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Quirigua, an ancient Mayan site from the classic period, is one of the oldest clues as to what life was like in the Oriente of Guatemala. There is some evidence that suggests the area was occupied as early as 400BC, but it is generally accepted the area was an important trade route from 200-900AD. Today, you can find some of the finest carvings made by the Mayans here—around twenty towering statues dot the landscape here.

Diego García de Palacios, sent out by Spanish King Felipe II, was the first known European to discover the ruined cities of the Mayans. In 1576, Palacios wrote to the King to describe the ruins and explain there were only around three families living in the valley, none who knew much about the ruins. It would be 300 years before they were mapped.

When the Spanish came to Izabal, they built Castillo de San Felipe to protect the area from Caribbean pirates. Before the fortress was constructed, pirates eagerly stole products and attacked ships in the area. Armed with cannons, the castle was involved in many bouts with pirates. At one point, it was even totally destroyed. However, by 1855 it was completely abandoned.

The town of Livingston also has an interesting history that today makes the beach town Guatemala's most intriguing cultural melting pot; a mixture of Garifuna, Maya, Native American and Ladino people live here together. The town has a unique Caribbean feel, mostly due to the fact that many locals are descendants of slaves who escaped to this area. Since around 1795, their culture has been preserved through native language and traditions, including music, religion, dress and food.

18 Aug 2010

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