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The Mayan Ruins of Tikal had been on my radar for a while so I knew I wasn’t leaving Guatemala without seeing them. An ancient Mayan civilization rising out of the jungle? I couldn’t pass that up!
10 Facts About The Mayan Ruins Of Tikal
- Tikal was once a major city of the Mayan civilization and is located in what is now northern Guatemala.
- The city was founded around 400 BC and was one of the largest and most powerful Mayan cities during the Classic Period (AD 200-900).
- At its peak, Tikal was home to an estimated 100,000 people and covered an area of over 16 square kilometres.
- The ruins of Tikal include more than 3,000 structures, including palaces, temples, and public buildings.
- The tallest structure at Tikal is Temple IV, which stands at over 70 meters (230 feet) tall.
- The city was abandoned by the end of the 10th century and was lost to the jungle for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 19th century.
- Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites of the Mayan civilization.
- The site has been used as a filming location for several movies, including Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
- Tikal is also known for its abundant wildlife, including howler monkeys, toucans, and jaguars.
- Visitors to Tikal can climb many of the ruins for stunning views of the surrounding jungle and to experience the awe-inspiring ancient Mayan architecture.
On a day that kept changing its mind between a drizzle and a downpour, I headed off to Tikal National Park with my personal guide. At Zapote Tree Inn, where I was staying, the owner’s wife and her son were both bona fide guides. Hence, Axuan became my guide for the day.
I was thrilled to have a knowledgeable guide escort me all day. You can also go to Tikal National Park without a guide or find one at the gates.
Axuan was a fountain of knowledge. We talked on the 60-minute bus ride from Flores to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and he started filling my brain with facts about this Mayan civilization. It existed approximately between 600 BC and 900 AD and at its height, had a population of 100 000.
The Mayan ruins of Tikal are in a biodiverse jungle. Massive stone structures rise through the treetops. Oh, what these towering monuments have witnessed – a bustling city ages old, its ensuing decline, dense jungle overgrowth and rediscovery.
I happily climbed the first temple we passed. I scampered up and gingerly made my way back down.
After a 45-minute trek through the jungle, we arrived at Temple IV. It soared above the jungle at 65 metres high – so impressive. I climbed those 200+ steps to the ledge to marvel at the magnificent view. It had been raining solidly on our walk but at the top of the temple, the rain slowed to a mere sprinkle and the howler monkeys started calling through the misty clouds.
Star Wars fans…this was the film location for the Massassi Outpost on the 4th moon of Yavin. Recognize it?
Exploring the Mayan ruins of Tikal revealed treasures which barely scraped the surface of its wonders – an astrological observatory, coatis munching grass, more than one acropolis, spider monkeys swinging, evidence of the water system, howler monkeys, the Seven Temples and massive, ancient trees. A feast for the senses. Sparks to fuel the imagination.
And then…the majesty of the Great Plaza took my breath away. Temple I and Temple II, in all their monumental grandeur, face each other across a field that was once the centre of sociopolitical life. All 47 metres of Temple I (the Temple of the Grand Jaguar) loomed at one end. Apparently, Lord Chocolate (Ah Cacao) is buried here. No wonder it held a particular fascination for me!
Temple II (Temple of the Masks), facing east, rises 38 metres high. When I arrived at the top of Temple II, I was the only one there. The ambience exemplified tranquillity with only the soothing sound of the Montezuma Oropendolas interrupting the silence. I soaked up the otherworldly vibe.
Read more | A visit to Guatemala isn’t complete without a visit to this amazing colonial city.
I left the Mayan ruins of Tikal just vibrating. It left me overflowing with pieces of stories, threads to the past. Unanswered questions were resonating within. Tikal – is it possible that only 30% of your temples are unearthed? One day will a definitive answer exist regarding your decline? How much has been lost? Is it true that the only reason those temples remain is that they were too immense to carry away?
Tikal – mysticism intertwined with history and beauty. Show up! You can’t go wrong.
Travel Tips: The Mayan Ruins Of Tikal
- Wear comfortable clothing and footwear: You’ll be doing a lot of walking and climbing at Tikal, so it’s important to wear comfortable clothing and shoes that will allow you to move easily and stay cool in the hot and humid climate.
- Bring sunscreen and insect repellent: The sun can be intense in Guatemala, so be sure to bring sunscreen to protect your skin. In addition, the jungle environment means there are plenty of bugs around, so insect repellent can be useful to prevent bites.
- Carry plenty of water: Staying hydrated is crucial when spending time outdoors in the jungle. Bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up at the park’s entrance, or bring enough bottled water to last the day.
- Consider hiring a guide: While it’s possible to explore Tikal on your own, hiring a guide can add depth to your experience by providing insights into the history and culture of the Mayan civilization, as well as pointing out hidden details of the ruins that you might otherwise miss.
- Plan for the heat: The temperature and humidity at Tikal can be intense, so plan your visit accordingly. Consider visiting early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the hottest parts of the day, and take breaks in the shade or air-conditioned spaces when you need to cool off.
When You Go to the Mayan Ruins of Tikal:
Tikal is an easy day trip from Flores, Guatemala. If you want to see the sunrise or sunset, it is probably better to stay at the park. You can also visit Tikal from Belize. Despite the fact that I had heard Tikal can be overrun with tourists, I was there on a weekend and felt as though I had the place to myself.
Zapote Tree Inn: 250 GTQ ($46.00 Canadian)
Return Boat Trip to Zapote Tree Inn: 9 GTQ ($1.65 Canadian)
Bus to Tikal from Flores: 75 GTQ ($14.00 Canadian)
Entrance: 150 GTQ ($27.50 Canadian)
Guide: 300 GTQ ($55.16 Canadian)