Tikal (El Petén): In my opinion, Tikal is the most impressive of all the ancient Maya ceremonial cities. Not only is the site massive and meticulously excavated and restored, it's set in the midst of a lush and lively tropical jungle. The peaks of several temples poke through the dense rainforest canopy, toucans and parrots fly about, and the loudest noise you'll hear is the guttural call of howler monkeys. In its heyday, the city probably covered as many as 65 sq. km (25 sq. miles) and supported a population of more than 100,000.
Yaxhá (El Petén): This Classic-period Maya city was put on the map when CBS chose it as a site for its reality show Survivor. While little has been excavated, this remains the third-largest Maya ceremonial city in Guatemala, behind Tikal and El Mirador.
Copán (Honduras): It's not technically in Guatemala, but Copán is just a few quick miles over the Honduran border. A big and beautifully restored Maya city, Copán is renowned for its impressive quantity and variety of stone carvings, which can be seen on stelae, individual sculptures, architectural adornments, and one massive stairway of a major pyramid. The Museum of Maya Sculpture contains probably the best collection of original Maya ceremonial stone art in all of Mesoamerica. Back at the archaeological site, you can walk through some newly dug tunnels that reveal the Maya technique of building new temples over existing ones.
Quiriguá (En Route to Puerto Barrios): While overall this archaeological site is pretty small, it's home to an impressive collection of large carved stelae and stones. The tallest stela here is 10m (35 ft.) tall and weighs more than 65 tons. It's the tallest Maya stela yet discovered. Almost as interesting are the massive stones with complex hieroglyphic carvings.
Takalik Abaj (Northwest of Retalhuleu): This little-known ruin is a hidden gem. Dating from the pre-Classic period, it's one of the oldest ceremonial and trade cities to be excavated in Guatemala. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame, however, is the fact that there's a lovely lodge located just off the grounds of the archaeological site, combining ecotourism and archaeological preservation in an interesting symbiosis.
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