My Trip to the Ancient Ruins of Mexico and GuatemalA IN 2001 

shared with Native Village by Phil Konstantin

I was in central and southern Mexico, and Guatemala from October 20 to November 6, 2001. I visited many ancient ruins in the area. I flew from Tijuana (just south of my home in San Diego) to Mexico City. My destinations included a couple of Mexico City museums, Teotihuacan, Oaxaca & Mount Alban, Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxchilan and Tikal.

Mexico City:  (population 20,000,000) I started and ended my trip in Mexico City. It was warm when I arrived, and cool when I returned.  I have always found Mexicans to be very warm, friendly and helpful people. Mexico City was no different. . One thing I did notice were armed officials all over the city.  It might be the first thing you noticed if you had never visited Mexico before. This is intended to prevent and deal with potential problems.

TEOTIHUACAN: These "ruins" just north of Mexico City feature two very large pyramids, and several other structures. The largest pyramid is usually listed as the third largest pyramid (volume - size, etc.) in the world. FYI, the largest is also in Mexico, the 2nd is in Egypt. I climbed to the top of the largest "Pyramid of the Sun." The pyramid and the view are both breathtaking. This is one of the few ruins in Mexico which can be seem from many miles (or kilometers) away. 

Oaxaca (pronounced wah-ha-ka): Is a moderate sized city southeast of Mexico City. It is the capital of the state of Oaxaca. As with most Mexican cities, it has an impressive set of churches. It is the home to many of Mexico's best chocolates and the alcoholic beverage called Mezcal. The Zocalo (town square) almost always seemed to have lots of people.

MONTE (MOUNT) ALBAN: This ancient ruin is located on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Oaxaca. It contains many different buildings, which are almost all on the same level. The views are extraordinary.

Santa Maria el Tule ánd ´El Arbol´ (The Tree): According to some sources, this tree is the largest "biomass" in the world.  Most sources agree that this one tree has the largest diameter of any tree in North America, if not the world.

MITLA: This set of ruins is southeast of Oaxaca. The village of the same name is built around, and on, this group of buildings. The local church is right in the middle of the ruins and contains some of the original building material. This site has a couple of tombs (yes, I took pictures inside the tomb) and some very nice ornamental designs.

YAGUL: This small group of ruins is between Oaxaca and Mitla. Some sources say the ballcourt here is the largest in Mesoamerica, second only to Chichen Itza.  For most of my visit. I was the only visitor here.

PALENQUE: Palenque is in southeastern Mexico, in the state of Chiapas. This was my second visit to this amazing place. It is in the foothills and on the edge of the true jungle. It is considered to be one of the four or five most significant Maya sites (Chichen Itza, Tikal, Copan, etc.) by many people. It is a tremendous place.

BONAMPAK: This small remote site is southeast of Palenque, near the Guatemala border.  It is best known for its colorful murals. These murals have changed many people's ideas about the form of Maya artwork, but they were not as vivid as I expected. Don't misunderstand this comment. It was well worth the visit.

YAXCHILAN: This was one of the best parts of my trip. If you were to roll every Disney - Indian Jones jungle stereotype together and made the real movie, this would describe Yaxchilan.  Our group was joined by about twelve armed security personnel, and one rode in our van to protect us from outlaws.  To get to Yaxchilan, you have to take a narrow boat down the Usumacinta River, which separates Mexcio and Guatemala. This almost one hour trip shows you how remote this area is. We saw people in the river scrubbing laundry on washboards or on rocks.  Very large and colorful iguanas and a couple of caiman looked at us from the jungle-lined shore. The river is wide, dark brown, and had many small whirlpools. The settings for the ruin were fascinating. One of the buildings had a maze like internal corridor. I saw bats and spiders as big as my hand. The structures were quite ornate. We were soaked during the return upriver trip by one of the frequent rains. If you want to have an "adventure," I highly recommend visiting Yaxchilan.  

Lancondon Maya Indian village: After leaving Yaxchilan, I returned to Palenque and the small Lancandon Maya [Winik] village of Lancanja or Chan Sayab. They have electricity,  small wooden houses (some of the very few wooden homes I saw on my trip), and a community outhouse. A small stream runs through the middle of the village. And then there was the surrounding jungle. This is the true rainforest jungle of southern Mexico. I rained during most of my stay in Lancanja. My host was named Vicente. I later saw him being interviewed on a TV travelogue. His wife made some of the best chicken I had on the trip.

Flores, Guatemala: The border crossing from Mexico to Guatemala (Frontera Corozal) was like a movie. The local soldiers looked through all of my luggage. I carried some powdered Gatorade to add to the local bottled water, and they sniffed it to make sure it wasn't drugs. I did not take any pictures here. The soldiers did not look like they would appreciate it, and I did not want some of the questionable folks to see my expensive camera.   Then it was down the muddy riverbank to another long boat ride up the Usumacinta River. I waited in the Guatemala border town of Bethel for the inland bus to take me to the small island town of Flores on Lake Peten Itza. I found more internet stores in this small town than anywhere else on my trip. There are lots of foreign tourists here, also.

TIKAL: Tikal is absolutely amazing. It is surrounded by dense jungle growth. There have been almost 4,000 buildings discovered so far in the area. One of the local guides told me it would take almost three days to really get a good sense of this very large site.

Belize: I only took two pictures while traveling through Belize on my way back to Mexico. I spent all of that time on the bus or the border crossings. It was interesting to see most of the signs in English in this former British territory (British Honduras). Belize City reminded me of many small towns along the Gulf Coast in the USA.

Campeche: This Mexican state capital city was once a walled fortress. Many of those walls are still there. The old town is quite nice.

EDZNA: This ruin is located southeast of Campeche.  Its largest structure, The Building of the Five Floors, rises above the surrounding woods.  Edzna is an interesting place with some interesting sculptures and reliefs. For most of my stay, I was the only tourist there.

Veracruz: Veracruz is a port city on the Gulf of Mexico. Many Americans are not aware that the US invaded Veracruz twice. There are several monuments to these battles in the city.

Texolo Falls: I love waterfalls. This waterfall (two larger ones and a couple of much smaller ones) is located in the small town of Xico south of Xalapa. If Texolo Falls looks familiar, it was used in the movies  Romancing the Stone and Clear and Present Danger

Xalapa Museum of Anthropology: Many considered this the second best anthropology museum in Mexico. I was very impressed. It has the largest collection of those amazing giant Toltec heads. Just a note on the name of the town: the locals use the indigenous spelling of Xalapa, but most of Mexico uses the Spanish spelling of Jalapa. In either case, it is pronounced ha-la-pa, and it is the capital of the state of Veracruz. It has a nice mountain setting and was much cooler that Veracruz.

"Popo" and "Izta" volcanoes: I am also fascinated by volcanoes. Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl are the two large volcanoes between Mexico City and Puebla. I went to the small town of Amecameca to get a closer look, but the cloud cover seldom cleared for long. During the morning when I arrived, it was so cold, I could actually see my breath. The view from the church which overlooks the town is quite beautiful.

To view over 800 photos from Phil's trip, click on the picture of your choice or visit:


To visit Phil's homepage: This Week in North American Indian History:

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