Guatemala // The Oriente and Izabal //

The ruins of Quiriguá

Sitting in an isolated pocket of rainforest, surrounded by an ocean of banana trees, the small archeological site of Quiriguá has some of the finest carvings in the entire Maya world. Only nearby Copán can match the magnificent stelae, altars and zoomorphs that are covered in well-preserved and superbly intricate glyphs and portraits.

The ruins are situated 68km beyond the junction at Río Hondo, and 4km from the main road, reached down a side road that serves the banana industry. Weather conditions are decidedly tropical. Indeed, cloudbursts are the rule and the buzz of mosquitoes is almost uninterrupted – bring repellent.

A brief history of Quiriguá

Quiriguá’s early history is still relatively unknown, but during the Late Preclassic period (250 BC–300 AD) migrants from the north established themselves as rulers here. In the Early Classic period (250–600 AD), the area was dominated by Copán, just 50km away, with Quiriguá no doubt valued for its position on the banks of the Río Motagua, an important trade route and as a source of jade. It was during the rule of the great leader Cauac Sky that Quiriguá challenged Copán, capturing its leader, Eighteen Rabbit, in 738 AD and beheading him, probably with the backing of the “superpower” city of Calakmul. Quiriguá was then able to assert its independence and embark on a building boom: most of the great stelae date from this period. For a century Quiriguá dominated the lower Motagua valley. Under Jade Sky, who took the throne in 790, Quiriguá reached its peak, with fifty years of extensive building work, including a radical reconstruction of the acropolis. Towards the end of Jade Sky’s rule, in the middle of the ninth century, the historical record fades out, as does the period of prosperity and power.