It may come as a surprise to the casual observer that La Ruta Maya, far from being a route trodden by the ancients, is a construct of 20th century American travel writing. This often-travelled route links sites which were mysteriously abandoned by the Mayan civilization over a thousand years ago. La Ruta starts in Southern Mexico and takes you down the spine of Central America to Belize. The least visited and perhaps the most mystical part of the route lies within the modern day boundaries of Guatemala.
As much of the route is a network of dirt tracks, good suspension is a prerequisite for any mode of road transport you choose, though as the crowning glory of the area is so remote many tourists decide to approach it by air. Hidden by thick jungle until the 19th century, Tikal is one of the most stunning archaeological sites to be found anywhere in the world. Once one of the largest and most influential cities of the Mayan era, the city disappeared over the centuries, swallowed up by the lush jungle.
The scale of the development can be seen by climbing up Temple IV to view distant structures still half hidden in the forest canopy. It is estimated that the 16 sq km (6.2 sq mi) already uncovered is a mere fraction of the entire city. This is but one of many important Mayan cities, hidden over many centuries and now re-discovered. Some were home to grand palaces; others were of more modest proportions. All however have something to reveal about the fascinating ancient Mayan empire.
WHEN TO GO
TIME IT TAKES
Allow two weeks to complete the Guatemalan stage of the route.
The magnificent Temple of the Jaguar.
The surrounding Tikal National Park.
Chichicastenango - the most colourful local market in the Americas.
The glorious jungle flora and fauna of the region.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Planning ahead is essential as transport links in Guatemala can be unreliable, It is probably advisable to travel as part of a tour with a local guide, so that you can appreciate all that you see.