In northern Guatemala’s Petén Province is one of the major sites of Maya civilization—Maya Forest.
Tikal National Park’s 222 square miles protect some 54,610 acres of rainforest, home to a diversity of flora and fauna, including over 200 tree species, 5 cats, including jaguar and puma, and over 300 bird species, besides the innumerable Preclassic Period (600 BC) architectural and artistic remains of Tikal—which was once a major Pre-Columbian political, economic, and military center until its eventual decline and abandonment around AD 900.
The ruins would be rediscovered in 1848, and beginning in the 1950s—though only a fraction have been uncovered or restored—restored to their state today.
Most of the massive temples were built at the height of Tikal’s reign as the greatest Mayan city, sometime around the eighth century when the city held roughly 100,000 inhabitants. Covering six square miles, the central center alone has 3,000 buildings.
Traveling from the visitors center, a network of trails guides visitors around the ruins. An approximately one-mile walk southwest brings you to the site’s Grand Plaza, a vast expanse ringed by terraces, palaces, and ball courts.
There, the imposing Temple of the Grand Jaguar, rising some 164 feet from the east, and the Temple of the Masks–whose stairs are much safer to climb than those of the Jaguar temple from which many have fallen to their death, its summit also affording extensive panoramic views—stand in eternal face-off on opposing ends. Also dotting the plazas and terraces are several stelae, or stone pillars, with circular altars, lined in rows and bearing markings that immortalize important dates and deeds of Tikal’s rulers.
Six miles of walking minimum is necessary in order to see all the major building complexes. Back near the visitors center, you will find conveniently located hotels and a campground.
Tikal Area Essential Information
Reasons to Visit
- Archaeology & History
- Culinary & Wine
- Family Travel
- Honeymoon & Romance
- Nature & Wildlife
- 2-3 nights
When to Visit
- Good: September–October
- Better: May–August / November
- Best: December–April