The ancient Maya city of Tikal is one of the great attractions on the Maya Trail. The Mayan Trail stretches from the Yucatan in Mexico, into Guatemala, and all throughout Belize. It is a common stop for backpackers looking to see the best of the Mayan heartland. If you can only see one Maya site, Tikal National Park is our top pick for Maya travel destination in 2012.
Located within the Peten Maya Biosphere Reserve, which covers a huge portion of Northern Guatemala, Tikal is one of many archaeology sites in the area. It was once a great capital city during Classic Maya times. It remained extremely important until neighboring capital Caracol conquered the city in 556 AD. A 130 year hiatus of building ensued. Only after Tikal conquered Caracol’s closest ally, Calakmul, in 695 AD did Tikal regain it’s significance in the Maya world. It was after this time that the 5 largest Maya temples were built. Great Mayan monuments continued to be built until 869 AD, the last recorded date on Stela 24 at Tikal.
Amazingly, it is possible to climb to the top of these Mayan temples, though it requires using narrow ladders built along the side of the structures. It’s much easier up than down!
The temples stretch above the jungle canopy making for breathtaking views. In fact, the view was so perfect that George Lucas used it in the making of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The shot where a Rebel oversees the Millennium Falcon landing on Yavin was taken on top of a building known as Temple IV looking east where Temple I, II and III can be seen on film.
Tikal sits within a vast nature reserve, and wildlife sightings are very common. Expect to have photo opportunities of Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Quash, and many different birds. Make sure you don’t hit any driving in!
Tikal is a common travel destination for people vacationing in Belize. It’s close proximity ( about 2 hours) from San Ignacio in Western Belize, makes it a great day trip while in Belize. Tomorrow we will do a story on getting to Tikal from Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Western Belize by organized tour, public transit, or rented vehicle.