How to get to the Cancuén Ruins,
which are just over the Petén border from
Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
The Cancuén ruins are not exactly on the normal tourist trails, but they should be. Part of it may be that staying in Raxrujá has seemed rather grim until now. As it is, if you are taking the more scenic coffee country route between Guatemala City and Flores, this can be a pleasant stopover along your way.
From Guatemala City, you can take a Monja Blanca bus to Cobán and from there a minivan to Raxrujá. Or from Flores, take a minivan from the Santa Elena bus station to Sayaxché. From there, hop another minivan across the river to Raxrujá, which is no longer such a grim place to stay. Once you are get into town, check in at the pleasant Hotel El Amigo and leave your bags there. You can still expect to have time to see the ruins that day if you arrive by late morning. When you return from the site, swim in the pool. Vans are frequent in both directions.
To get to the actual ruins, walk further into town well past the normal minivans and ask for the one to La Unión. There is also at least one passenger pickup that we saw which serves such a short route, but I did not figure out where to find it. It costs 10 Q each to get to La Unión from Raxrujá and takes less than a half hour.
When arriving, get off at the welcome sign for Cancuén. Immediately next to it will likely be a closed and locked building, which holds the motors and gasoline for the boats. It should look official, but not very promising. You might even be tempted to follow the sign pointing onward to the embarcadero. However, don't do that. After the walk and finally the nice river scenery, at least one of you will need to walk back to arrange things.
Immediately adjacent to the locked building is a tienda and beyond that are a number of buildings that are part of the Cancuén effort, but the place that you will arrange and pay for the ride to the ruins is the actual tienda, possibly after tracking down a potential boatman among the other buildings. As of February 2007, the 20 or so minute boat ride for all of us cost 300 Q to and from, but the boats are large enough to hold a good number of people more than the three in our group.
Once you have paid, the boatman and an assistant will carry a large motor and gas tank with their tumplines to the embarcadero a couple kilometers beyond. The boat ride will take around 20 minutes each way and touring the whole site will take about two hours. Although I did not get a good feel for the frequency of the minibus, it has some regularity and the last one is said to arrive in La Unión at 4:00 PM. The one we took back was actually closer to 3:30 PM, but it was my impression that since we were the only tourists to the site that day, that the last run was directed toward us.
Cancuén was a major trading center during the Maya Classic period. Archaeologists there have uncovered a large palace complex and the site of a mass murder of local elite.
There are wooden walkways throughout the site, so if you show up in the rainy season, mud at the site should not be a problem. The ruins also have a camping area for those wanting to stay the night.
An unusually clean
with real actual paper
as seen at Cancuén.