Decoding The Maya: Tikal, Guatemala


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Part of the Plaza Mayor

Located in the Northeast region of Guatemala, the Mayan citadel of Tikal is a sight to behold. Inhabited from  6th century B.C.E. until 10th century C.E. Tikal is home to huge temples and extravagant palaces with humble dwellings on the outskirts of the town, with many more scattered around the remaining countryside.

A tour of the park reveals lush, jungle like vegetation, a variety of animals (beware of the over-friendly coati), and the indescribable intelligence and advanced thinking of the Mayan people, evident in the intricate temples. Many of the buildings align with different aspects of the solar system, and mark important solar dates, including eclipses.

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Sunrise from Temple XI

A neat thing about Tikal that sets it apart from other ancient ruins is its relative lack of development. The park is left for you to explore, so pick whatever path intrigues you and follow the winding, loosely explained trails deep into the forest to discover new pyramids that rise suddenly out of the jungle. Definitely walk around and explore on your own, but also be sure to hop on some sort of tour. The guides are wonderful, passionate people that know a ton about the region and all of the advancements of the Maya. For example, if you stand in the center of the Plaza Mayor and clap, the placement and slope of the surrounding pyramid steps exactly echoes the call of the Quetzal bird (the national symbol of Guatemala and very important to the Mayans). Incredible!

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Mayan hieroglyphics are on many of the temples

My last recommendation? Do the sunrise tour. The tour begins around 4am and includes an hour-long trek through the jungle—be sure to look up and check out the stars, at Temple IV. Perched on the steps of Temple IV witness the jungle come alive. Sit in awe and hear the animals wake, watch a shifting mist appear over the canopy as the sky lightens, and finally, see the tops of temples peak through among treetops as the sun appears on the distant horizon.

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Sunrise from Temple XI

How to get there and where to stay:

You have two options, bus or fly. Daily flights go from Guatemala City to Flores and are about an hour long. Once you land in Flores, it’s an hour and a half drive to the park. Accommodations are available in Flores or inside of the Tikal National Park. If you stay inside the park, it’s going to be more expensive, but the added convenience undoubtedly makes it worthwhile.

Find more detailed information about Tikal, a World Heritage site since 1979, at UNESCO.

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Watching the mist rise out of the trees

map tikal national park guatemalaSEE IT FOR YOURSELF!

Tikal National Park

Tikal Plaza Mayor, 3 Tikal, Guatemala (map, website)

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