The name Tikal means "place of voices" in the language of the local Itza Maya. Its original name is lost in time, but may have been Yax Mutal—capital of the mighty Mutal kingdom. Anciently, Tikal was a commercial and military superpower and an important ritual center.
Evidence suggests settlement at Tikal as early as 800 BC. The city reached its zenith during the Maya Classic Period (250 to 900 AD), with an estimated population of 100,000. Over 3,000 structures have been identified at the site: temples, monumental stelae, ballcourts, tombs, and palaces. The residential area is thought to cover 23 square miles.
Tikal was defeated by neighboring Caracol (in present-day Belize) in 562 AD, and the city was abandoned by the 10th century. Although never fully lost, the first scientific expedition did not arrive until 1848. Intensive clearing and restoration began in the 1950s, and today Tikal is one of the world's most extensively restored ancient cities. UNESCO declared Tikal a World Heritage Site in 1979, acknowledging the site as a "masterpiece of human creative genius".
Tikal rests on a low hill surrounded by thick rainforest. This is an excellent place to view enormous, flat-topped Ceiba (Ceiba pentandra) trees, which as sacred to the Maya and symbolic of their cosmology. Howler monkeys, coatis, parrots, and toucans are common in this area. Approximately 300 other avian species have been sighted here, as have jaguars and pumas.
Elevated causeways connect the city's plaza and temple clusters. The city's cultural heart—The Great Plaza—is flanked on the east by Temple I (Temple of the Grand Jaguar) and on the west by Temple II (Moon Temple or Temple of the Masks). To the north, eight pyramids surrounded by tombs and monuments make up the North Acropolis. To the south, the Central Acropolis contains six courts lined with wall-like palaces.
To the southwest, Temple V (Lost World Pyramid) surrounds 38 structures. Tunnels reveal four other temples nested inside this pyramid, the earliest dating to 700 BC. Temple III, located west of the Great Plaza, has not yet to be uncovered and allows visitors to experience the site as it was before excavation.
Tikal's highest structure is Temple IV (Temple of the Inscriptions or the Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent), rises 212 feet and provides excellent views of the other temples and surrounding jungle. This is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the New World.
Tikal is located in Guatemala's northern Peten region, 40 miles or approximately one hour northeast of Flores. Fine lakeside lodging is available 20 miles to the south near the town of El Remate. Daily flights connect Flores to Guatemala City (50 minutes) and Belize City (45 minutes). By land, Tikal is approximately 2.5 hours' drive from San Ignacio, Belize.
The best time to visit is December through May, when rain is less likely. High temperatures can reach into the 90s between April and September. Sun protection and rain gear are recommended year-round.
Mosaico Travel Services arranges personalized travel to Tikal and throughout Guatemala. Trips to Tikal can be combined with vacations to the beaches of Belize and the highlands of Guatemala. We organize luxury accommodation, private transportation, and tours with expert guides. Speak with a Mosaico travel planner today at 801.582.2100. We’ll take care of the details.
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