Sunset in Guatemala’s Yaxha National Park

Recently we’ve been sharing all the highlights from our weeklong adventure in Belize to celebrate our friend Kelly’s 40th birthday. While almost the entire week was spent in Belize, one day we crossed the border one day into Guatemala to visit Yaxha National Park. It turned out to be one of the most fun excursions of the trip!

Fun story: WC and I actually met through Kelly because they went to high school together and she and I were good friends in college! So, thanks, Kelly, and thank you also for inviting us to spend your birthday celebration with you!

On our first day in Belize, we headed into the mountains to check out waterfalls, a cave, and natural pools in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. On day two, we decided to visit Yaxha (pronounced Yasha), one of the Guatemala’s Mayan sites. We booked the “Yaxha at Sunset” tour through Sweet Songs Jungle Resort, our home away from home during our time in San Iganacio, Belize. The Yaxha tour combines history, nature, being active, and wildlife spotting, a lot of our favorite things!

The Yaxha at Sunset Tour

“Yaxha at Sunset” is a half-day tour and we departed Sweet Songs shortly after lunch. From the resort, a driver took us about 20 minutes to the Guatemalan border where we had to go through customs. The process takes about 30 minutes (at least it did for us) and the border fees are included in the cost of your tour price.

Once through customs, we exited the building and were met on the other side by our Guatemalan guide Yumi of Yumi’s Adventures Tours and Transfers. Yumi was such a sweetheart from the moment we met her! And her incredible storytelling ability really makes it easy to learn about the Mayan culture and history. If you get a chance to take a tour with Yumi, we highly recommend it!

The drive to Yaxha (technically Yaxha Nakum Naranjo National Park) takes about an hour from the border and be prepared for a bumpy ride. The main road you take in Guatemala is fine but once you turn off to head to the national park, it’s a dirt road and not very well maintained. Fortunately, we had a driver who was used to navigating the roads. From the passenger seat, Yumi helped us pass the time by sharing stories about growing up in Guatemala, attending school in Belize, her family life, and her kids. The time flew by listening to Yumi’s stories.

At Yaxha, we parked at the entrance and went with Yumi to the ticket office. Each guest must register before entering the park and the cost of admission is 80 Guatemalan Quetzal. If you booked the tour through Sweet Songs, the fee is included with your tour cost.

With tickets in hand, it’s time to start exploring! The Yaxha city is made up of hundreds of buildings but only a small portion (about 7% according to Yumi) have been fully excavated due to the time and cost associated with excavation. Here’s a look at what you will get to see on a tour of Yaxha:

Highlights of Yaxha:

Minor Astronomical Complex

The first site you come to when entering Yaxha is the Minor Astronomical Complex. This pyramid (and another called Major that we’ll get to later) were used by the Maya to mark the positions of the sun during the year which helped them tell the seasons.

In this same area near the entrance, you’ll also see your first stela. Stelas are stone sculptures that told stories of the royalty.

Just moments after walking past the Minor Astronomic Complex we spotted the first of MANY monkeys in the park. The photo below is a spider monkey but we saw (and heard) a lot of howler monkeys as well!

Ball Court (Juego de Pelota)

One of the Mayan sites you’ll hear a lot about while visiting Belize and Guatemala are the ball courts. The ball courts are basically sports arenas where a ball game was played. While not always the case, the ball games sometimes resulted in human sacrifices to honor the gods. We were surprised to learn that in those cases it was the WINNER of the game that was sacrificed, not the loser. This was to ensure the gods received the best.

Major Astronomical Complex

Yaxha’s Major Astronomical Complex had the same purpose as the Minor above but on a much larger scale.

Unlike the Minor, the Major at Yaxha has not been excavated but there is a stairway that leads to a viewing platform above. Yaxha, which comes from the Mayan words “Yax” and “Ha” means blue-green water. And this is your first chance to get a peek at Lake Yaxha below.

North Acropolis

The next stop on the walking tour is the North Acropolis. The North Acropolis is made up of three large pyramids and here you’ll get your first chance to climb the stone stairs.

A word of warning — the largest pyramid in the acropolis is a lot steeper than it looks! We only went up about 20 steps and that was more than enough to get the feel. Make sure you have sturdy shoes with good grip.

Temple of the Red Hands

The last stop of the day and the highlight of Yaxha is the Temple of the Red Hands. The temple is the highest point in Yaxha National Park. It is so named because of two red-color handprints that were found inside an interior wall.

Get ready for another climb but it’s well worth it! At the top of the Temple is a wide platform and plenty of space to take a seat on the stone steps. From here, you get panoramic views of the lake.

This is also where you’ll pause to reflect and watch the sunset, hence the tour name. While it’s a popular spot at this time of day, the temple is still considered a sacred place. Please be respectful and keep your voice low (or silent) and just enjoy the view. Also, keep an eye for toucans in the treetops.

As the sun finished setting, we headed back to the van where we enjoyed a Guatemalan beer before beginning the drive back to Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge. It was definitely one of our favorite days of the vacation. Here’s a few extra tips for visiting Yaxha:

What to Pack for a Yaxha visit:

  • Sturdy walking shoes. We would not recommend not sandals – it’s a good amount of walking and climbing.
  • Plenty of water.
  • Bug spray or mosquito wipes.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Sunglasses & hat for a sunny day.
  • Rain coat. It was not rainy the day we visited, but you can always leave it in the car if the forecast looks good.

Booking the Yaxha at Sunset tour:

Disclosure: Our participation in this tour was in collaboration with Sweet Songs Jungle Resort. As always, all opinions are our own and we only promote activities we personally love.

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