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(Editor’s Note – This original post from March 2012 has been updated to reflect current Guatemala vacation details.)

Quiriguá Mayan ruins should be among your top three ancient ruins sites to visit while in Guatemala; Antigua ruins and Tikal Ruins being the other two.

Situated about 120 miles north east of Guatemala City in Guatemala’s Caribbean region, the Quiriguá Mayan ruins site contains remarkable Mayan monuments dating back to the 8th century and features some of the largest monolithic stone monuments (stele or stelae) from the ancient Mayan world.

Quiriguá ruins Guatemala is an official UNESCO World Heritage site located in the south eastern part of this Central American country and covers approximately 1.2 square miles along the lower Motagua River. With its unique set of preserved stele and sculpted Mayan monuments showcasing the Mayan calendar, the Quiriguá Mayan ruins help archaeologists and tourists alike to appreciate historical Mayan society, politics, and economics.

Quiriguá Archaeological Park

It is believed that Quiriguá Guatemala was inhabited by early Mayan civilizations as early as the 2nd century AD.

Because the Motagua River flowed near the Quiriguá’s Great Plaza during this time, this Mayan site’s elaborate monuments and stele stone carvings stood proud, and served the purpose of announcing Quiriguá’s power to all travelers passing by along the water.

Today, the Motagua River has shifted and now flows just over half a mile south of these Guatemala Mayan ruins.

When visiting the UNESCO heritage site of Quiriguá you will learn how its history is closely intertwined with Copán (an ancient Mayan city located in modern day Honduras).

Quiriguá’s civilization was much more rural with its population spread throughout the area. This is evident in the fact that archaeologists have found an average of 338 stone monuments per mile in Quiriguá compared to Copán, which has nearly ten times as many structures.

Interestingly, in 738 AD, Quiriguá held a successful uprising against Copán and the King of Copán was sacrificed in Quiriguá’s Central Plaza.

Unfortunately, the ancient Guatemala ruins at Quiriguá are now threatened by their geographical positioning; Quiriguá is situated in both a high seismic risk location and in a flood plain. Together with the tropical climate, Quiriguá Mayan ruins are exposed to natural deterioration despite the best intentions for preservation.

Quiriguá Mayan Monuments

Today Quiriguá is a UNESCO heritage site, which hopes to preserve the Mayan ruins for all visitors to enjoy. The three main points of interest at the Quiriguá Mayan ruins in Guatemala include the:

  1. Stele
  2. Zoomorphs
  3. Ancient Altars

1. Stele – Monolithic Stone Monuments

Quiriguá ruins are most commonly known for the stele monolithic stone monuments that appear to document the lost Mayan civilization’s history.

The steles in Quiriguá are tall pieces of sandstone decorated with elaborate carvings. It is thought that Mayans gathered the sandstone at quarries more than 3 miles away and brought them back to Quiriguá’s Great Plaza.

The carvings on these sandstone steles at Quiriguá are truly unique as they feature three dimensional sculptures compared to the two-dimensional carvings found in other regions of Guatemala. The long panels feature some of the most complex and beautiful glyphic text from any ancient Mayan ruins.

The primary purpose of Quiriguá stele was to record historical events and track the passage of time using the advanced Mayan calendar system. In Quiriguá, a new stele was raised at the end of each five-year period – making it one of only two ancient Mayan cities to do this.

2. Quiriguá Zoomorphs – Stone Sculptures

Over time Quiriguá’s carving styles took on their own advanced unique style, very different from other Mayan sculptures. Known for some of the most attractive and amazing pre-Columbian works, Quiriguá began carving boulders and large rocks into elaborate mythological creatures such as jaguars, crocodiles and toads. These stone sculptures are known as Zoomorphs.

3. Quiriguá Altars

Quiriguá also features grand altars at the front of its buildings. When visiting Quiriguá ruins in Guatemala, it is obvious that these ancient Mayan altars were designed to decorate as well as give a sense of a formal entrance to monuments.

When compared to the graceful art at other Mayan ruins sites such as Tikal or Antigua, the Mayan altars at Quiriguá appear very rigid and stiff. Along with their stiff appearance, the altars were also painted red using red pigment.

Today, archaeologists can find traces of red pigment on many of the monuments at Quiriguá, which symbolized birth, sacrifice, and renewal in ancient culture.

All of the ancient Mayan carvings and monuments at Quiriguá are amazing, especially when you consider that they were all hand made using stone chisels and wooden or stone mallets.

Caravan’s Guatemala Mayan Ruins Tour

A morning visit to Quiriguá ruins in Guatemala is included as part of Caravan Tour’s all inclusive Guatemala Tours.

This fully escorted tour package is affordably priced and includes all meals, tour activities and accommodations, plus top Guatemala hotels like the Barcelo, Villa Maya, Porta Hotel Antigua, and Hotel Atitlan.

Visit Caravan’s Guatemala tour reviews page to read what other travelers have said about this all inclusive tour of Guatemala.

Call 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) today to book this unique Central America vacation.