In Guatemala , not only can you see the ancient wonders of the Mayan civilization long before the arrival of the Spanish, but also the Postclassic highland ceremonial sites that greeted the conquistadors upon their arrival in 1524.
You’ll find most of the Mayan ceremonial sites that were at their cultural zenith during these time periods in the country’s northern Petén region .
Among the largest and most sophisticated cities from the Preclassic period is El Mirador , which flourished between 200 B.C. and A.D. 150. No self-respecting archaeology buff would come to Guatemala without visiting the ruins of Tikal , at the center of a 575-square-kilometer (222-square-mile) national park protecting the historical site and surrounding rainforest ecosystem.
Real history buffs might want to check out the ceremonial sites found and subjugated by the Spanish at the time of the conquest, thus completing the picture of Guatemala’s pre-Columbian archaeological heritage.
When the Spanish arrived in Guatemala, they first secured an alliance with the Kaqchikel, who had their capital in Iximché  in Guatemala’s Western Highlands.
The Spanish would eventually establish their first capital on the same site. You can visit the restored ruins of Iximché, very conveniently situated just a few kilometers from the Pan-American Highway about an hour from Guatemala City.
With the submission of the Kaqchikels, the Spanish were now free to turn on the K’iche’, whom they met in battle near present-day Quetzaltenango . The K’iche’ invited the Spanish to their mountain fortress at K’umarcaaj , site of a failed ambush against the European invaders. Today, the largely unrestored ruins are still the site of Mayan rituals and feature a noteworthy underground cave tunnel.
Northwest of Guatemala City, the ruins of Mixco Viejo  were once the Poqomam capital and ceremonial center, falling to Pedro de Alvarado in 1525 after a typically ruthless attack. In addition to temple pyramids, the site has two ball courts decorated with twin serpent sculptures harboring human skulls in their open mouths, a rather unusual embellishment among Postclassic highland sites and further evidence of the Toltec and Aztec influences of the times.