Near present-day Tecpán, this ancient city was once the capital of the Mayan Kaqchikel people. Originally friendly with the K’iche’ and their capital at nearby Q’umarkaj, the Kaqchikel quickly grew in power, and the two groups became rivals. The Kaqchikel soon decided to split off to form their own autonomous kingdom. Surrounded by deep ravines, the easily defendable site of Iximché served well as their new stronghold. When the Spanish arrived, the Kaqchikel were initially receptive to the outsiders, allying with them to conquer smaller Mayan communities. They later rebelled as well, and Iximché was conquered and established as the first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. The Spanish were soon forced to relocate, as guerrilla bands of Kaqchikel continuously attacked the city. It was burned to the ground in 1530, and the Spanish relocated their capital to San Miguel Escobar near Ciudad Vieja.
Today, Iximché is open to the public and one ofthe most accessible ruins in the country. It is interesting for being much more recent than ruins elsewhere in Guatemala – it was established around 1470 AD. The expansive, grassy complex has four large and two small plazas, each with several temples. Near the entrance there is a small museum with exhibits on the Spanish conquest, Kaqchikel revolts, and a small scale model of the site. In 2007, U.S. President George W. Bush visited the site, escorted by the President of Guatemala amidst much fanfare. Some took offense to the elaborate welcome ceremonies that included a marimba concert and a Mayan ball game – rituals to purify the site were performed following Bush’s departure.
Unlike other ruins, Iximché is still an active site. While it is not overwhelmingly impressive, the spiritual draw of the site is a powerful one. The majority of visitors to the park are Guatemalan nationals who come to practice indigenous ceremonies. Thus, it is very important to be respectful. Keep your voice down and ask before taking pictures. Do not be surprised if you are told that photography is not allowed. The ruins are open from 8am-5pm daily, and admission costs Q10. To get here, you’ll first have to get to Tecpán, a moderately-sized town a short distance south of the Panamerican Highway. Buses to Tecpán can be found in Chimaltenango or less frequently from the bus terminal in Antigua. Any bus heading west along the Panamerican can drop you at the entrance, from where you should be able to piece together your journey into the center of town. Consistent buses, micros, and taxis make the ten-minute trip to the ruins from Tecpán’s central park. The ruins of Iximché make a fantastic daytrip from Antigua and are a great example of the hidden gems of Chimaltenango department.