Set amid banana plantations, the Mayan site of Quiriguá is smaller but somewhat similar to Copán, particularly in regard to its inhabitants’ skill and propensity in the carving of stelae. It’s just 50 kilometers from Copán as the macaw flies, back on the Guatemalan side, though getting here from Copán is a bit more complicated than it looks on a map.
Restoration of the site was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in the 1930s and in 1981 Quiriguá was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The only other sites of this kind in Guatemala are Tikal and Antigua. It boasts the tallest known Mayan stela.
The Ruins of Quiriguá
What is left of Quiriguá is limited to its ceremonial center. As you enter the park from the main entrance, you’ll see the Acropolis straight ahead and the various stelae and zoomorphs (stone sculptures depicting animals and hybrid human-animal forms) in the Great Plaza to your left. The stelae are housed under thatched-roof structures to protect them from further deterioration from the elements.
It can be somewhat difficult to view the carvings and even more difficult to get a good photograph. The most impressive is Stela E, standing almost 11 meters high, making it the tallest known Mayan stela.
Noteworthy features in the carvings include their bearded subjects with elaborate headdresses, the staffs of authority clutched in their hands, and glyphs running up and down the monuments’ sides. The various zoomorphs can also be seen here, depicting turtles, jaguars, frogs, and serpents.
Near the Acropolis, Altar P depicts a figure seated in a strange, Buddhalike pose. The Acropolis itself is rather unimpressive, failing to rise in height above the treetops of the surrounding jungle, though it is somewhat spread out. There’s a small ball court on its western side.
The park is open 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Admission is $4. There’s a small museum housing displays on the site’s significance in relation to Mayan history and geopolitics along with a model showing the extent of the site’s boundaries and unexcavated sections.
The site lies four kilometers from the main road with frequent transport heading up and down thanks to the activities of the nearby banana plantations.
At the entrance to the site are a ticket office, the museum, and a few simple soda stands as well as some folks selling coconuts. The turnoff to the park from the main road (Highway CA-9) is between Km. 204 and Km. 205, about 70 kilometers northeast of the Río Hondo Junction.
The village of Quiriguá lies two kilometers back along the road toward Guatemala City and has some basic accommodations, though a better option is the town of Los Amates, at Km. 200 of Highway CA-9, if you should need to spend the night in these parts. Any bus heading along Highway CA-9 can drop you off at the junction to the road leading to the park.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com