Tikal National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must see when visiting Guatemala. This major Mayan site was inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. Thirty-three rulers have been documented to have reigned during this time period. Palaces, temples, monuments, residential areas and ceremonial platforms are all part of the 3,000 buildings in the area, and only about 30% of the structures have been unearthed. Tikal is estimated to have been home to 100,000 Maya during it's time, making it the Maya's greatest city. In fact, the Maya people still hold traditional ceremonies here.
Tikal means “in the lagoon” or “at the watering hole,” but it is also referred to as “the place of spirit voices.” In ancient times it was said to be called Mutal. Tikal was discovered in 1848 by Ambrosio Tut, a gum collector. Why such a great civilization fell is unknown, but there is speculation that drought or deforestation may have played a role. Excavation was performed largely by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology as well as many independent archaeologists, the most notable being William R. Coe.
There are no rivers or lakes nearby, so the Maya created reservoirs to collect seasonal rainfall. The Maya were extremely advanced and understood mathematics, astronomy and engineering. Tikal residents created a calendar with 365 days, and their lunar cycle has been calculated to only be seven minutes off of actual cycles. The spacial arrangement of the temples are no mistake, either; they have an alignment with the sunrise and sunset at the time of the equinoxes, which is otherwise known as an astronomical matrix. For example, in the oldest section of the park, known as The Lost World, the Great Pyramid aligns with the rising sun at the spring solstice (north building), the equinox (center building), and the winter solstice (south building).
Covering more than 222.4 square miles in the heart of the jungle, Tikal’s biodiversity comprises wetlands, savannah, tropical palm and broadleaf forests. There are 54 species of mammals and 333 species of birds within the park. You will cross the paths of busy leaf cutter ants at work, see termite balls, and catch glimpses of the animals that call this park home. Bird calls and howler monkeys can be heard throughout the park.
The park has two hotels and a campground for guests who want to visit for more than one day. There is a museum and restaurant near the front. The park has several bathrooms near picnic tables under a covering where drinks and snacks are sold (cash only). U.S. dollars are usually accepted, but you can exchange some money prior to your visit. Although you can visit the park on your own, you would be doing yourself a favor by hiring one of the extremely knowledgeable local guides.