One of the most popular destinations in Guatemala is the location of the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. Located way up in the northeast of the country it is just west of Belize and southwest of the Mayan Peninsula. The ruins at Tikal are some of the largest in the Americas; excavation has only been a small fraction of the buildings and archaeologists will likely be excavating and learning about the Mayans for the next two centuries.
What is most amazing about this site is that it went “missing” for centuries. The jungle just swallowed up this city that was once the size of a modern city. As you look at these photos, try to imagine this entire area clear-cut for many miles similar to the ruins at Teotihuacan. If you have seen Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto you’ll have some idea of what this place may have been like during the zenith of its history.
After parking in the lot and paying our park fee we began to walk towards the pyramids – some of the most famous spots in the site. We noticed the Ceiba tree (below), it is the national tree of Guatemala. As we made our way along the thick jungle trail we had glimpses of the pyramids that were hidden under the canopy of jungle (top photo).
As we continued along the path towards the pyramid complexes we ran into dozens of little lemur type animals called the Coatimundi. So the guidebook says that these little creatures can be quite fierce and that you shouldn’t mix with them but they seemed harmless enough and all of the tourists were feeding them all kinds of junk food. Poor little buggers will probably have heart attacks at mid-life from all the processed junk food…
This area was first inhabited about 2,000 BC and reached the height of its civilization in the 7th or 8th centuries AD. The civilization here, much like many in the Americas, had a sudden collapse. The exact reason for the collapse is unknown; some attribute the ruin of Tikal to war, famine or disease. It is likely that a change in the climate or rainfall caused crop failures; without a tax base the central government lost its power.
As we approached the twin pyramid complex we came up behind one of the two pyramids (below). Two identical pyramids face each other in a beautifully designed courtyard with additional buildings nearby.
In the photos below you can see some of the other ruins that are just off to the side of the twin pyramids. As always, I am amazed that you are allowed to walk on these ancient ruins.
The shot above and below are taken from the top of the second pyramid. The steps are quite steep going up the pyramid and it seemed that most people had an easier time going up than down. Once up on top a lot of people were afraid to climb down as they could see how high they were; when climbing they didn’t realize how high they were as they were looking up!
In the photo below I’m looking from one pyramid to another, both similar in size and shape and you can get an idea of what the layout of this complex is. I tried to imagine all of the jungle cut back and the entire area full of buildings and people. At the height of the civilization here as many as 90,000 people called Tikal their home. The pyramids were likely whitewashed and painted in bright white, red and yellow colors. I can only imagine what a spectacle it must have looked like some 1,300 years ago.
As we continued on to the next complex we came to another pyramid that has been left in the condition it was found in and it makes it a little easier to understand how an entire pyramid can be swallowed up by the jungle. After years of disuse seeds embed between the stones and not just plants but entire trees grow up out of the pyramid. After some time the entire pyramid is covered in lush jungle and just looks like another hill. In the photo below, Charlotta and I are climbing a ladder that helps tourists bypass the tree growth but this is actually the base of one of the pyramids. You may recognize the photo from the top of this pyramid.
On top of the tree-covered pyramid we had a wonderful view of even more of the complexes. You can see how thick the jungle is – covering what used to be a thriving city. Does this photo (below) look at all familiar? If you watch the original Star Wars movie, towards the end when the X-wing and Y-wing fighters are taking off to go and attack the Death Star, they are flying out of this jungle with these pyramids in the background.
If you want to know more about the history of Tikal a quick Google search will give you quite a good background on its history and the Mayan people. Wikipedia has a decent history line at Wiki Tikal.
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