In the heart of the northern Guatemalan rainforest lives Tikal, an ancient Mayan civilization.
Tikal was inhibited from the 6th century BC to the 10th century AD. It's estimated to be comprised of thousands of temples, palaces, ceremonial platforms, small and medium sized residences, ball-game courts, terraces, roads, large and small squares on approximately 57,600 hectares of land, 400 hectares of which were the inner urban zone.
Tikal is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed as both Cultural and Natural, for it's archaeology and biodiversity!
The diverse ecosystems and habitats harbor a wide variety of fauna and flora. Five cats, including Jaguar and Puma, several species of monkeys and anteaters and more than 300 species of birds are among the notable wildlife. The forests comprise more than 200 species of trees and over 2000 plants have been recorded across the diverse habitats.
Tikal is one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites, serving as a major Maya capital throughout much of it's history.
FUN FACT: Tikal is such a beautiful, lush rainforest with stunning architecture that it was featured in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope! You can clearly see Temples I, II and III peering out from above the jungle tops.
Like the rest of great Mayan cities, TIkal fell into decline around 900 CE and was eventually reclaimed by the jungle. It would only be rediscovered in the mid-19th century CE.
However, archeologists began excavations in the mid 1950's. Because of it's important and sensitive nature, excavations have been so slow that roughly only 15% of the site have been studied.
Tikal was declared a national monument in 1931 and a national park in 1955, one of Guatemala's first protected areas. In 1979, Tikal was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Getting To Tikal
Tikal is located in the northern region of Petén in Guatemala.
You can get to Tikal by a shuttle or collectivo from the towns of Flores (most common), El Remate or at the park. At the park there's options for lodging or camping.
I stayed in El Remate, a smaller, quieter, more local alternative to Flores. Additionally, you can swim in the lake by El Remate and not in Flores!
In addition to the regular entrance, you have the option to go for a sunrise or sunset tour.
We opted for the sunrise tour which left El Remate at 3:45am. Although we could not actually see the sun rising over the jungle and ruins due to clouds (this is the rainforest, after all) it was a magical experience nonetheless.
We sat there on Temple IV, listening to the howler monkeys, watching the mist of the morning move with the breeze between the rainforest trees.
We spent the rest of the morning wandering through the streets to different temples, admiring the plants, spider monkeys, toucans, tarantulas, bats and other wildlife!
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