El Pilar gets its name from the unusual abundance of water in the area; El Pilar is the Spanish word for watering basin. Researchers believe construction began around 800 BC, and by 250 BC there was a thriving community. During its peak, El Pilar could’ve been home to as many as 20,000 people. One of the most interesting features of El Pilar is a 3- to 5-foot (1- to 1.5-meter) high wall that runs west from the site into Guatemala. At least one ball court has been discovered, and the tallest structure stands about 70 feet (21 meters) above the plaza.
As the site is not very well excavated yet, tours to El Pilar tend to focus on the important vegetative areas that were key in Mayan history. (Visitors hoping for fully excavated, towering ruins should consider tours to other sites like Xunantunich or Caracol.) El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna extends into Guatemala and is a declared cultural monument. The area has been under threat by looters and was placed on the 1996 World Monuments Fund’s list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World (the list is now known as the World Monuments Watch).