Tikal is a large archaeological site in the Guatemalan department of Petén

During the Classic Period it was one of the largest and most important of the Mayan cities. Today it’s one of the most fascinating and enjoyable of the Mayan sites to visit, largely due to its remoteness, but also its jungle setting. Tourists still descend on it by the busload, but it’s far from feeling overrun like Chichen Itza and other sites. Some of the temples are still being uncovered, and you can watch archaeologists busy at work. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.

Tikal was a Maya city of great power and size, the largest of Maya cities during the “Classic Era” over 1000 years ago. Many beautiful buildings have been uncovered and many more wait to be discovered. Amongst the many Maya sites in Central America, Tikal is perhaps the most breathtaking because of the scattered impressive buildings which have been restored in an area with many more ruined buildings still enveloped by the jungle. The sight of the temples poking through the canopy is quite awesome. You can climb to the top of a few of the temples and get panoramic views from above the tree tops.

Tikal dates back as far as 400 BC, and grew into one of the largest and most powerful of the Mayan cities during the Classic Period (AD 200-900). It often clashed with other cities in the region, and was eventually defeated by Caracol in 562 AD. King Ah Cacau returned Tikal to its former glory about a century later, and it remained somewhat prosperous until the general decline of Mayan civilization set in around AD 900.

Tikal was eventually abandoned completely, consumed by the jungle, and pretty much fell off the map. Stories of its existence started to surface in the 17th & 18th centuries, but it wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that expeditions were hatched to explore and map it. After a hundred years of roughing it overland by horse and foot to reach the site, a small airstrip was built in the mid-fifties. The University of Pennsylvania oversaw major excavation work at Tikal during the 1960’s, and the in the late 1970’s, the government of Guatemala began the work you still see being done today.

During colonial times there was a legend spoken among the indigenous peoples in Guatemala of a lost city inside the jungle where their ancestors had thrived. In 1848 this legend became a reality. Tikal was discovered, arousing curiosity around the world.

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The Kingdom of the Maya  •  Locations & Activities


Cancun

Chichen Itza

Palenque

Uxmal

Tulum Ruins

Tikal

History