Mayan Cities

The time in which the Mayan cities emerged an ancient lake route connected the cities of Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo from the Caribbean Sea up to Noj Petén. In 2,000 years, these cities came to interact with each other, in varied and complex ways. They were undoubtedly interrelated in several cultural, political and religious aspects; many of them formed a legacy which now make up Yaxha Nakum Naranjo National Park.

Many of these settlements that were small villages during the middle Preclassic, perhaps failed to imagine the level of development they would reach during the Late Classic. This unforeseen development meant the establishment of connections with other major centers such as Tikal, Calakmul and Dos Pilas.

Monumental buildings, sculptures, hieroglyphic inscriptions and ceramic wealth, among other creations, reflect the environment in which the ancient Mayans lived. These manifestations are part of the legacy left by the Mayans, and we are fortunate to be able to appreciate them and preserve them for future generations.


The Mayan city of Yaxha had control over the trade system through the water bodies that were along the Mayan route from the Mopan River (Belize) all the way to the Usumacinta River (Mexico). From these systems the city emerged and developed as a lake port.

Yaxha Nakum Naranjo National Park is a site of great natural and cultural importance for Guatemala. Because of the diversity of species, it holds, flora and fauna and it is listed as a RAMSAR site (The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources because it includes three types of wetlands identified by the Wetland Convention: temporal lagoons, karstic systems, and peat bogs.

At Yaxha there are structures that are proof of Prehispanic Mayan heritage such as: the Chambers Plaza (Plaza de las Cámaras), astronomical complexes for commemoration, the ball game centers, temples and palaces and several other monumental groups linked through the pre-hispanic causeways or Sacbe’s.

The socio-economical and political development of this time can be seen in the acropolis, which is enclosed by courtyards. (One could enter the enclosed courtyards through monumental staircases). Additionally the importance of Yaxha can be observed by its relationship with other entities such as the Teotihuacan culture during the Early Classic Period.

The ancient relationships between the Mayans and the Teotihuacans was a due to trade between Mayan Cities of Central America. The Maya interacted with other societies in Central America during the Early Classic period such as civilizations located in Central Mexico. The city of Teotihuacan was west of the Maya region. Even before most Maya sites had been established, Teotihuacan had established itself as a dynamic cultural center.

Cultural artifacts including architecture, ceramics, art, and hieroglyphics inscriptions can be found at Early Classic Maya sites, which clearly reveals a connection between Teotihuacan and the Maya.

Yaxhá was strongly connected to Tikal, this is evident in the Architectonic style of the different complexes in the city, especially in the Twin Pyramids and the Astronomical Commemoration Complex which are very similar to those found in Mundo Perdido and Siete Templos in Tikal.


The Mayan city of Topoxté was founded towards the end of the Middle Preclassic period. Topoxté was strategically located on an island, one of the reasons for this was the river border. The Ixtinto, which was the city to the West, connected the Yaxha lagoon and other water bodies in the region. The river also created a link between the Island and the firm ground- which allowed for a communication system between Topoxte and other small settlements. Topoxte is considered to be most well preserved, representative and monumental Mayan city of the Post classic period.

Topoxte has architectonic styled monuments that were built with similar characteristics of cities of the Yucatan Peninsula. Highly decorated vestiges have been found as the altar in the central plaza facing the West.

At the end of the Late Classic Period, monumental cities such as Yaxha were abandoned. More than two centuries later, during the Post-Classic, The Itzaes -a Mayan group- migrated to the region from the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico). According to the history they were the first inhabitants that settled in Topoxte and other small settlements along the central region of the Peten.


Naranjo is located in the northeast region of the Petén, just 10 km from the border with Belize. It is regarded as the Pre-Columbian Mayan city with the greatest volumetric development in the region, only after Tikal. This site is widely known for its sculptural richness. Naranjo was the home of Lady Six Sky (Wak Chanil Ahaw in Mayan) who occupied one of the most relevant positions in Mayan regional politics. Lady Six Sky was sent to Naranjo as a result of a strategic alliance that was made between the cities of Dos Pilas and Naranjo in order to strengthen Naranjo’s dynasty.

Naranjo was well known as the warrior Mayan city in the region, the Naranjo society was usually involved in largescale wars with cities like Tikal, in order to obtain regional dominance.

This Mayan city is recognized for its abundant number of stelae, which are upright slabs of stone engraved with fine and elaborated carvings that have commemorative meanings. When analyzing these sculpted details, we can learn more about their rulers, who focused on giving their city the importance on the Mayan political map.


Nakum is located in the north-eastern part of Petén at 17 kms of Yaxha, at an elevation of ca. 200 m above sea level and is situated in the heart of the lowland area of Maya culture. This site is one of the most exposed architecture in the Petén, and is located on the banks of the Holmul River.

This city is well-known for its broad occupation that stretched from the Middle Preclassic up to the Late Classic. It remained inhabited until the late Terminal Classic. Many structures visible at Nakum today were constructed in the Late Classic period.

The site saw significant development during the Late Preclassic when all existing structures were rebuilt and new constructions were added. During the Early Classic Period architectural activity clearly diminished at Nakum. Only four buildings dated to that period have been discovered so far and they are located in the Acropolis complex.

However, one of the most interesting and intriguing facts in the occupational history of Nakum was its vigorous development during the Terminal Classic period when most of the other Southern Lowland Maya centers were in decline.

The people of Nakum built all of their monumental structures in one single space. Known as the acropolis, all of their constructions were arranged around 10 courtyards with restricted access. Beyond the 10 courtyards, there was an additional inner Acropolis that had a privileged view to various cities in the region such as Yaxha and Naranjo.

While visiting you can tour Nakum’s large Palace, which boasts 44 rooms and an elongated structure that counts with more than 120 m in length, making it one of the largest monuments in the region. Its Temazcal (mayan sauna) is one of the most well preserved in the Mayan kingdom of the Peten.

Its temple (Building A), is a unique to the Mayan area, it contains two accesses in an arch shape with a well-preserved roof comb (the structure that tops a pyramid in monumental Mesoamerican architecture).



Each of these minor cities had its own architectural style, political organization, as well as alliances with the major cities. They had a government system with less power than Yaxha, Nakum, or Naranjo but held the same importance in Mayan History. The following are minor archaeological sites and their importance in the Mayan history:

El Tumbo is an area that is located approximately 4 km from Yaxha. To the West was a main square with a large temple with exposed walls. Additionally there is a small city is located on a large hill from where you can appreciate a great view of the lagoon of Yaxha.

La Poza Maya is located at 6 km from Yaxha to the north, the site was named “La Poza Maya” which literally means “the Mayan pond” after a huge artificial pond that was found aside the city, it is believed to have been built by the mayans. The city was located on a plain field, which is considered to be an agricultural land.

La Pochitoca, this site is named after a local turtle specie that live in the region, at this site there is a huge covered pyramid, a ball field and a main square. There are no exposed structures. It is located 6 km from Yaxha to the northeast.

These surrounding sites bring us closer to those cities that early explorers, such as Teobert Maler, discovered. Maler was an explorer who devoted his energy to documenting the ruins of the Maya civilization, one of which was Yaxha. He explored the area from 1904 to 1906. Maurice de Périgny, a French explorer visited The Peten and Yucatan Peninsula in the early the twentieth century. During his adventures, Périgny located at least eleven Maya sites, ones that are now well-known in the Peten – Nakum.

To this day past explorers represent an invitation to explore these Mayan cities, admire rich architecture and the natural (almost untouched) environment.



At the Yaxha Site Museum there is a synthesis of the research on cultural heritage and restoration of the Park. The Museum also displays lithic and ceramic objects. These objects were made and used by the inhabitants of the Mayan zone throughout history, and allow us to learn more about the Mayan culture and environment.

Follow by Email