Laguna Petexbatún

El Petén

Laguna Petexbatún is a 6km-long lake south of Sayaxché, approached by an hour's lancha (small motorboat) ride up the Río Petexbatún, a tributary of the Río de la Pasión. The lake, river and surrounding forests harbor many birds, including kingfishers, egrets, vultures, eagles, cormorants and herons. Within reach of the waterways are five archaeological sites and a pair of jungle-hideaway accommodations.

What we know of the history of these archaeological sites has mostly been unraveled by archaeologists since the late 1980s. Dos Pilas was founded about AD 640 by a prince who left Tikal and later defeated it in two wars, capturing its ruler Nuun Ujol Chaak (Shield Skull) in 679, according to inscriptions at the site. Dos Pilas' second and third rulers carried out monumental building programs, waged wars of conquest and came to dominate most of the territory between the Pasión and Chixoy rivers, but in AD 761 their vassal Tamarindito rebelled and killed the fourth ruler, causing the Dos Pilas nobility to relocate to the naturally fortified site of Aguateca, which was already functioning as a twin capital. Aguateca in turn was abandoned in the early 9th century, around the same time as three defensive moats were cut across the neck of the Chiminos peninsula on the edge of Laguna Petexbatún. Archaeologists surmise that Punta de Chiminos was the last refuge of the Petexbatún dynasty founded at Dos Pilas.

The closest place to stay is Chiminos Island Lodge. Most visitors are brought here by one of the lodges in the vicinity or by tour operators in Flores. To arrive independently, try any of the boat operators in Sayaxché, who charge around Q700 for a half-day tour of the lake including a visit to Aguateca.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby El Petén attractions

1. Aguateca

2.88 MILES

The ruins of Aguateca stand on a hilltop at the far south end of Laguna Petexbatún. Defended by cliffs and split by a ravine, the city enjoyed military…

2. Dos Pilas

5.74 MILES

If you have the time, it's well worth visiting this ruin. It has fine carvings on display, particularly the hieroglyphic staircase, with five 6m-wide…

3. Ceibal

10.71 MILES

With its strategic position on the west bank of the Río de la Pasión, the independent kingdom of Ceibal amassed considerable power controlling commerce…

4. Crater Azul

17.94 MILES

This stunning spring-fed tributary lies just a 90-minute boat ride from Sayaxché, during which you pass birdlife and a mix of farms, fields and forests…