The Mayan site of Ceibal blossomed in the twilight years of the Classic period after being infused with new life from the invading Putún Mayans’ merchant warrior culture from Mexico’s Tabasco region. It grew quickly between A.D. 830 and 910, harboring an estimated 10,000 inhabitants at its peak.
There are four main clusters of structures connected via causeways and the ruins here have a distinctly non-Mayan feel to them. Round platforms dot the site and several of the inscribed monuments feature unusual items such as waist-length hair, speech scrolls, and straight noses.
There are 57 stelae here, many of them huge and in fairly good condition. Several of these are in the Central Plaza, along with its unrestored temples, and in the neighboring South Plaza. Another of the site’s curiosities is Structure 79, a large round stone platform set in a forest clearing used for religious ceremonies and maybe even serving as a platform for astronomical observation.
The protected forest around Ceibal is particularly striking, as it is home to several of the large ceiba trees giving the area its name. It is among the few stands of well-preserved forest remaining in this area.
Getting to Ceibal
The site is accessible both from land and by river. Boat trips from Sayaxché can be arranged by negotiating with the local lancheros. A round-trip two-hour boat ride to the ruins with a two-hour wait should cost about $50 and is a pleasant journey down the Río La Pasión. A short walk up a hill from the river brings you to the site.
Ceibal is only 17 kilometers by road from Sayaxchá and any transport heading south out of town can drop you off at the turnoff for the ruins. From there it’s an eight-kilometer walk to the site, but you may get lucky and hitch a ride from someone heading that way. Or you can book a taxi ride from Sayaxchá.
Several of the Flores tour operators offer Ceibal on their list of itineraries. Explore (4a Calle and 7a Avenida Zona 1 in Santa Elena, tel. 7926-2375, www.exploreguate.com) offers guaranteed daily trips.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com