"Tikal--The Mayan World's Greatest City Ever" Top 5 Page for this destination Parque Nacional Tikal by atufft

Parque Nacional Tikal Travel Guide: 314 reviews and 1,008 photos

BEFORE you go, read several books:-)

One of the challenges of visiting the Mayan ruins is figuring out what means what. The layout and mythology of the Mayan world is rather remote from the sensibilities of European and North American travelers. The streets and organization of buildings at Tikal were not layed out with a definite plan as, for example was Teotihuacan in Mexico. In addition, overbuilding that covers over much history for the visitor, erosion by tropical rains and the occasional hurricane, and overgrowth by tropic vegetation all make it difficult for one to visualize the life among the ruins in this obviously once huge city. Tikal had between 100,000 and 200,00 inhabitants at its height, during the fifth century AD, more than London or Paris, and was the center of a vast trading empire on the Yucatan peninsula. The residential area of the city is estimated to be some 23 square miles, though most of this remains buried by jungle, so the central temple complexes where tourists wander represent the center of the city for worship, government, and palace living. Tikal motifs have been found as far north as the valley of Mexico and south into Nicaragua. Thus, the influence of Tikal was once enormous considering that neither beast of burden nor the wheel assisted in transportation.

Tikal has multiple layers of construction

In my "general tips" section, I provide the dynastic order of rulers for Tikal. Like any city that lasts nearly a millenium, the city has various layers of construction and re-construction. Beginning around 100 AD, pre-classical inscriptions show emergence of the city state, most notably under the Great Jaguar Paw. During pre-classical and early classical periods unique Tikal contributions in art, and presummably in literature and control of commerce within the Peten valley. By the end of the late early classical period, the son of the ruler of Teotihuacan rules Tikal, and there's a tremendous influence of the Teotihuacan on Tikal art. Neighborhoods within Tikal are filled with foreignn residents from this powerful Mexican city. No Mayan military inscriptions date before 486 AD, more than a century after the "arrival of the strangers" to Tikal and coincidental death of the Mayan ruler, so how Mexico influenced Tikal beyond its enormous production of pottery and commercial trade remains largely a secret. Tikal was both early to accept foreign influence and early to find it's own resurgent renaissance of art and power, which began the Middle Classic Period. At this time, the great-grand children of the Teotihuacan rulers reasserted a unique Tikal style that also harkens back to the early great period of the city. Yet, this was a high point for production as well, and the city swelled in size as it cooperated with Copan to control resources and trade in the Mayan highlands. By the late middle classic period, Tikal's conquest over other city states are recorded; however at other Mayan sites, even as far away as Palenque, Tikal's defeats by rivals Dos Pilos and Calakmal are recorded between 677 and 670 AD. Thus, began a resurgent population growth and trade to about 900 AD when a collapse appears to have occurred within the Peten region generally.

Sadly, most stellas are elsewhere

The visit to Tikal should be mainly one of surveying the size of the city and the immense size of the temples because much of the ornate enscribed stones and unearthed pottery are in museums and private collections in Guatemala City, Europe, and the USA. In one of my tips for the De Young Museum in San Francisco, for example, there is a wonderful stella, as well as many pieces of pottery, that won't be found at Tikal. Lintels over doorways though, which are frequently symbolically inscribed, tend to be an exception to the cart it off to the museum practice, due to their structural importance and relative protection from the sun and rain. Shooting good images of lintels is not easy, unfortunately. Contrasting glare of the sun and deep shadow, plus a bit of neck strain may be the price to pay. Incidentally, in my work here, image captions are certainly not guaranteed. The temples are easy to get confused, so if someone wants to e-mail me corrections, please do. Otherwise, casual tourists to the area will get a good idea of the layout as hiked by me and my wife. For those interested in other destinations in Guatemala, check out my other pages for the nearby island town of Flores, frontier town and the great Mayan ruins of El Ceibal at Sayaxche, Mayan mountain towns of Coban, Uspantan, Sacapulcas, and Huehuetenango. Also, Lago de Atitlan and its relaxing atmosphere is not to be missed in Guatemala. Other great Mayan ruins to consider include Yaxchilan and Palenque in Mexico, both which are within a day or so by bus.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:The immense scale of Tikal makes for good hiking and great views
  • Cons:Don't expect to see everything in one day
  • In a nutshell:Tikal should be on the short list of Mayan ruins to visit, and maybe the best
  • Last visit to Parque Nacional Tikal: Dec 2003
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (17)

Comments (9)

  • TomJenner's Profile Photo
    Feb 26, 2008 at 12:13 PM

    Tikal is one of the top birding sites in Central America. I have a page on birding at Tikal on my website mayanbirding.com, including a list of the species. Tom

  • roamer61's Profile Photo
    Aug 4, 2007 at 6:02 AM

    Great tips and pics. Located high up on my list, I look forward to when I eventually will go there.

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    May 4, 2007 at 11:00 AM

    Alan - nice updates... Keep up the good work! Joe

  • ChristinaNest's Profile Photo
    Mar 15, 2007 at 9:11 AM

    I love visiting ruins, I'd love to see these. Great motto by the way

  • easterntrekker's Profile Photo
    Jan 5, 2007 at 10:24 AM

    Loved your pages and tips. We made notes for our trip there in a few weeks!

  • Hopkid's Profile Photo
    Nov 22, 2006 at 9:31 AM

    Love your tips and photos on Tikal! I cannot wait to get to Guatemala!

  • leonik's Profile Photo
    Apr 3, 2006 at 5:07 PM

    nice tikal photos! i've to get over my fear of heights and narrow steps!!! wondering if i should put up in el remate instead...

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Mar 8, 2006 at 5:02 AM

    Great photos and information on Tikal Nacional Park!! I missed Temple III entirely, so it was nice to see it from your perspective! We had limited time so missed out on Flores - it looks very interesting too!

  • Sininen's Profile Photo
    Feb 17, 2006 at 10:49 PM

    Hi Alan! Great start on your Tikal page. On my next trip to Central America I will definitely visit Guatemala and Tikal.


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