Museo del Cemí is devoted to artifacts of the Taíno Indians. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.

Mountain Scenery and Taíno Culture in Jayuya, Puerto Rico

If you visit only one place in Puerto Rico’s Cordillera Central, go to Jayuya. Go to experience the gorgeous mountain scenery and some of the highest peaks on the island, where it’s possible to see both the Atlantic and the Caribbean, as well as vegetation thick with sierra palms, bamboo, banana trees, and brilliantly colorful impatiens. This is also the place to soak up the rich Taíno culture and explore other historic sights.

Stela 5 at Takalik Abaj. Photo © Simon Burchell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Ruins of Takalik Abaj, Guatemala

The archeological site of Takalik Abaj, meaning “standing stones,” is particularly interesting because it reveals elements of Olmec influence in early Mayan culture. Learn about the ruins and how to get there in preparation for your visit, along with recommendations for where to stay to explore the surrounding landscape.

Iximché exhibits much more of a Mexican influence than other Maya sites in Guatemala. Photo © Michal Zak/123rf.

Iximché, Guatemala’s Most Accessible Highland Mayan Site

Iximché is the most easily accessible of Guatemala’s highland Mayan ceremonial sites. It makes an interesting stop for those with an interest in Mayan culture and history because of the differences it exhibits from the lowland Mayan sites of Petén, which date to much earlier times.

Arecibo Observatory. Photo © Frank Van Den Eijnden/123rf.

Sights in Arecibo, Puerto Rico

There are several good reasons to visit the municipality of Arecibo. In the mountainous karst country south of town is the world-famous Observatorio de Arecibo. On the coast is Cueva del Indio, a geographic wonder that illustrates what happens when crashing waves meet massive petrified sand dunes—it’s also a natural repository for petroglyphs. And for children, there’s the Faro de Arecibo Lighthouse and Historical Park with its themed playgrounds and welcoming patch of beach.

San Gervasio. Photo © Juris Didrihsons/123rf.

Maya Archeaological Sites on Isla Cozumel

Isla Cozumel played a deeply significant role in the Maya world. The island’s primary site—known as San Gervasio today—was dedicated to Ixchel, the Maya goddess of fertility, the moon, childbirth, medicine, and weaving. Read on to discover more about archaeological sites on the island.

Mayan glyphs. Photo © Al Argueta.

Guatemala’s Pre-Colonial Mayan Inhabitants

Guatemala’s history is complicated and fascinating, though it often reads like a tragic novel. A basic understanding of its history is a crucial element for the well-informed traveler hoping to get the most out of a visit to this mystifying land of culture and contrasts.

Carved Mayan stelae at Chichén Itzá, Mexico.

Deciphering Hieroglyphic Maya Script

For years, scholars could not agree whether the fantastic inscriptions found on Maya stelae, codices, and temple walls were anything more than complex records of numbers and dates. Learn about the difficult journey to finally translating Maya glyphs, from centuries-long resistance to breakthroughs as recent as 1980, efforts which have lent invaluable insight into Maya civilization.

Iglesia San Francisco in Old Town Quito. Photo © Paul Prescott/123rf.

Sights in Quito’s Old Town

Quito’s Old Town is what makes the city famous, containing a huge number of colonial churches and religious buildings set around elegant plazas. Old Town is cleaner, safer, and a joy to wander around following a recent multimillion-dollar regeneration. While there are excellent guided maps and multilingual tours to be had, independent travelers will find exploring easy with expert author Ben Westwood’s account of the area.

The brand new waterfront of Paseo Tablado La Guancha. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.

Planning Your Time on Puerto Rico’s South Coast

Instead of lush, rocky coastlines, rough Atlantic waters, mountainous karst country, and a dense population, Puerto Rico’s south coast features a flat, dry topography, and considerably less commercial development. It’s a great place to go if you want to escape the traffic and American influence found elsewhere on the island. And there are many great historic and cultural sights to explore.