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Before it became the heartland of Maya Civilization, the Petén was already populated with monumental sites and cities. By the year 750, the Petén had become one of the most densely populated regions of the world at the time. In particular, Tikal was one of the largest urban centers. Experts believe extensive over-farming eventually led to widespread famine of the Maya people, who were also dealing with illnesses from European explorers.

Hermán Cortés led the first expedition through the Petén in 1524, after which the Spanish began to conquer the area. By 1697, the last Maya state was taken over. Today, many Maya sites are preserved throughout the Petén, including Tikal, Uaxactún, Aguateca, Topoxté and Yaxhá, to name just a handful.

The Guatemalan government officially created the Petén department in 1866. In the 1960s, any citizen willing to pay $25 could buy land in the area. An unpaved that road led to Flores brought tourists to the region. The first paved road in the Petén was built in 1982, bringing many new settlers to the region. In an effort to try and protect the tropical lands from further deforestation, the Maya Biosphere Reserve was created in 1990. Updated: Aug 10, 2010

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Petén: History of Flores and Tikal History.

11 Feb 2011

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