Visiting the Tzu’tujil Maya Ruins of Chiutinamit

Map Lake Atitlan

A short boat ride across the bay from Santiago Atitlan is the little known, nor excavated, Maya ruins of Chiutinamit. The site dates from 250 A.D and remained active until after the Conquest.  This is the original city and spiritual center of the Tzu’tujil Maya.

The meaning and translation of Chiutinamit is many layered. Local shaman’s define it as: the top of the Citadel, the place of the where the center of the Cardinal Points lives, the Heart of the Sacred, and the place where people from other lands come to gather.

This area is at the Southern end of the great Lake Atitlan, where the inlet to the smaller bay of Santiago passes along the base of the grand San Pedro Volcano. There are no roads, electricity, or significant development. The majority of this parceled land is now comprised of farming plots owned and tended by local people.

What You Will Discover

The greatest wonder you’ll discover is a land that is alive with the sacred energy of the Old Ways. And you’ll be enveloped in an abundance of nature, birds, other forest critters, and exquisitely beautiful views. So much so that during the rains you may need a machete to cut through some of the growth.

There are some exposed glyphs, altar stones, and an un-excavated Maya ball court. You will also see the outlines and cut stones of other once dominant ceremonial buildings. On the way up there is a private property where the owner has uncovered some carved glyphs.If he’s there he charges a couple Quetzales per person to enter.

Carved stone Chiutinamit

As you walk you will see lots of pottery shards, pieces of obsidian blades and other artifacts – particularly during the rainy and planting seasons when the soil gets churned up. The prolific amount of these gifts you a glimpse of the abundance, and once thriving aliveness, of this ancient Maya ceremonial and city center.

The views back across the bay to Santiago Atitlan are amazing and give you insight as to why this site was strategically created here. It gave the King and defensive forces a full view of the surrounding areas that was critical to the safety of the people. And, it was the central axes of the spiritual connections of this land to the countless other holy altars throughout the surrounding areas.

Hand drawn rendition of map on the Turtle Altar in Chiutinamit showing the lake and altars, holy places.

These many other ceremonial sites around the Lake, some of which are still in use. These create a sacred tapestry, a divine mirroring of the cosmos and creation itself, right here on Mother Earth. Chiutinamit was the beating, living heart of this for the Tzu’tujil Maya and is still used for Maya ceremony today.

Options for Planning Your Day

It’s always best to head out in the morning. It’s hot later in the day and clouds and winds arrive in the afternoons. If you want to make a full day of it, head out by 9 am and then back by 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon.

My personal favorite is to prepare your food and drinks and take a leisurely hike in. Then do a ceremony at the “turtle altar.” After have your picnic, hang out, soak in all the good juju, and head down early afternoon.

If you want to try traditional food, we love to take Patin. This is a super yummy meal made with spicy tomato sauce and salt dried fish, eggs, veggies, or chicken. It is wrapped in a Maxan (palm) leaf and eaten with tortillas. No utensils required.

If you want the real deal traditional Patin, with salt dried fish, you can buy those in the street by the main entrance to the market. You’ll find fresh tortillas there as well.

Or your guide can have a special Patin prepared for you.

Transportation, Prep, & Safety

A private boat from Santiago to the shoreline will cost around a 100-200q. Exact price depends on how long you plan to stay and the size of your group. Boat drivers will drop you off in a cleared area on the shoreline where you jump off the front of the boat. Then return to pick you up at either a predetermined time or when you call them by cell.

View from the lookout at Chiutinamit.

As with all hikes and adventures in Guatemala it is best to hire a local guide. This is true for two reasons. One, it ensures your safety. And two, you’ll have a much better time and learn lots more.

On a 1-5 scale the hike is gradual and about a 2.0 to a 2.5. However, you are walking on water-rutted run off trails and through fields of loose dirt and stones. Wear good solid shoes or very sturdy sport sandals. During the rains the mud is slippery. During the dry season the dusty loose dirt can be equally slick.

Take water and other necessities. There are no stores, nor potable water. Long pants are recommended. Sunscreen and bug spray are a must. If you’re not used to squat and shake, TP and a plastic bag to carry it out, is handy.

Another important detail: Depending on the season, there is an amazing abundance of fruits, corn, herbs, beans, and squash grown on the lands you will be hiking through. Please don’t trample or pick this food. These are people’s carefully tended crops and incomes.


Journeys In Living can coordinate an adventure and translations services for you. If you want to organize your own, I have two favorite Spanish-speaking guides that can take you to Chiutinamit. I’ve known both for years. They grew up in these mountains and know them, as well as the oral Traditions, incredibly well.

  • Miguel Pablo Sicay. He’s a wealth of information and a generally fantastic human being. His cell number is 3257-0407 and you can find him on Facebook (Milpa Tours). Miguel is also your guy for volcano hikes.
  • To do a ceremony on this sacred site you can also contact Juan Chiyal Quieju. 4623-1320. He is a Shaman, storyteller, wise one, and another great guy.

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