The archeological site Takalik Abaj is situated 30 kilometers west from the city Retalhuleu. Takalik Abaj is Quiché language and means ‘standing stone’. Once you are at the site you will also understand the name, as many of the archeological excavations are huge stones with carvings or standing stone figures. This site is not comparable to Chichen Itza or Tikal, as it is much smaller, the temples are by far not that high and the ruins are not as much excavated. Takalik Abaj is also rather unknown and is thus much less touristy than other ruins. Be well prepared to be the only person exploring the site.
In Takalik Abaj you will explore a hands on approach to archeology and Mayan culture studies. Excavations, studies and examinations are still going on on this site. When you arrive at the site, a volunteer guide will be assigned to you. The service is based up on tips and it is well worth it in order to comprehend the archeological site. It is supposed to be one of the oldest Mayan ruins, as even huge Olmec stone figures could be found on the site. In fact, it is one of the few sites where Olmecs and Mayans lived together. Takalik Abaj had its cultural and economical boom during the early Precalssics (1000 BC) until the Postclassic period (1000 AD).
No high rise buildings will be found in Takalik Abaj, as the Maya were well aware of the earthquake risk in this area. Instead they built rather low but wide buildings. Another reason is that temples also represent volcanoes. However, the area around Retalhuleu is rich in natural volcanoes and therefore the ancient Mayas did not feel the need to build high rise temples. During your stroll around the site, you will also come across many stone figures and animals, each of them with a different meaning for the Olmecs and the Maya. You will be surprised how accurate the animals are represented in stone.
The guide will also give you an understanding of the Mayan culture and believes and will unfold for you the meaning of the stone figures and stone carvings. The Maya had an interesting world view and an impressive knowledge about the earth and the stars. You will learn that the Mayas perceived the earth as a crocodile, as it is surrounded by water and that they compared the moving of the scales with an earthquake. The site is also home to an animal rescue center, where you will find different endangered species like crocodiles, birds and wild cats.
As Takalik Abaj is a rather unknown site, it takes some effort to reach there. From Retalhuleu leave shared taxis to El Asintal. From there you can either take a rickshaw ride or jump on one of the pick-ups which will then make a stop at the site entrance.