Kukulcan (aka El Castillo, or The Castle), the main pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico. This dates from the Mayan Classical Period, probably sometime before 800 A.D. There are 91 steps on each side (91x4, +1 at the top = 365 days in the year).
Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors), seen from the top of Kukulcan. Built circa 1000 A.D., this temple is a mixture of Mayan and Toltec styles.
The Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal, Mexico, south of Merida. Like Chichen Itza, this Mayan site dates from the late Classical Period, 700 A.D. to 900 A.D.
The steps on the face of the Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal.
The Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque, Mexico, on the only showery day of our trip. Unlike Chichen Itza and Uxmal, which are in the flat jungle of the Yucatan, Palenque is surrounded by the rain forest of the lower reaches of the Chiapas Highlands.
The main square and market in San Juan Chamula, a Mayan village in the Chiapas Highlands. The Mayans have blended Catholicism and their own traditional beliefs. Inside the church, thousands of candles are set on the floor among pine needles, the incense is thick, and there are groups of Mayans praying and making offerings of alcohol, Coca-Cola, eggs, and live chickens. The chickens don't stay live for long, however, once their necks have been wrung. An unforgettable spectacle.
The main cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas, in the Chiapas Highlands. Because of the elevation, days here were pleasantly cool, despite the strong tropical sun, and after sunset, it was definitely time to pull out the fleece jackets. Our hotel had no heating system, but each room had a small corner fireplace - the maids set up the kindling and firewood each day, so that all we had to do was put a match to it.
The local market in San Pedro, Guatemala, on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, and two of the three volcanoes that loom somewhat menacingly above the lake.
The pig market in Chichicastenango, in the Guatemalan Highlands.
The primary form of public transportation in Guatemala is the "chicken bus," a somewhat decrepit U.S. or Canadian schoolbus, usually repainted in bright colors. They are usually packed to the gills with people, and the racks on top are often overflowing with bags of god-knows-what. The drivers know absolutely no fear, and careen along winding mountain roads at a breakneck pace. Great fun.
The municipal building on the main square in Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua was the capital until late in the 18th Century, when repeated earthquakes prompted the government to move the capital to Guatemala City. The city, therefore, retains a very colonial feel, with cobblestone streets, low, colorful buildings, and quiet courtyards lurking behind many of the facades.
A typical street scene in Antigua, with the Volcán de Agua in the background.
Behind the market in Antigua is what appears to be "Chicken Bus Central."
Striking a bargain in the local food market in Antigua.
The ornate facade of La Merced church in Antigua.
The main cathedral facing the Parque Central in Antigua, with a horse-drawn carriage waiting for a fare.
We've now flown to the little town of Flores, Guatemala, situated on an island in Lake Peten Itza. The locals use these mis-named "barques" to get to the various little settlements along the shores of the lake.
Flores is the jumping-off point for an exploration of the ruins of Tikal, deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Here, Donna makes friends with a group of semi-tame coatimundis. One suspects that they're accustomed to being fed by touristas. The surrounding 222-square-mile park is also home to howler monkeys (loud!) and spider monkeys - we managed to see both species at close range. There are more exotic animals deeper in the jungle, but they avoid groups of humans.
Temple V, part of the Tikal complex, rising out of the surrounding jungle. The wooden staircase on the left was not for the faint of heart - it was on the border between "stairs" and "ladder."
A view of the main ceremonial center of Tikal, seen from the top of Temple V. In the center is Temple I, and Temple II is on the far left. The center of the city, about six square miles, was home to 10,000 people, and contains over 3000 mapped structures. The surrounding jungle contains hundreds of additional structures whose presence is only hinted at by vegetation-covered mounds.
One of the smaller pyramids in the Tikal complex.
Temple I, the largest structure in Tikal.
One man's morning commute on Lake Peten Itza, seen from our hotel in Flores.
Having flown from Flores to Cancun, Mexico, we drove south to Playa del Carmen, our base for the last two days of our trip. From there, we took a day-trip further south to the ruins at Coba. For obvious reasons, swimming in Lake Coba is not a good idea.
The nicely reconstructed Juego de Pelota, or ball court, at Coba.
Nohoch Mul, the largest pyramid at Coba.
The beach at Tulum, south of Playa del Carmen. The clifftop ruins at Tulum date from the late post-Classic period in Mayan history, about the 15th Century.