Reading a Mayan Codex in Guatemala City

I planned for a full day in Guatemala City. It was a day designed to visit many places, but my first stop was to visit a specific museum.  I wanted read a Mayan Codex. So before the visit to the central market  or the impressive main plaza of the capital city, I headed to the campus of the Francisco Marroquin University and visited the Museo Popol Vuh to see the Mayan “Dresden” Codex.

the courtyard and entrance to Museo Popl Vuh in Guatemala City

Museum Popol Vuh

In Guatemala visitors can find a replica of one of the few known existing Mayan codices (ancient Mayan books) in existence today. Located in a section of the city that seems miles (or kilometers) away from any hustle and bustle, two small yet modern museums share a courtyard and visitors. The first, the Museum Ixchel is filled with Mayan textiles. The halls display traditional costumes and people learn about the very weaving techniques that were used to produce them.

Mayan Pottery found in Guatemala

a Mayan Vase...

the virgin Mary in Guatemala Museum

the virgin Mary in Guatemala Museum

The second, Museum Popol Vuh contains the codex. Additionally, the halls are filled with Mayan  pottery, a scale model of Tikal, and some early catholic artifacts. Both museums are easily visited in ninety minutes.

Mayan Codex

At the time of my visit only three known Mayan codices still existed. With all the original copies located in Europe, the one on display was a replica.  The original surfaced is Dresden and aptly named the Dresden Codex. The others are in Madrid and Paris.

the Dresden Codex on display in Guatemala City

the full view

view of a Mayan Codex in Guatemala City

the long view

view of the Dresden Codex at Museo Popol Vuh in Guatemala

the other side


a detailed view of a Mayan Codex

up close view of the details

No doubt the beautiful colorful copy of the Mayan writings was the centerpiece of the museum.  The display allowed visitors to walk around and view the ancient pages from every angle. Perhaps, the pages didn’t contain the same vibrant energy of an original hand crafted codex, but they still impressed. I still spent most of my hour in the museum reviewing the shapes, symbols and colors.

As I viewed the exhibit, I wondered what stories were left behind on these pages. I pondered how many clues to the many Mayan mysteries still unsolved could be decoded from such an artifact. The detail was remarkable. Truly incredible.

I was also sad, even a little angry when I remembered only three Mayan Codices remained. Such beauty nearly all destroyed by the Spanish during their religious conversion efforts. I asked myself why? Why do people fear other cultures so much they destroy their teachings and stories? I had no answer.

As I left, I decided to continue to be different, to continue to learn and appreciate other cultures. My trip to Guatemala had just begun and I was eager to see what adventures awaited. Many did.

Stay Adventurous, Craig

Travel Tips:

1) Taxi. Hire a taxi for the day. It was probably the best way to put Museo Popol Vuh on my itinerary along with the central market and main square all in a day. I was able to negotiate and obtain a reasonable rate with drop off and pickup times. I found my taxi driver at the hotel and the cost was 150 Quetzales (8 to 1 USD) for all my rides.

2) Museum Tickets. Purchase a joint ticket for both museums (Ixchel and Popol Vuh). I purchased the tickets (a coin) and received a noteworthy discount, but I also  paid to photograph the exhibits. (Video is not necessary)

3) 90 minutes. Don’t plan for more than 1.5 hours. I breezed through the museums quickly even spending a ton of time reading about the codex and the ruins found in Guatemala (en español)

This post is part of the Get To Know Guate Series.

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  • Andi Perullo

    I would have left sad too. AWESOME pics!

  • Jeremy Branham

    The Mayan codex was quite intricate and beautiful.  However, you made a great point about destroying the cultures of other out of fear.  I don’t know the answer to that either but agree with your conclusion – respect the cultures of others.

    Thanks for the history lesson as I didn’t know anything about these.  Very fascinating culture as the Mayans are definitely on people’s radar in 2012.

  • Maryann

    What an interesting article.  Your articles about Guatemala make it an attractive travel destination.  

  • craig zabransky

    @GlobalButterfly:disqus I appreciate it, it was a bit sad, but I was also happy to know a few of these ancient mayan books still exist today.

    @budgettravelsac:disqus  Your welcome, and thanks for the comment… Yes, we cna always learn so much from history.

    @6ec347036ca35b7f4a8dff6b7b10d399:disqus It is exactly that, and still largely undiscovered, I hope to return again shortly.

    stay adventurous, Craig

  • Jetting Around

    The codex looks impressive! There are so many fascinating details about pre-hispanic history. So far I’ve been able to explore it in Mexico, but hopefully I’ll add Guatemala to the list at some point soon. 

    • craig zabransky

       Definitely put Guatemala on your list if you like Mayan artifacts, ruins, etc… Tikal is so impressive and there are so many “un”discovered gems inside the country.
      stay adventurous, Craig

  • The World of Deej

    Great museum…I remember visiting some Mayan ruins long ago and the guide talking about their use of colors. Interesting stuff..

    • craig zabransky

       So colorful indeed. That is one of the reasons I am drawn to the art myself. stay adventurous, Craig

  • John

    It’s too bad there aren’t any authentic Mayan codices in Central America, but this seems like a pretty good alternative.

    • craig zabransky

       Very true. I talked with one of the guides in Tikal (not this museum, but the ruins itself) about it and he mentioned how he liked many of the ruins overseas because he hoped people would see them and then want to come visit. He was making it  a positive.
      stay adventurous, Craig

  • Lola

    gorgeous pictures, Craig. i love Hispanic art. 

    • craig zabransky

       Thanks Lola. Appreciate it. Stay adventurous, Craig

    • Raul

      Lola, thanks for calling me art. 

  • Leah Travels

    I’ve never been to Guatemala, but I’d love to. This Mayan art is phenomenal and your pictures really showcase it.

  • Raul

    Craig, such is the story of all powers/civilizations as they conquer/dominate others, sadly.  Think of the Great Buddhas in Afghanistan. All gone for good.  But, on happier note, I am glad to read about this wonderful place in Guatemala City. One of the CA countries I haven’t seen, this gives me a specific target when I do go to the capital!

  • travelingted

    Wow, what beautiful displays. It reminds me of the amazing bas-reliefs in Angkor Wat. Sad that we only have a few. Great post and tips.

  • John Scherber

    The Fifth Codex is a mystery set in Mexico, where the discovery of a fifth Mayan codex unsettles the Academic world, the Mexican government, and the private collector market. When the Zapatistas of Chiapas enter the scene because of the document’s message, all hell breaks loose. See a sample on my website: