Encompassing a staggering 575 square kilometers in the depths of the Central American rainforest, Tikal is a place of mystery, reflection, and ancient energy. The park itself is roughly 16 square kilometers and acts as a magnet for visitors, bringing in millions of visitors every year to one of the world’s most complete and ancient abandoned Mayan temple cities.
Discovery of the ancient site dates back to the mid-19th century when a gum-sapper reported the ruins to a Guatemalan newspaper, prompting a scientific gold rush for exploration and research. Since then, Tikal has become one of the largest archaeological sites of the Mayan civilization. Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1979, the national park was established to preserve the ruins and engender a public appreciation for the history, culture, and architecture of the influential society long since gone.
Some of the Mayan buildings at Tikal have been dated back to the 4th century BC although archaeological records show that the city’s inhabitants reached their cultural peak from 200 to 900 AD. Studies suggest that Tikal was the centerpiece of much of the Mayan civilization throughout the Guatemalan region, operating as a financial, military, and political center until it was reportedly conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century. This started a decline in population that culminated in the eventual demise of the civilization as a whole and the disappearance of a prominent Central American culture.
The city of Tikal fell into ruin, abandoned and concealed by skyscraper trees, thick foliage, and an air of mystery. After its discovery, the site was cleared and has been continuously maintained, offering admission to the park as a site of extremely important heritage not only for native Central Americans but for modern society worldwide. The main attraction in the Tikal park is the Grand Plaza and Temple I, a religious ceremonial center dedicated to the Mayan jaguar god. One of the city’s greatest rulers was uncovered within Temple I and it is to him that the building of the great temple is attributed. Other temples and sites to be seen at Tikal include the Temple of the Masks, one of the best-restored temples on the premises, and Temple IV thought to be the tallest building ever created in Mayan society. The views from Temple IV are said to be the best in the area, granting sublime views of the surrounding forests and other temples whose peaks break through the foliage. Although there are several temples already uncovered, it is estimated that only 30% of them have been found.
Unlike its sister cities Chichen Itza and Tulum, Tikal remains shrouded in the jungle, playing home to millions of native creatures. For centuries, the only inhabitants of the city were animals and you can still see scarlet macaws flying over the city, hear howler monkeys sing their screeching song, and perhaps even glimpse the elusive and elegant jaguar that the Mayans worshipped devoutly. Within the park, there are 54 species of mammals, 333 species of birds, and a countless variety of insects and hidden creatures. From the colorful wild turkeys roaming the property to the regional Guatemalan black howler monkey, you will find that Tikal is not as abandoned as some may think.