Guatemala: Tikal, Ancient Mayan Ruins

After visiting Guatemala numerous times, I was finally able to experience the Tikal ruins in Petén. Because we flew into the capital, our ride time to Tikal was a little over 12 hours (530 km). And the entire way there was driving through a tropical rainforest. Green, lush forests with trees towering high to cover the road, birds in varying colors I had never seen before, sporadic rain clouds, and some farm animals on cleared land. We listened to a salsa album the entire way there. You could say it was a good Monday morning.

Road to Tikal.

When we finally arrived at Tikal, a guard at the gate asked for our IDs. He handed us park guides and told us to be careful for the wild jaguar in the park. We all looked at each other with confused faces when he told us that. Then he opened the gate and wished us well.

The guard was past this welcome sign.

As I got out of the car, it felt like walking into a blanket of dew. Humidity was easily at 90% and the sun was glaring down. It made me think, “Why on earth would the Mayans build the ruins in this place?” Nonetheless, I was about to find out.

The entire Tikal National Park is a reservation that is 220 square mi. (570 square km) and is located in between the Flores and Santa Ana regions of Guatemala, and west of Belize. It was discovered in 1848 after the Guatemalan government made out an expedition to that area. The Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History restored Tikal’s structures to their current condition during the 1950s and 1960s. Then in 1979, UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, designated the ruins as a World Heritage Site. It is the symbol of pride for Guatemala.

Tikal park map
Tikal park map with the Gran Plaza in the middle and small roads to get from site to site.

We followed the path left for about 20 minutes and the first structure was Temple V. It is the second highest structure in Tikal and in pre-colonial (1607 AD) America. It stands at 187 ft. high. Temple V is believed to have been a burial site for one of their leaders and that opening at the top was to welcome the gods. Unfortunately, it was blocked off to climb due to the steep and crumbling stairs.

Temple V at the Tikal Ruins is blocked off.
Temple V at the Tikal ruins.
Pathway to the sites.
Pathway to the sites.

The next structure was the Plaza of the Seven Temples. The majority of them were still covered by grass on some sides. The question remains as to why these seven temples were built surrounding one another.

Part of the Seven Temples lined up next to eachother
Part of the Seven Temples lined up next to each other.

This is an illustration of what the layout actually looks like.

Plaza of Seven Temples original layout.
Plaza of Seven Temples original layout.

It was now later in the day and we were all dripping sweat because of the humidity and high temperatures. We kept following the path and with no breeze on the ground we wanted to catch some air.

And that we did, at the tallest and my favorite temple in the reserve.

Temple IV is the largest temple to be erected by the Mayan civilization. The pyramid was built to mark the reign of the 27th king of the Tikal dynasty, Yik’in Chan K’awiil. Although, it may have been built after his death as his burial temple.

Luckily, they have built stairs on the side to facilitate climbing to the top.

It is a must if you visit these ruins.

Stairs at Temple IV
Stairs at Temple IV.

Temple IV offers the best views, and breeze, at the National Park being that it is 215 ft. high! When I first got to the top, I was glued to the side of the temple to make sure I didn’t fall. There weren’t any barriers keeping you from falling to your death, except some branches. After five minutes, I got used to it and dared to step by the ledge. This is the photo I took.

View from the top of Temple IV. Approx. 215 ft high. With views of the main temples (I & II) at the Gran Plaza.

I can literally still feel the breeze from this moment as I write this. It was inspiring.

As we were finally able to unglue my younger sister off the wall at the pyramid, we descended from Temple IV. Close by was the core of it all. The Gran Plaza.

Sister did not want to leave the wall.
Sister did not want to leave the wall.

The Gran Plaza was where the Mayan leaders and civilians gathered and would make sacrifices to the gods and perform their rituals. Temple I, pictured here, is about 164 ft. high and was created for their greatest ruler, Ah Cacao (Lord Chocolate). In fact, his tomb was uncovered here in 1958 by archaeologists restoring the pyramid!

Gran Plaza at Tikal. Temple I is pictured here. I was standing on a platform at Temple II.
View of Temple I from the ground.

Temple II was built in honor of Lady Kalajuun Une’ Mo’, wife of Jasaw Chan K’awiil (Ah Cacao) and queen. It is the best restored temple at the ruins. Standing at 125 ft. high, it offers views of the Gran Plaza and features the queens face carved onto the wall.

View of Temple II from the ground. Where the black and white meet, there is a platform.

By the time we were done with exploring the entire park, I was exhausted and enlightened at the same time. It was such a magical and inspiring place that put things into perspective regarding the rise and decline of civilizations. The hard work put into a society and the outcome that can have an everlasting impact for generations to come. It was astonishing to see and touch these structures.

If you ever visit Guatemala, Tikal better be first on your list.

Also, I am happy to report that we never encountered the resident jaguar. Although, it would have been sweet!

Note: I have omitted various other temples and structures that are essential to the Mayan ruins for the sake of a condensed post. If you have anymore questions or comments regarding Tikal, please leave a response below.

Thanks for reading!

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