The ancient Mayan site of Tikal is the largest excavated site in the Americas. It is one of only a few sites in the world that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on both natural and cultural criteria, for its archaeological importance and its incredible biodiversity.
Tikal, or as the Mayans called it, Yax Mutal (the first flower), offers an extraordinary glimpse into a civilisation whose immense cultural, scientific and societal achievements, and mysterious decline, are a source of endless fascination.
Tikal is believed to have flourished between 200-900AD before being abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle. During that period it was a ceremonial hub and the first mega-city of the Mayan world. At its peak, as many as 100,000 people inhabited this Mayan superpower.
Reasons for its decline and abandonment are still unknown with theories ranging from the jungle famine or pestilence, constant warfare with neighbouring cities, and even alien abduction! It was officially rediscovered in 1848 and excavated and restored during the 1950’s and 1960’s by the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology.
Built across 15 square kilometres and containing some 3000 structures, including palaces, reservoirs, market complexes, temples and ball courts, nestled amongst the dense tropical rainforest, Tikal is an unmissable stop on any trip to Guatemala. The earliest structures are found in the North Acropolis. The Great Plaza features the mammoth pyramid structures of the Temple of the Jaguar and the Temple of the Masks and is the location of the five-storey royal palace. Typical of Mayan pyramid architecture, each pyramid comprises nine levels to represent the nine levels of the Mayan afterlife. The Lost World or Mundo Maya complex is dominated by the vast Lost World Pyramid which is surrounded by several smaller temples. Pyramid IV is the tallest pyramid in Tikal and, at 70m tall, the largest in the Mayan world. Also known as the Two-Headed Serpent Temple, it is familiar to film fans as a location where part of the original Star Wars was shot. Wide causeways that meander through the jungle join the building complexes.
This site is remarkable, but recent archaeological developments have shown that we have only scratched the very surface of Tikal. In February 2018 scientists using aerial laser technology have identified vast tracts of still hidden ruins. Some 60,000 previously unknown structures still lie hidden beneath the jungle waiting to be excavated.
Tikal archaeology site is located in Tikal National Park, an area of incredible biodiversity. As you explore the ancient Mayan structures and admire the ongoing restoration works, you will walk through rainforest teeming with flora and fauna, enjoy exotic birding and possibly spot jungle residents including monkeys, foxes, ocellated turkeys and agoutis.