I have been visiting the archeological sties of the pre-Christian people of Mexico for many years, from Chichen-Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula to Teotihucan near Mexico City. Until I came to Guatemala, Monte Alban, near the city of Oaxaca, was my favorite site. It's temples and pyramids mirror the rise and fall of the surrounding mountains, conveying such respect for the natural world and such harmony with it that I was moved anew every time I visited. I did not know that the ancient sites of the Maya in Guatemala would be equally powerful to me. In Petén and in Palenque, the spectacular jungle setting of the ruins emphasizes the mystic qualities of the Maya structures.
Each of the Maya sites are unique in their design, though all are precisely aligned to the cardinal directions. In their time, they were living centers of religion, culture, commerce and color, the massive temples and offices in red, yellow, blue and black, the glyphs and etchings precise and bold. The Maya world was not a united kingdom, but rather had competing centers of power and participated in commerce and exchange with the Aztecs and Nauhtl in northern Mexico and throughout Central America.
Between the ruins and the fine museum is an unexpected natural delight as the trail winds through the jungle to a captivating waterfall which a giant ceiba, the world tree of the Maya. The museum at Palenque houses some lovely ceramic and jade pieces as well as some finely made statues, many of which were finds surrounding Pakal's tomb. While the tomb, still buried in the temple of the inscriptions, is not open to the public, a stunning replica is displayed in a special section of the museum. I felt deeply satisfied with my visit as I left Palenque to board a bus for San Cristóbal de las Casas.