over the internet, questioning the safety as it it would be the worst place on earth. Let me tell you it is not as you think after what you have read around. During the day time it is perfectly fine to be in the centre doing your sightseeing, camera in hand. Chances of bag snatching and pick-pocketing are the same as in any European city (I would exclude here the Scandinavian countries though). Other than that there is nothing you should fear about. People is nice and very helpful, they will not hesitate in helping you with anything.

On the other hand is the night time. This is the time you should take precaution and not being in the street. As you will notice, after 19.00pm there is almost no one in the streets. Policeman and guards with guns are at the doors of restaurants, even at the fast food chains, banks and so on. Insecurity feeling is in the air, but as said, there is no reason for you to be walking the streets at night. (more…)

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Tikal, (Guatemala)

“Yax Mutal: First Mutal”“Ti ak’al”, “The Most Powerful of the Maya Kingdoms”

Tikal, Guatemala, January 2014

At the very heart of the Maya civilization we reach the most important of the ancient capitals they had (there were 4 of them). The most powerful of all the kingdoms the Maya world was composed of. Remotely located in the middle of the pristine jungle of northern Guatemala, around one hour bus drive from Flores, means the hordes of tourists you see in Chichen Itza are not even a tenth in here. We were extremely lucky to enjoy the site almost for ourselves alone and have most of the pictures with no one else around.

Only 20% of the site has been excavated and exposed to the public, the other 80% lies beneath the thick and dense jungle. You can guess from the many tree-covered mounts that an edification is underneath. Infra-red studies made by NASA show over 4000 constructions! You can imagine the vast size of this place if everything would be uncovered.

Fortunately, what you see today is well enough to give you an idea of how powerful the city once was while the many ongoing works to discover, uncover and restore are slowly expanding the area to the visitors. (more…)

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Flores, (Guatemala)

“Nojpetén”, “Nuestra Señora de los Remedios y San Pablo, Laguna del Itza”

Flores, Guatemala, January 2014

Leaving behind the Caribbean short stop-over in Belize, we continue overland entering Guatemala. Starting at the very north is the Peten Itza Lake with the city of Flores, a little island connected to mainland to Santa Elena just across the causeway. But why to come here you may think? Flores is the gateway to the heart of the Maya Civilization, with Tikal, one of the ancient capitals of the Maya world just at little over an hour away.

This northern region of Guatemala is very peaceful and tranquil, almost fully covered in pristine jungle. Because of its remoteness  you will be happy to know that it’s not very touristy and restaurants and bars are still “real” without inflated prices nor tourist traps.

Flores and Santa Elena both have nothing else to offer than that, a beautiful spot in the middle of your trip. The point of arrival into the incredible Maya world of this region. Still, very charming streets, churches and its amazing people, a unique colonial flair everywhere. So colourful and so traditional, it seems time stood still in this region. Not to mention the gorgeous food anywhere. (more…)

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Cancun, (Mexico)

“Nizuc”, “Throne of the Snake”, “Place of the Gold Snake”, “Riviera Maya”

Cancun, Mexico, January 2014

For our last 2 days in Mexico we decided to spend them resting in Cancun. After all the previous busy and tiring days we though the beast we should do was to have a well deserved rest in between, before continuing on to Belize for a short stop followed by a busy week in Guatemala and a final resting days in Panama. But from our original thoughts to what the reality unfortunately was, it’s a big difference.

The weather. It really ruined what was meant to be sun, beach and pool for two days. The freezing blizzard happening in North America pushed too much south and while temperatures were not cold in Cancun, we did not see the sun at all. Thankfully we could enjoy the beach on the first day. Very warm water and nice outside temperature. Just big clouds but no rain. Only towards the end of the day it is when the strong wind and heavy rain started. That was the end of our beach time the following day.

In any case, if you plan coming to Cancun around the same time of the year as we went, be aware that the chances of rain are quite high. Other months of the year is better but then you need to be careful during the hurricane season. It’s kind of a lottery to be honest. We were unfortunate in this occasion. (more…)

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Uxmal, (Mexico)

“Óoxmáal”, “Oxmal: Three Times Built”, “Uchmal: What is to Come, the Future”

Uxmal, Mexico, January 2014

Another day and another Maya city. The 4th pre-Columbian archaeological site we visit in our trip, sadly meaning only one more left to go. This is quite different to Chichen Itza even the distance separating both is not big and both are of Maya civilization. The main difference is the architectural style. Although structures are always repeating on every city; final decoration, sculptures and finish is not the same. While Chichen Itza has a wide mix of styles, Uxmal is entirely Puuc.

How can you easily spot what is Puuc architecture? Notice the intricate mosaics made of stone on the upper façades of the constructions. This is something unique to this style and the finest examples are found in Uxmal, the largest city on this style.

Around half of the size of Chichen Itza, and being so near to many other Maya cities, you can visit more than one in the same day. In fact and as I will explain below in the section how to visit the site, there are Sunday tours where they take you to 5 cities. This is called La Ruta Puuc (the Puuc Route). (more…)

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