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Camping Among Ancient Temples

Under the Stars in Uaxactun

Camping within the bounds of a Maya temple complex is a rare and thrilling experience. Your adventure begins with private tours led by guides whose forebears constructed the monuments. The setting sun brings a hush to the surrounding forest, as you dine by candlelight on foods that have sustained this culture for millennia. Exotic scents—allspice, cedar, and copal incense—perfume the night air. When the Milky Way appears, your guide unlocks secrets of Maya cosmology. After stargazing, you retire to a comfortable tent cabin, awaking at dawn to a chorus of howler monkeys and tropical birds.

The ancient Maya city of Uaxactun (pronounced "wah-shock-tune") is one of the oldest continuously occupied Maya sites. It is also the location of the most ancient pyramid in the Maya World; the foundations of temple E-VII-Sub date back 4,000 years—beautifully preserved by the overlay of later structures. The temple's sides are adorned with eighteen huge masks representing jaguar gods and sky-serpents. The structure's sacred geometry is oriented to the heavens, predicting solstices and equinoxes.

The name Uaxactun means "eight stones"—possibly a reference to its two central hills, each with four mounds. The site includes numerous temples, plazas, and tombs. Art produced here—ceramics and stone carving—is among the finest of the ancient Maya World. The earliest examples of the use of the zero placeholder in Maya culture are Uaxactun's Stelae 18 and 19.

Uaxactun is located twelve miles—forty minutes or fourteen miles by road—north of the Maya metropolis of Tikal. The cities were rivals until Tikal subdued Uaxactun in 378 AD under the leadership of a powerful ruler named Fire is Born. A Tikal / Uaxactun alliance went on to dominate the Petén region for the next 180 years.

For the past 100 years, the inheritors of Uaxactun have sustainably harvested chicle sap—the natural base for chewing gum. This is the only community permitted to occupy the area's more than 10,000 square miles of protected forest. The community also raises xate palm and other ornamental plants. Visitors to Uaxactun can observe the chicle harvesting process, learn local traditions, and meet with handcraft artisans.

The tent camp is situated within the E Complex of the ancient city. Hot showers and modern bathroom facilities are a two-minute walk away. Most of our guests spend two nights at Uaxactun, exploring Tikal on the second day. Sunrise and sunset visits to Tikal can be arranged.

Daily flights connect Guatemala City to the Petén's primary airport in Flores, with flight times of one hour and ten minutes. The drive from the airport to Uaxactun usually lasts an hour and forty minutes. Uaxactun can also be visited from the Cayo District of Belize.

If you're considering three nights here, you could visit the other Maya sites, zip-line through the forest canopy, ride horses, or hike forest trails with an expert birding guide. Contact Mosaico Travel Services at 801.582.2100 for more information.

" Better far off to leave half the ruins and nine-tenths of the churches unseen and to see well the rest; to see them not once, but again and often again; to watch them, to learn them, to live with them, to love them, till they have become a part of life and life's recollections. "

Margot Fonteyn