Iximché: Where Cultures Met


Iximché (pronounced ee-shim-CHE) was the capital of the Late Postclassic Kaqchikel Maya kingdom. Up until 1524, this Pre-Columbian city was a thriving place with strong trade and culture. Then, history happened. Now, it’s a park covered in short grass with temple mounds reminiscent of the classical Maya pyramids that now just sit in silence in the highlands of Guatemala.

Iximché is a Kaqchikel archeological site in the highlands of Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

The ancient city is still in use, however. Once a year, it serves as a ceremonial ground for new spiritual leaders to begin their journey to continue preserving the core syncretic Maya beliefs and traditions that are still alive in Guatemala today. The ceremony, known as Waxaquib’ B’atz’, is usually performed during the month of July and marks the beginning of nine-month period representing fertility, according to a speech given by the spiritual leader who guided the ceremony this year. 

A woman prepares for a ritual in Iximché. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

During the celebration, marimba music plays in the background as several offerings are lit in a ritual fire. Dozens of people gather around the fire to dance before being joined by the new spiritual leaders.

Iximché is located 56.1km northwest of La Antigua Guatemala. Its name comes from the Mayan words Ixim (corn) and Che (tree), so it literally means “maize tree”. When the Spanish began their war conquest, they used Iximché as their first base of operations as the Kaqchikel welcomed them as allies. The Conquistadores referred to Iximiché as “Guatemala”, from the Nahuatl word Quauhtemallan meaning “forest-land”. They applied the same name, by extension, to the kingdom they were forging. That, eventually, became the country’s current name.

The Iximché ruins where abandoned in 1524 during the spanish conquest. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Iximché is different from the archeological sites in Petén. It was built on a ridge surrounded by deep ravines at an altitude of 2260 meters among a deep pine forest. So, the air is always much cooler in comparison to the hot and humid jungles of the northern maya sites. The site is about an hour and a half’s drive from La Antigua Guatemala. So, if you’re in the country for a short period of time and you want to see some Maya ruins, Iximché is the perfect place for you to visit.

Ixhimché served as the main city for the Kaqchikel from 1470 until 1524, Tecpán, Chimaltenango, Guatemala. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

A modern Maya ritual in the ruins of Iximché. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

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A modern Maya ritual in the ruins of Iximché. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite
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