If you like your Mayan ruins a little less grandiose than Tikal but all to yourself, then try those in and around Lago de Petexbatún, a spectacular expanse of water ringed by dense forest to the south of Sayaxché. The region is home to several ruins, including Dos Pilas, Ceibal and Yaxchilán, though the most impressive is the partially restored Aguateca – a fortified city perched on a high escarpment overlooking the lake.
The best base for checking out these atmospheric ruins is Chiminos Island Lodge on Punta de Chiminos, a peninsula that juts into the lake. It was here that the last of the Petexbatún Maya sought refuge as the region descended into warfare at the beginning of the ninth century. Although little of their citadel remains today, the lodge was set up by two archeologists who wanted to preserve the site and also protect the surrounding wildlife and jungle.
The lodge’s six thatched jungle bungalows (all set well apart from each other) are built on stilts from fallen hardwood. Each can sleep up to five people and has a bathroom and its own water-treatment system. The closest archeological attractions can all be reached from the lodge by boat, walking and on horseback in a day. While the crowds are bustling around the more well-known Maya sites in Guatemala, you’ll have had a day’s unhurried adventure in the jungle, enjoying these ancient sites in splendid isolation.
Aguateca is a short boat ride from the lodge then 20min walk, while Dos Pilas involves a short boat cruise then a 2.5hr walk. The lodge also organizes three-day trips to Yaxchilán, staying overnight in a jungle lodge. Buses go from Guatemala City to the town of Sayaxché (8hr); alternatively you can drive from Flores to Sayaxché, from where there’s a river cruise (1.5hr) to Lake Petexbatún. For prices, reservations and links to archeological articles related to the Petexbatún area see www.chiminosisland.com.
Top image: Ancient city of Yaxchilan hidden in the jungle in the borderland of Mexico and Guatemala © Rafal Cichawa/Shutterstock