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Chasing World Heritage: #169 (Tikal)

Tikal is one of the most important monuments left behind by the Mayan civilization. The history of the huge – in the context of times – city spans over fifteen centuries, reaching its apex between 200 and 900 CE before rapidly declining at the beginning of the 10th century. It is one of the earliest entries on the World Heritage list (since 1979), recognized both for its cultural significance and for the biodiversity of the surrounding forests.

This 1:300-scale model of the archaeological site is found at the popular souvenir shop in the nearby village of El Caoba. We are looking at it as if from the West. The cluster of buildings roughly in the model’s center denotes the Grand Plaza, where an intraday visitor to Tikal would spend the largest portion of their time at the site. We will also stop by and climb the Lost World Pyramid (shown in an enclosure on the right) and the highest of them all Temple IV (at the bottom of the perspective).
Tikal
On the approach road, the signs warn about potential animal crossings.
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
Here is the 180° view of the Grand Plaza from the top terrace of the Temple of the Mask (known in registry terms as Temple II). On the opposite side of the plaza, there stands a slightly taller but not climbable Temple I, aka the Temple of the Great Jaguar.
Tikal
A few various angles of the structures around the plaza, which include other temples and acropolises.
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
The fire is from a daily Mayan ceremony that is performed for the tourists’ benefit but felt happening in passing.

A closer look at the platform at the Temple of the Mask. Access to the major (but not all) elevated viewpoints at Tikal is via purpose-built wooden staircases and platforms that are reasonably secure, not too hard to climb, and most importantly not too obtrusive visually.
Tikal
The huge Tikal site is full of structures in different stages of excavation and maintenance. Our guide mentioned that no more than 20% of the city has been excavated and cleared. The rest remains covered by the jungle, and there is limited appetite for continuing excavation given the prospective high cost of ongoing maintenance.

The next few shots are glimpses of various buildings in different states of accessibility, as well as of the tops of high temples seen above the jungle.
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
We are now standing at the top of the Lost World Pyramid. The Grand Plaza buildings are on the right in this perspective, with the top of the less-accessible Temple III (aka, the Temple of the Jaguar Priest) on the left.
Tikal
Tikal
The above shot is the view of Temple IV from the Lost World Pyramid and the below shot is the perspective from that highest perch near the top of Temple IV towards the Grand Plaza (now on the left) and the Temple of the Jaguar Priest.
Tikal
Temple IV does not seem to have a nickname. It is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas, although a couple of others may have been taller in their heyday.

The giant ceiba tree is among the highlights of the site. Also called kapok, it is both the national tree of Guatemala and the sacred tree of life for the Maya.
Tikal
Tikal
And here are a couple of animals that those signs warned us to watch out for: a white-nosed coati and a turkey.
Tikal
Tikal
Tikal
We did not see any big cats or other more dangerous animals. They tend to be nocturnal.

To get to Tikal from Western Belize, we drove along the only major east-west highway in the Guatemalan department of El Petén. The shots I took through the van windows hardly deserve a separate post, so I am including them here. Lots of greenery with occasional colorful splashes around the sixteen villages along the way.
In Guatemala
In Guatemala
In Guatemala
In Guatemala
In Guatemala
In Guatemala
In Guatemala
And a couple of shots of Lake Petén Itzá, with the “sleeping crocodile” on the right.
In Guatemala
In Guatemala

A true connoisseur could probably spend several days in Tikal, exploring all of the different remnants of the ancient civilization. The main highlights can be seen in the space of three to four hours, once you are in the archaeological site core. There may be fairly long waits both at the National Park entrance and at the Tikal visitor center entrance, and if you do not make use of an infrequent shuttle to the central part of the site, the walk uphill from the visitor center is non-trivial as well.

The day trip from San Ignacio takes about nine hours in total, including border crossings, the drives, and the lunch onsite. Having a guide saved us the aforementioned wait times and obviously helped with both the narration and the navigation of the site. Having a driver with superior pothole-evading skills was also beneficial, as the road was well-paved only inside the park and on a stretch close to the border. TikalGo offers both group and private options.