Central America: A World All Its Own November 04, 1999 Share 1 -- El Mundo Maya offers a world of special interest and soft adventure travel. It caters with comfort to archaeology buffs and natural history enthusiasts,bringing them up-close to remote ancient cities, most often set in wildlife areas. Selling travel along the Route of the Maya opens a new way for clients to look at four Central American countries that lie on this ancient path: Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. Mexico's five states in the southeastern part of the country are collectively the fifth member of the official Mundo Maya project, whose aim is to protect and preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the region and to promote its wealth of tourist attractions as a multi-country destination.Travel along La Ruta Maya is now easier, and more convenient: Regional flights link more than 40 towns and cities, and roads have improved for overland travel between ancient sites.Highlights of this region include the following.BelizeAltun Ha, with ruins dating from 400 to 900 A.D., spreads over more than 25 square miles. The largest remaining monument is the Temple of the Green Tomb, while another important structure is the Sun God Temple.Access: By road from Belize City.Xunantunich is located in western Belize, close to the town of San Ignacio. This major Maya ceremonial site from the Late Classic period has the remains of many temples and a ball court; its 130-foot pyramid, El Castillo, is the highest structure on the site, the second tallest in the country.Access: By road from Belize City.Lamanai was an important Maya community for three millennia, and this site has buildings dating back to 700 B.C. Monuments include a 108-foot-high pyramid, a ball court and several temples.Access: A road goes all the way in from Orange Walk, but the approach by boat along the New River is more inspiring.Caracol, is the newest and largest find in Central America, and excavations so far point to its rivalry with and eventual conquest of nearby Tikal. The site's centerpiece is the 140-foot Canna pyramid. Covering 30 square miles, Caracol's ancient inventory includes many pyramids, five plazas and an astronomical observatory.Access: By road from Belize City, via San Ignacio; the last stretch into the site is rugged driving, often impassable in rainy weather.Che Chem Ha Cave is one of many in Belize that contain Maya relics, particularly pottery. This one, on private land in the Cayo District, can be visited on a guided tour.Access: By road or boat from San Ignacio to Benque Viejo del Carmen.El SalvadorJoya de Ceren is an ancient village that thrived 1,400 years ago, before being buried intact by lava from the Laguna Caldera volcano around 600 A.D. and preserving the region's most important domestic settlement. On site are not only the original adobe houses of the village, but a museum tracing the history of the area and displaying the artifacts, household goods and utensils found buried in the volcanic ash.Access: By road from San Salvador.Tazumal is El Salvador's most significant Maya ceremonial center, featuring a step pyramid, ball courts and temples. It was built between the fifth and ninth centuries.Access: By road from San Salvador.GuatemalaTikal, considered the greatest of Maya cities, flourished in the Classic period from 300 to 900 A.D. and is today an official World Heritage Monument of UNESCO. Buried in the El Peten jungle, five temples in and around the Great Plaza were America's first skyscrapers; around them, only partially excavated, lie the ruins of at least 3,000 other structures: temples, palaces, marketplaces, ball courts and dwellings in an area 50 miles square.Other Maya sites in Peten that visitors can reach by road and river include Ceibal, whose stelae are among the finest sculptures of the Maya Late Classic period and Uaxactun, where the Maya culture perfected its writing system and began its calendar.Access: By air to Flores, by road to the ruins; overland from Belize.Quirigua, located near the Honduras border, is thought to have been an important trading post between Tikal and Copan. The site is famous for its carved stelae, and is the largest block of stone ever quarried by the Maya.Access: By road, off the highway between Guatemala City and Livingston.La Democracia in the Pacific lowlands is a pre-Olmec site (around 400 B.C.) that pre-dated the Maya. Many of the carved stones -- decorated on one side with portraits of fat-bellied people with puffy jowls and narrowed or closed eyes -- found in the area are displayed in the main plaza and museum.Access: By road from Guatemala City, then south from Escuintla.HondurasCopan, often called the Athens of the Americas, is one of the Maya world's most spectacular cities. The hieroglyphic inscriptions that cover the temples and monuments here make Copan the most artistically embellished of all the great Maya sites. The most famous monument, the Hieroglyphic Stairway, records the history of the royal house of Copan.Newest to ancient Copan are recently excavated tunnels, beneath one of the great pyramids, that lead to the subterranean tomb called Rosalila with its sixth century masks and hieroglyphics in place. Other treasures are housed in an on-site museum.Access: By road from San Pedro Sula.