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The Peten Region, Guatemala

Paradise for animal lovers and bird watchers

The Peten Region

Petén is the largest department of Guatemala and the least populated. The area is predominantly covered in jungle, where an exuberant amount of tropical vegetation is found. It is practically a walking medicine cabinet whose vegetation has been curing diseases for thousands of years, and still does, as many of its plants are used today in birth control pills, diarrhea, and anti malaria medicines for example. The area is also paradise for animal lovers and bird watchers. The jungles are teeming with approximately 300 species of birds, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, toucans, foxes, deer, pumas, wild turkeys, jaguars, and who could of course forget the reptiles.


This archaeological site is 12 kilometers east from the municipal district of Sayaxché. It is located near La Pasión River, at 220 meter above sea level. Ceibal was the largest settlement during the Late Classical Period and had great power over the west margin of the river due to its favorable location, as well as control over commercial activities, transportation, and political and military activities. The site occupies the highest point and is situated on a calcareous outcrop of over 100 meters above sea level. It has a ceremonial center that covers an area of approximately 1 square kilometer distributed over three high hills separated by deep ravines that drain toward the river. The streets have many buildings that have been designated with the letters A, B, C, and D.


This site is recommended for specialists, as it lacks impressive buildings. On the other hand, investigators of the Maya culture might find the glyphs on the stele very interesting. Although the journey to reach the site is a fabulous one, as it can only be accessed by boat when the waters of Lake Petexbatún are deep enough.

Dos Pilas

This site is 17 kilometers southwest from the municipal district of Sayaxché. The site is 150 meters above sea level and is situated in a tropical rain forest. It was declared a National and Cultural Heritage Site in 1985. Hunting, archaeological searches, mineral explorations, and woodcutting activities are prohibited in this area. It can be reached by land or by water. The architectural structures at this site have not been unearthed; the approximately 42 mounds are oriented on an east-west axis and are surely incredible temples waiting to be unveiled.


Located at 42 kilometers from Tikal, one of its most important buildings is an astronomical observatory. It is thought that the Maya perfected their writing system at this site.

Yaxha & Lake Topoxte

Both cities were built on islands in the Yaxhá lagoon and connected to land by boulevards and canals. Yaxhá is about 30 kilometers distant from Tikal and has plazas and an acropolis that connect by boulevards known as Sacbés. The hieroglyphic inscriptions indicate that it was inhabited between the Early Classical Period and the Late Classical Period, making it a Post-classical Period city. Topoxte's buildings resemble those of Tulum, in Yucatán, Mexico.


Petén is full of caverns. To a greater or lesser degree, all have a karst origin and some conserve the remnants of pre-Hispanic occupation. The most familiar caves are Actun Can, or the Caves of the Serpent.

Protected Systems Areas

Petén's natural resources are protected through a system that aims to preserve its biodiversity. Some of these parks are more accessible than others, but all have facilities for visitors. The most visited parks are Tikal National Park, Laguna del Tigre-Río Escondido natural reserve, Cerro Cahuí Biotope, Naachtún-Dos Lagunas, and El Zotz-San Miguel La Palotada.

El Mirador

El Mirador is located at 7 kilometers from the Mexican border, some 105 kilometers from Tikal, and access to this site is difficult. Because of its large area and enormous structures, it is considered one of the most important cities of the Pre-classical Late Period. Civilization reached its peak at this site between the year 400 B.C. and the year 100 AD. It is currently under reconstruction.


Also known as The Lost City in the Maya World, it was discovered in 1905. Presently, it is known as one of the grandest cities. It is located on the edge of the Río La Pasión.

Río Azul

This site is located at the extreme north of the department of El Petén, close to the Mexican and Belizean borders. During the dry season, a walk within the site can take five hours. It reached its peak during the Late Pre-classical Period (250 B.C.E. to 250). Río Azul was the administrative center of a region encompassing approximately 170 square kilometers and boasting over 500 buildings, the highest of which measures 47 meters from the ground.


Located at 25 kilometers from Tikal on the road that leads to Yaxhá, it can be reached only during the dry season. It has two large building complexes that are connected by a Sacbé, or boulevard. Some of its buildings have unique vaulted chambers and interesting stele. Nakúm dates from the Late Classical Period.

Lakes and Rivers

One of the outstanding features of the department is its great number of rivers and lakes. The San Pedro, La Pasión, Santa Isabel, Machaquilá, San Juan, Río Azul and El Subín, are long and slow, and offer unequaled views; the majority are navigable. Lakes are abundant, although mostly small. Many are aligned along the geological fault of the Arco de la Libertad, such as the Mendoza, San Diego, La Gloria, Larga, Sacpuy, Petén Itzá, Yaxhá and Sacnab lagoons. Others, like the Petexbatún and Del Tigre lagoons are outside this arch, but are part of the combined waterways that form the great biological wealth of the department.

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The Peten Region, Guatemala: Paradise for animal lovers and bird watchers . Please note: Information on this sheet is believed to be correct but not guaranteed


The Peten Region, Guatemala

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