Discover Tikal: The Jewel of Mayan Civilization – Gonzalo and Elizabeth Dream Vacations

Discover Tikal: The Jewel of Mayan Civilization

Consistently rated as the number one attraction in all of Guatemala, Tikal National Park is one of those places you absolutely must see at least once in your lifetime. Home to abundant wildlife and impressive ancient ruins, a trip to Tikal is one of those experiences that should definitely be on your bucket list. Contact us to book your trip to this amazing destination.

Tikal, Guatemala, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and undoubtedly one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the Americas. Although totally different in architecture and setting from the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, it is arguably just as spectacular. Situated in the jungle of northern Guatemala, the ruins are part of the much larger Tikal National Park. The Maya structures occupy a large area (approximately 10 mi²). So far, more than 3,120 palaces, temples, shrines, ceremonial platforms, ball courts, plazas and residences have been mapped, and many more remain uncharted.

Start your expedition at the Tikal National Park Visitors Center. There you’ll find two museums, The Sylvannus G. Morley Museum and The Stelae Museum. The Sylvannus G. Morley museum is situated to your left as you face the entrance to the site. There you will be able to find a reconstruction of the tomb and burial goods of Ha Sawa Chaan K’awil, one of the great builders of Tikal. Replica of the jade found in the tomb can also be seen there (the original can be found in the National Museum, Guatemala City). The Stelae Museum was a project to rescue important stelae from the natural elements. You'll also find there a reproduction of one of Tikal's most famous images, the bound captive. A powerful warrior, standing, seen in profile, he looks down with chagrin to his bound wrists.

Tikal Stela 31.jpg
Tikal Stela 31 By Greg Willis - originally posted to Flickr as tikal-14, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

A brief walk from the visitors center will take you to the Great Plaza, one of the most meticulously excavated areas. There, Temple I, known as the Temple of the Giant Jaguar, rises to 144 ft. in the air. The stairs to the top are no longer open after a number of travelers fell to their deaths while making the climb. The tallest standing temple in Tikal and the second highest in the Maya world (after El Tigre at El Mirador) is Temple IV: 212 ft. high. You’ll find the climb to the top of Temple IV well worth it as the view from the top is nothing short of breathtaking.

Tikal was a major economic and military center and is one of the most important archaeological complexes left by the Maya civilization. Monuments which include palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, small and medium sized residences, ball-game courts, terraces, roads, large and small squares have been excavated and shed light on the culture of this once great civilization. You’ll find decorated surfaces, including stone carvings and mural paintings with hieroglyphic inscriptions, which illustrate the dynastic history of the city and its relationships with other prominent Mayan urban centers throughout your visit. We highly recommend a guided tour of the area for the best experience.

Unlike other major Mayan sites like Palenque or Chichen Itza, Tikal is in a dense jungle. Walking around the national park is done on small paths where wildlife sightings are very frequent. Inside the National Park, there are 54 species of mammals and 333 species of birds. Trogons, motmots and an astonishing array of parrots, woodpeckers, manakins and warblers are all there to be seen. Among the 285 species of birds recorded here is one that even those who can't tell a sparrow from a starling couldn't ignore: the large and raucous Montezuma oropendola. (Look for their intricate hanging nests at the edge of the Great Plaza complex.)

Montezuma's oropendola.jpg
Hanging nests of Montezuma oropendola By Charlesjsharp - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Because this is a jungle area, it is usually hot and humid, although not unbearable. Wear a hat and lightweight clothing and take along insect repellent. Wear shoes with nonslip soles for climbing the stone steps and watch your footing on the uneven paths. Be aware of all park warnings, and resist the urge to wander off to more desolate areas of the park.

For more information or to plan your trip to Tikal, contact us here. Have a favorite memory of Tikal, Guatemala, or Central America? Post your comment below. We'd love to hear from you.

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