Guatemala´s Exotic Pacific Coast

Tak’alik Ab’aj and Retalhuleu

As we find ourselves right in the midst of this important year for the Mayan cosmovision 2012, one of the most intriguing Mayan archeological sites that can’t be missed is Tak’alik Ab’aj, recently nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. This amazing historical treasure, situated not far from the coastal town of Retalhuleu, is one of few sites in the world with evidence of both Olmec and Mayan cultures in one place. If Tikal represents the culmination of Mayan civilization, Tak’alik Ab’aj represents its birth, and a visit to this site will bring your understanding of the Mayan civilization full circle.

Stone carving at  Tak’alik Ab’aj

Stone carving at
Tak’alik Ab’aj

Tak’alik Ab’aj’s history bridges two millennia—from 1000 B.C.E to 1000 C.E.—as well as many cultures. From the middle Preclassic Era we find low, wide clay ceremonial platforms—and rounded sculptures, juxtaposed against Mayan hieroglyphics and large count dates from the late Preclassic Era. It is also the only place in the world that exhibits such a large quantity of sculptures demonstrating both Olmec and Mayan cultures—such as one famous sculpture with the body of a jaguar body and face of a man. The quality of sculptures and quantity of styles are a highlight of the site, as well as recent finds such as a jade necklace and other jade carvings. Pass an enjoyable morning learning about this rich history from a local guide (Spanish only) while taking in the beauty of the park’s tranquil forest sanctuary.

From Tak’alik Ab’aj, a visit to Retalhuleu is worthwhile. The central park boasts a beautiful colonial-style Catholic Church, and just off the park you can continue on your archeological journey with a visit to the Ethnological and Archeological Museum, taking a look at notable pieces from the Pre- to Post-Classic Periods.

Another highlight of Retalhuleu is its fantastic eateries. Enjoy an ice-cold pineapple and coconut smoothie
from La Luna or visit the local favorite Carnitas Rosy for a tasty lunch of traditional Guatemalan churrasco (steak). If you’re in the mood for authentic Mexican dishes, I would recommend a trip to La Tertulia, which serves up classic Mexican pozole, enchiladas and mole. After lunch, wrap up the day with a swing through the local market, taking advantage of the delicious tropical fruits sold at incredibly low prices. My favorite is the fresh coconut water, served right in the coconut with a straw, for only Q5! For nightly accommodations, I recommend the friendly and historic Casa Santa María or Hotel Astor. Both are conveniently located right off the park and include free breakfast.

Retalhuleu’s central park boasts a beautiful church

Retalhuleu’s central park boasts a beautiful church

This is the year to set out and explore the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. Take advantage of 2012 to learn more about the Olmec and early Mayan culture at Tak’alik Ab’aj , and relax nearby in the genuinely friendly town of Retalhuleu. The Pacific Coast offers something special for Guatemala, and it will reward you for your visit.

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