Tak’alik Ab’aj, the “place of standing stones,” is located in southwestern Guatemala, near the Pacific Coast and the border with Mexico in the municipality of El Asintal, department of Retalhuleu .
The site was a commercial and political center from 800 B.C. to A.D. 200, and lays in a low, damp zone that was a major center for growing cacao. Cacao and salt were traded for obsidian, quetzal feathers, pyrite, and jade. (Today, farmers have switched mostly to coffee.)
For archaeologists, Tak’alik Ab’aj has emerged as an important Preclassic site that speaks of the transition from pre-Maya to Maya. It has definite evidence of an Olmec invasion, including samples of pot-bellied barrigones ceramic figures, Olmecoid heads, and a distinct Olmec monument.
The nearly 300 excavated monuments and structures at Tak’alik Ab’aj comprise 80 buildings constructed around a dozen plazas. The site covers an area of about 2.5 square miles and features river-rock temple facades atop nine terraces sculpted from the hillside.
Structure 5 is the tallest temple, with a 16-meter-high vantage of the city. Structure 7 may have served as an astronomical observatory.
Discoveries continue at this site. In 2004, archaeologists discovered the tomb of Tak’alik Ab’aj’s last ruler, which dated to about A.D. 100. In 2010, an exquisite jade head was found.
Several Long Count b’aktun dates have been recorded here, specifically b’aktun 7 and 8 carved into several stelae. The recently discovered Monument 48 is believed to mirror the iconography at Izapa  of “the solar deity or lord enthroned in the belly of the Milky Way,” states John Major Jenkins.
The iconography “represents the birth of the sun on several different temporal levels—the new year at the December solstice—and a larger rebirth of the December solstice sun (specifically, in reference to the 13-Baktun World Age cycle in the Long Count calendar).”
Tak’alik Ab’aj is open 7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Entrance costs US$3.50. The Takalik Maya Lodge (tel. 502/2333-7056 or 502/2337-0037, www.takalik.com , US$80) is two kilometers (1.2 mi) up the road from the entrance.
Tak’alik Ab’aj is located at Km. 199 on the Carretera al Pacífico (Pacific Coast Highway, CA-2). The closest town is El Asintal, five kilometers (3 mi) north of the highway; the turnoff is found at Km. 190.5. From the town of Retalhuleu , drive or take the bus to El Asintal. From El Asintal, pickup trucks will take you the remaining four kilometers (2.5 mi) to Tak’alik Ab’aj. Or take a taxi from Retalhuleu (US$30 round-trip).
For more travel information on things to see and do at Tak’alik Ab’aj and in the surrounding area, please visit the Tak’alik Ab’aj section of our Moon Guatemala travel guide .