Today we went to Iximché, an ancient Mayan city just an hour and a half from where we live. We live just outside of Antigua, in a “suburb” called Pastores. The best-preserved Mayan ruins are located in northern Guatemala, which can be a long and challenging trip to make, especially for those who are only in the country for a short time. However, Iximché is located quite near other popular destinations, such as Lake Atitlán and Antigua, making an easy day or even half-day trip. Thus, Iximché is the perfect way to experience Mayan ruins without the long trek!
First we learned about how Kaqchikel, the local Mayan language, is read (two columns of images – like hieroglyphics – at a time, from top to bottom and starting with the left-most columns). Our guide had Mayan ancestors and taught us a few Kaqchikel words, which was fun. It was also fascinated to learn about the hieroglyphics, and the guide was able to understand everything that the stone said!
Next we explored the ruins and learned about how the political hierarchy determined where people’s houses were and what they looked like. For instance, the royalty lived in one section, the soldiers in another, and the shamans in yet another area. The city is surrounded by a deep moat to protect against rival Mayan tribes, and later against the Spanish conquistadores. Although the ruins have been damaged by earthquakes and the conquistadores, one can still get a good idea of the city’s layout. In addition, some of the ruins are still rather tall and offer nice views from the top.
Because Iximché is not as rural as the ruins in Tikal, there are still Mayan people living close by. The day that I visited was a special Mayan holiday, and we were lucky enough to witness two different traditional Mayan ceremonies in the shaman “district” of the city. It was wonderful to see these people practicing their religion so openly – a big change since the Guatemalan Civil War! Despite the genocide of Mayan peoples during this war, 40% of Guatemala’s population still identify as indigenous Mayans, so it is a wonderful country to experience rich cultural traditions going back hundreds of years.
For those who are in Guatemala for a shorter amount of time, Iximché is the perfect way to see Mayan ruins without the long trek. However, if you’re in Guatemala for 10 or more days, I highly recommend visiting the Mayan ruins in Tikal (you will be able to read about my experiences in Tikal on this blog soon!) The trip requires a 24-hour bus ride or flying in a small propeller plane from the airport in Guatemala City. Although we had to make it a day trip (due to missing our flight), I recommend spending at least one night in Flores, if not two. It’s a fun town located close to the airport, and only an hour or so away from Tikal National Park, home of the famous Mayan ruins (pictured below).