Mixco Viejo, Guatemala
Mixco Viejo was originally the capital of the Poqomam Maya, one of Guatemala’s main tribes prior to the arrival of the Spanish. A French team beautifully restored the site in the 1950s and ’60s, and it’s still an interesting place to visit. The setting is also spectacular.
Mixco Viejo is set within the Western Highlands some 33 miles (53 km) from Guatemala City. As you approach the site, the scenery changes from pine forests to a large dry valley overlooking the Río Pixcayá. It’s very scenic.
Mixco Viejo was once the Poqomam capital and a ceremonial center for the region. The site shows both Aztec and Toltec influences and is thought to date to about the thirteenth century. At the time of Spanish arrival, the city may have had a population of 10,000, making it one of the largest highland centers.
According to Spanish historian Fuentes y Guzmán, who actually witnessed the conquering of the city, the battle was fought on the plains near Mixco Viejo. Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado launched a frontal attack, but his army was attacked from behind by a group of Poqomam fighters. The Spanish won out, but the city remained impenetrable. The few Poqomam survivors pointed out a secret entrance to the city, which allowed the Spanish to enter unopposed and slaughter the remaining Poqomam inhabitants.
A French team excavated and restored Mixco Viejo during the 1950s and ’60s. Today, the site consists of 120 structures and can only be accessed by a narrow causeway. Its temples and plazas are spread out across several flat-topped ridges. Most structures are low and lack decoration. Even so, this is an interesting site that gives you a good look at Mayan culture. What’s more, you’re likely to have the whole place to yourself during the week.