All About Tikal National Park - Guatemala

 Chris VR / TripSavvy

There are many reasons to visit Guatemala. But one of the main ones is to visit its Mayan archaeological sites.  There are tons of them spread through the country. Being one of the most spectacular ones the one known as Tikal.

Tikal National Park was created in 1990 to protect the surrounding jungle and what remains of one of the largest Mayan cities that ever existed.

Touring it can take anything from one to three days depending on how much you want to see. You are even allowed to camp within the park.

The place is extremely interesting, in it you get to learn tons of interesting facts about the ancient Maya. 

The Park's History

Marina K. Villatoro
  • Tikal National Park encompasses 575 square kilometers of jungle. 
  • The area that most of the visitors see covers only about 16 square kilometers.
  • There are thousands of ruined structures within the park, many of them haven’t been excavated.
  • The central part of the ancient city alone contains 3,000 buildings. 
  • Tikal is also part of the one-million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve created to protect the forest of the Peten.
  • The Maya settled in this area around the year 900 BC.
  • Tikal quickly grew into an important ceremonial, cultural, and commercial center. 
  • Most of the city's huge temples were constructed during the eighth century AD. 
  • Tikal was one of the greatest cities the Maya world with a population of up to 100,000.
  • Tikal fell into decline at the end of the ninth century and was virtually abandoned. 
  • The cause for its decline aren’t clear but experts think it might have been overpopulation and resource depletion.
  • Tikal's magnificent stone monuments languished for centuries and were gradually reclaimed by the jungle. 
  • By the time Hernan Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico marched into Tikal in 1525 they found nothing but 40-meter-tall silk, cotton, cedar and mahogany trees.
  • It wasn't until 1848 that an expedition sent out by the Guatemalan government officially discovered the ruins. 
  • The Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History restored Tikal's structures to their current condition. 
  • UNESCO designated the ruins a World Heritage Site in 1979. 
  • Today Tikal is to Guatemala are a national symbol and a source of pride in the past. 

Facts About the Park

 Chris VR / TripSavvy
  • What most people see in photos are the buildings of its iconic central plaza with two temples terraces, palaces and ball courts around it.
  • The most famous structure is Temple I. It rises 50 meters above the plaza's eastern end.
  • A stone stairway leads up the pyramid's nine tiers, corresponding to the nine levels of the Mayan underworld.
  • In 1958, archaeologists discovered the tomb of Ah Cacau (Lord Chocolate), one of Tikal's greatest rulers, inside Temple I.
  • You can see a replica of this elaborate tomb in the Tikal Museum near the visitors' center.
  • Temple of the Masks or Temple II (the shorter one) offers the best views of the plaza.
  • The tallest structure in the whole Tikal complex is Temple IV. From here you get to see tons of the structures from above the trees. 

Wildlife of Tikal

Marina K. Villatoro

Tikal National Park is one of the few Mayan sites that are hidden deep in the jungle.

To go from a building to the next one or to reach their plazas you have to go for a walk along the jungle. during those walks you are likely to find at least one animal. It is a rare thing when a visitor doesn't see anything.

That is because nobody is allowed to hunt or shoot animals in the 360 square kilometers of protected forest in Tikal National Park.

The National Park is home to at least 54 species of mammals and 333 species of birds.

This is still one of those places where you can still easily see more birds than people at Tikal. A few of the species you might come across are:

  • Toucans
  • Parrots
  • Wild turkeys
  • Howler monkeys  
  • Raccoon-like coatimundis
  • Jaguars
  • Crocodiles 

Park´s Information and Contact

Marina K. Villatoro

The park is open daily from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Adult tickets for foreigners cost 150 GTQ ($20 USD).
Children under 12 can enter Tikal free of charge.

For more information contact the Guatemalan Tourism Board.

This park is a definite must visit when you travel to Guatemala.

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