Of all the land trips available to take in Guatemala the one that we kept hearing was not to be missed was the trip to the famous ruins at Tikal, El Peten, birthplace of the Mayas. There are many other unique archelogical and natural treasures hidden in the dense, tropical jungle of Peten, the second largest department (province/state) in the country. Peten covers approximately one third of Guatamala and yet contains just over three percent of the population. Unlike other parts of the country there are still vast areas totally untouched by man in Peten.
Peten is believed to be both the birthplace and the heartland of the Maya civilization.
Towering above the rain forest, Tikal is known to be the most magnificent of all Mayan sites and is the prime attraction for tourists visiting Peten. Surrounding Tikal is the 160,000 square kilometre Reserva de la Biosfera Maya, the largest tropical forest reserve in Central America. The area is rich in wildlife, including over 285 species of birds, tapirs, ocelots, deer, coatis, jaguars, monkeys, crocidiles, snakes, insects and butterflies.
The sheer size of the ruins of Tikal leaves a lasting impression. The Central area, which took us approx 5 hours to explore on foot represents only about 3 square miles of a total 22 square mile area. Satellite imagery detects approx 10,000 structures, with about 4,000, including temples, palaces, engraved rocks and ball game courts found in the Central Area, half of which is open to visitors.
The pyramids of Tikal are considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are seven sets of twinned pyramids at the site, an archeological feature found only in the Tikal region.
Civilization existed at Tikal between 700 BC to 900 AD, with a population of 150,000 at it's peak.
There is a long and fascinating history of Tikal, our guide book alone devotes numerous pages to the subject. Our guide, Juan, who was recommended by other boaters here at Mario's Marina was fantastic. During the 4 hour tour he shared a wealth of information about the Mayan civilization, theories about the downfall of Tikal, theories about natural cycles of drought(which the area is suffering from presently)and information about the flora and fauna.
We walked many miles and I climbed to the top of one pyramid and two temples. The temples are numbered in the order that they were discovered, not the order they were built or the order they are seen when touring the site.
We were shaded by the jungle most of the time so it wasn't as hot as we had expected, also we got a very early start. We were picked up at 5:30 am at our hotel and arrived at the park at 6 a.m.
There are many websites with information about Tikal for anyone interested in more of it's history. We found it fascinating and have continued to read about it since visiting. More info on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikal.