Uaxactún is a Middle Preclassic site dating to about 600 B.C. that came into its own in the Late Preclassic sometime between 350 B.C. and A.D. 250. Sylvanus G. Morley rediscovered Uaxactún in 1916.
Its original name has subsequently been deciphered as Siaan K’aan (“Born in Heaven”), though Morley supposedly chose the name Uaxatún (“Eight Stone”) as a reference to a stone dating to the 8th b’aktun, then the earliest-known date inscription.
Some believe his choice of name was a nod to “Washington,” the U.S. capital and home of the Carnegie Institute that funded his explorations.
The ruins are smaller than Tikal  and not as well preserved. Uaxactún’s most distinct structure is its observatory, believed to be one of the first astronomical complexes and aligned with the equinoxes and the solstices.
A 15-minute walk southeast of the airstrip leads to Group E, a series of small, partially restored temples arranged side by side, oriented north to south, and designed as an astronomical observatory. They align with the sunrise on key dates.
When viewed from the top of nearby Temple E-VII-Sub, the sun rises over E-1 on the summer solstice and over the southernmost E-III on the winter solstice. Temple E-VII-Sub’s foundations date to 2,000 B.C.
Uaxactún lies at the end of an unpaved road, which is usually passable by 4WD vehicle—usually. The site is very remote; there are no set hours, no entrance fee, and very few services.
There are several primitive lodging and dining options in Uaxactún, which form a tiny remote forest community. The best accommodations are at Campamento El Chiclero (tel. 7926-1095, US$7 per person) on the north end of the airstrip. You can also camp or string a hammock (US$3) here. An on-site restaurant ($5 per meal) serves large portions of good, basic food. The friendly owners can arrange trips to some of the more remote places in the biosphere reserve.
Aldana’s Lodge is just off the street leading to Groups A and B with simple palapa-roof cabanas (US$4 per person, camping US$2 per person). Aldana’s can also arrange visits to area sites. Eat at your choice of three simple comedores in town.
Spring and fall equinox are a big deal at Uaxactún, even more so in 2012. Expect ceremonies and sunrise vigils at the ancient observatory of Group E. There, three small temples arranged in a triangle will perfectly frame the rising sun on the spring (Mar. 22) and fall (Sept. 21) equinoxes, as well as for a few days before and after. The equinox will be marked by sunrise ceremonies over three days led by learned Maya “counters of the days,” or tatas (male spiritual leaders) and nanas (female spiritual leaders).
Nearly a dozen of these spiritual leaders will come together to welcome the birth of the sun with music, dancing, sacred fires, and chanting. Specially trained athletes will demonstrate the Maya ball game and there will be performances by local dance troupes, as well as cheap cold beer in the evening at the one local bar. Arrange a homestay for a true cultural immersion.
A one-time 30Q entry fee (US$4) will be charged to enter the village during the equinox celebrations. Contact the Turismo de Arqueología (tel. 502/7926-4068, turismocomunitariouaxactun [at] yahoo [dot] com) for information about shuttle van transportation from Tikal to Uaxactún and to reserve a homestay or camping spot (25Q per person or US$4).
Visits to Uaxactún begin in Flores  or El Remate , as do those for Tikal . A bus leaves Santa Elena at 1 p.m. daily, stopping in Tikal at about 3 p.m. From there it’s about 1.5 hours to Uaxactún. These times are very flexible.
By car, be aware that the road is passable only in a 4WD vehicle at any time of year. If you’re unable to fill your gas tank in Flores, the last gas station en route is at Ixlú, south of El Remate.
For more travel information on things to see and do at Uxmal and in the surrounding area, please visit the Uaxactún section of our Moon Guatemala travel guide .