The 2nd Maya Classic Rally

Panama City

Our starting point is also the first Spanish city founded on the Pacific coast by Pedro Arias de Avila in 1519. It was the launch pad for the expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru (1532). It was also a stop-over of one of the most important trade routes in the history of the American continent leading to the famous fairs of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo where most of the gold and silver that Spain took from the Americas was traded.

In 1671, the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan, with the help of a band of 1400 men, attacked and looted the city before burning it to the ground. The ruins of the old city still remain.

Boquete

In Spanish, the word Boquete means ‘gap or opening’. It was through this gap that curious gold and silver seekers trekked looking for a cheaper and quicker way to the Pacific. Farmers began settling the region near the end of the 19th Century and by the early 20th century a number of villages had been established, including Bajo Boquete, which is now the districts’ centre.

Boquete’s healthy climate has prompted many to believe it holds the secret to longevity as many native Boqueteños have lived well on past their hundredth birthday.

Puerto Viejo

On the northern coast of Costa Rica Puerto Viejo is a tranquil and historic resort near the small town of Limon.

Without any doubt, the most famous visitor that arrived at this piece of paradise was Christopher Columbus on the 6th of October, 1502 on his fourth and last trip.

San Jose

Founded in 1738, San José is one of the youngest capital cities in Latin America. Nowadays it’s a modern city with bustling commerce, brisk expressions of art and architecture, and spurred by the country’s improved tourism industry, it is also a significant destination and stopover for visitors.

For much of the 20th century, San José was predominantly an agricultural city. However, following the post-war baby boom, increasing urban migration completely transformed the capital in a few decades.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna, in the shadow of the towering Arenal Volcano is one of the major cities of Costa Rica.

To the north east of La Fortuna is an observatory at Los Lagos where you can see the red glow of the Arenal Volcano clearly. Crater C is the most active and  at this lookout point it appears that the lava is headed right towards you.

Hanging bridges, the Arenal Dam, the sky tram, and the botanical garden are all other sights that make La Fortuna a great attraction.

Granada

Granada drips with photogenic elegance, a picture postcard at every turn. With it’s cobbled streets and variety of churches it is truly a wonderful stop off on the rally.

Granada was founded next to Lake Cocibolca, or Grand Lake of Nicaragua, by the Spanish conqueror Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba in 1524, making it one of the oldest colonial settlements of Central America. During the Colonial period, Granada became one of the most important commercial harbours in Central America.

Tegucigalpa

Tegucigalpa was founded by Spanish settlers as ‘Real Villa de San Miguel de Heredia de Tegucigalpa’ in 1578 on the site of an existing native settlement. Before and after independence, the city was a mining centre for silver and gold. The capital of the independent Republic of Honduras switched back and forth between Tegucigalpa and Comayagua until it was permanently settled here in 1880. It is said that the society of Comayagua, the long-time colonial capital of Honduras, disliked the wife of President Marco Aurelio Soto, who took revenge by moving the capital to Tegucigalpa.

Copan

Copan, right on the Guatemalan border, is the site of a major Maya kingdom Xukpi (Corner-Bundle), which flourished from the 5th century AD to the early 9th century.  Its name is an apparent reference to the fact that it was situated at the far southern and eastern end ofMaya territory. Nearby is the modern village of Copán Ruinas.

Copan is known for producing a remarkable series of stelae, most of which were placed along processional ways in thecentral plaza of the city and the adjoining ‘acropolis’ (a large complex of overlapping step-pyramids, plazas, and palaces). The stelae and sculptured decorations of the buildings are some of the very finest surviving art of ancient Mesoamerica.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, was founded in the early 16th century. Built 1,500 m above sea-level it was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 but its principal monuments are still preserved as ruins.

In the space of under three centuries the city, which was built on a grid pattern inspired by the Italian Renaissance, acquired a number of superb monuments.

Flores, Guatemala

The main reason to visit Flores is its proximity to Tikal, the most famous Mayan ruins in Guatemala. But the city itself is a wonder — dense with colonial, red-roofed buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, a historic church and Spanish plaza, and restaurants that are easy to stumble upon walking the city’s charming streets.

Tikal was a Maya city of great power and size, the largest of Maya cities during the ‘Classic Era’ over 1000 years ago. Many beautiful buildings have been uncovered and many more wait to be discovered.

Belize, City

Belize, formerly the colony of British Honduras, is the only country in Central America without a coastline on the Pacific Ocean and the only one in the region with English as its official language.

Along the Caribbean it is culturally similar to many of Britain’s former island colonies. Inland are native Maya people, and especially in the north and northwest of the country Spanish is often spoken. Many refugees from the Caste War of Yucatan settled here. In the south east along the Caribbean coast live the Garifuna an Afro- Amerindian culture.

Tulum, Mexico

Tulum’s spectacular coastline – with all its bright white icing sugar sands, jade-green water, balmy breezes and bright sun – makes it one of the top beaches in Mexico. Where else can you get all that and a dramatically situated Maya ruin? There’s also excellent diving, cenotes, great snorkeling, and a variety of great restaurants.

Chichen-itza

Chichen-Itza was a major regional focal point for the Mayan civilisation from the late Classic through to the early portion of the early Postclassic period. The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles and reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico to the Puuc style found among the Puuc Maya of the northern lowlands.  According to the Maya chronicles Hunac Ceel, ruler of Mayapan, conquered Chichen- Itza in the 13th century. Hunac Ceel supposedly prophesised his own rise to power.

While there is some archaeological evidence that Chichén-Itzá was at one time looted and sacked, there appears to be greater evidence that it could not have been by Mayapan, at least not when Chichén-Itzá was an active urban centre. Archaeological data now indicates that Chichen-Itza fell by around AD 1000, some two centuries before the rise of Mayapan.

Campeche

Campeche was discovered by the Spanish in 1517, during an exploratory expedition led by Francisco Fernandez de Córdoba. The name of Campeche comes from the Mayan word Ah Kim Pech, which means The Place of Boa Serpent. The State of Campeche was part of Yucatán until it broke away from Yucatán and became a separate sate of the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) on August 7, 1857.

Palenque

The site of Palenque had been abandoned by the Maya people for several centuries, when the Spanish explorers arrived in the 16th century. The first European to visit the ruins and publish an account was Father Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada in 1567; at the time the local Chol Maya called it Otolum meaning Land with strong houses. De la Nada roughly translated this into Spanish to give the site the name Palenque, meaning fortification. Palenque also became the name for the town (Santo Domingo del Palenque) which was built over some peripheral ruins down in the valley from the main ceremonial centre of the ancient city.

San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec

San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec, literally “on the hill of rabbits” in the local language is a convenient and photogenic stop on our way to Mexico City.

 Mexico City

Much-maligned Mexico City is cleaning up its act these days. Revamped public spaces are springing back to life, the culinary scene is exploding and a cultural renaissance is flourishing. And by somehow managing to distance itself from the drug war, the nation’s capital has emerged as a ‘safe haven’ of sorts.

Remember that Mexico City is, and has ever been, the sun in the Mexican solar system. A stroll through the buzzing downtown area reveals the capital’s storied history, from its pre-Hispanic underpinnings and colonial-era splendour to its contemporary edge. Organised chaos rules in this high-octane megalopolis, yet the city offers plenty of escape valves in the way of old-school cantinas, intriguing museums, dramatic murals and boating excursions along ancient canals and of course Aztec ruins.