One of the best-preserved Mayan cities in Petén, the elevated ruins of El Ceibal peer out over the Pasión river. The site’s elegant ceremonial structures date to 900 BC, the earliest in the Mayan world, and remarkably detailed altars and stelae were carved after AD 800, when the rest of the empire had already collapsed.
Many opt to explore the UNESCO-listed El Ceibal as part of a day trip from Flores or Santa Elena. From the city, embark on a boat ride on the Rio Pasion, spotting crocodiles, birds and iguanas along the way. Upon arrival, a short hike through the rain forest leads to the archaeological site entrance. Highlights include pyramids, an astronomical observatory and a remarkable collection of carved decoration into limestone rock—altars, stelae (carved stone slabs), and a hieroglyphic stairway—considered among the most beautiful in the Maya empire.
Things to Know Before You Go
- El Ceibal is perfect for history and archaeology buffs and outdoor-lovers.
- A small entrance fee is required.
- There are no restaurants, shops, or hotels, so pack water and snacks.
- Wear a long-sleeve shirt and pants, and bring insect repellent.
- Find a local guide or book your trip with an agency that provides a tour guide.
How to Get There
El Ceibal is located in Sayaxche in the Petén department of Guatemala, about 38 miles (61 kilometers) southwest of Flores. The site can be accessed by boat. From Flores, drive or catch a bus from Flores Sayaxche. When you arrive, you’ll see boats waiting to take you on a 30-minute ride on the river into the lush rain forest.
When to Get There
El Ceibal is open to the public every day from mid-morning until late afternoon. The climate in Flores is pleasant throughout the year, though it’s best to avoid the rainy season (May through October). Come to the city in the first two weeks of January to experience the Dance of the Chotona festival, a quirky fiesta featuring firecrackers, religious processions, a parade featuring giant dolls made of paper maché, men in drag, and lots of dancing.
A highlight of the site is the beguiling collection of stelae, which are slabs of rock with detailed portraits and glyphs carved them, narrating the history of the ancient city. The El Ceibal stelae are unusual compared to other Maya sites because the dates inscribed are after the collapse of Classic Maya civilization, and they seem to be influenced by other civilizations.
- Aguateca Archaeological Site
- Ixpanpajul Natural Park (Parque Natural Ixpanpajul)
- Actún Can Caves
- Petencito Zoo
- Petén Forest
- Pasión River (Rio La Pasión)
- Lake Peten Itza (Lago Petén Itzá)
- Tikal National Park (Parque Nacional Tikal)
- Maya Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera Maya)
- Estación Biológica las Guacamayas (EBG)