fun things to do with kids yaxha maya ruins guatemala   Travel for Kids
Guatemala
  | North - peten
     
   

Yaxha National Park (Parque Nacional Yaxha)

Yaxha, located southeast of Tikal, was the third biggest Maya city in the Classic period. Situated right on Lake Yaxha, the city was inhabited from 400BC, though the Classic era (250AD - 900AD), and into the Post Classic.
Yaxha, which means "green water" in Maya, was a huge city (more than 500 structures) with temples, residential and administrative palaces for royalty, ball courts, pyramids related to astronomical and seasonal events, and wide "white roads," causeways paved with stucco.
Tip: One of the charms of visiting Yaxha today is the causeways are cleared, it's easy to see these ceremonial roads that connected different parts of the city. Also, at the time we visited, kids can climb up three of high pyramids.
    Yaxha Museum
    Stop into the museum to see Maya artifacts excavated from the city. On display are shell trumpets used to call the spirits or announce a ritual, ocarinas in the shape of people or animals, miniature Maya faces (can see what the ancient people looked like), red and black pots more than 1500 years old, flint points for spears, jade beads and white shell collars, metates used for grinding corn.
    Site model At the entrance to Yaxha, check out the model of the ruins, so kids can get a sense of the size of the ancient city, and how open it was (no jungle between the buildings).
    South Acropolis (Acropolis Sur) Patio IV
      Walk down the Lincoln Causeway (Calzada de Canteras) to the South Acropolis (Acropolis Sur, Patio IV).
    Here you'll see the palace which was both the home of the Yaxha royal family and special guests, as well as an administrative center. This site was occupied for centuries, and on the south side, look at the inner and outer walls; the inner walls are the earlier, outer walls were built later, around the earlier palace.
    Climb up the steps to see the patio and inner courtyard of the palace. The patio was used for both administrative and reception functions.
      Tip: From here, instead of going up the road to Plaza F, take a detour to walk down the Lake Causeway (Calzada del Lago) to the lake. Don't stick your toes in the lake - there are crocodiles.
    Plaza F - Astronomy Complex (Complejo Astronomico Mayor)
      This is the oldest part of the city, and was the center in the Preclassic era. Celebrations for the sun, solstices and equinoxes, were held in this area.
      The tallest pyramid is still covered in dirt and trees. Climb up the wooden stairs to the top, for 360 degree views of the lake and surrounding jungle, and two other Yaxha temples poking up, high above the trees.
    Residential group
      Just east of the pyramid, check out a nice home, with three bedrooms (platforms were beds, covered with mats and cushions), and a small steam bath (sauna) for ritual purification on one side.
    Blom Causeway (Calzadas de las Aguadas)
    Stroll down the wide causeway toward the Maler Group (Plaza de las Sombras). Next to the causeway, on the right were two reservoirs. You can see the drainage openings where water flowed from the road into the reservoirs, and important source of water.
    Here kids can walk on the original walls on both sides of the ancient causeway. Though ordinary people would not have walked here - the causeway was for royalty and important people, and the king was carried in a palanquin.
      Listen for howler monkeys in the trees - they gather together for protection, making loud noises to scare away predators.
    North Acropolis (Acropolis Norte)
    This complex has a large four sided pyramid, two smaller pyramids facing each other, and several other smaller buildings. Before climbing the big pyramid, walk all the way around, then climb the stairs to the top.
   

On the top of the pyramid, notice the smaller white bricks - these are easier to carry to the top, at the bottom are bigger blocks on stone. Also, instead of the usual single closed room at the top of the temple, a door goes from front to back.  In the plaza below are trees with hanging nests of the black and yellow oropendula birds, and a large brown beehive.

    Temple 216 East Acropolis
    Temple 216 (also called "Temple of the Red Hands", "Templo de las Manos Rojas) sits on a hill, and it's the tallest structure at Yaxha. The temple was adorned with a large mask on top, and impressions of red hands.
   

Climb up the stairs to the top of the pyramid, over 100ft high. From the top are fabulous panoramas of the lake in the distance, and the surrounding jungle.

    Palace Plaza B (Plaza de las Columnas)
    Next door, stop into a palace with 15 different doorways leading to the rooms. You can go into one of the rooms, where you'll see original wood in the ceiling and plaster on the walls, and fruit bats clinging to the ceiling.
    On the plaza below the palace, is Stela 11, both the original (protected by a thatched cover) and replica (standing up). This Early Classic stela depicts Tlaloc, the rain god, in the Teotihuacan style (more warlike), with goggle eyes, big round ear plugs, feathered headdress. In his right hand he holds a spear, on his left is a square shield.
    Wildlife
      Animals you're almost sure to see are leaf cutter ants on the ground, howler and spider monkeys high in the trees, and oropendula birds and their distinctive nests. In addition, look for toucans, parrots, wild turkeys.
      Also, look for strangler fig trees (parasites that wind around trees), Ramon trees which produce Maya nuts (a substitute for corn), and palm trees favored by toucans.
    Tip: There are restrooms in the park, but you'll want to bring along cold drinks, snacks or food. Sunscreen and hats are also useful. Get an early start, so you're not climbing the pyramids in the heat of the day.
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