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Once home to 100,000 Maya, Tikal was one of the most important cities in the Maya empire. It was abandoned when the empire collapsed and re-discovered relatively recently. Today it is one of the most important Maya sites, boasting over 4,000 structures, the oldest of which date back to around 800 B.C. The most important structures are the imposing Temple of the Giant Jaguar, which stands over 51 meters (170 feet) tall and was once the tomb of a high priest. Across the immense square from this structure is the Temple of Masks, which is an impressive 42 meters (139 feet) tall.


Tikal is also known for its impressive stelae, or intricately carved standing stones. There are over two hundred of them at the site, the oldest of which has been tentatively dated to 292 B.C. There is a museum at the site, which features ceramics, jade and wood carvings and other relics from the various digs that have taken place over the years at Tikal.


An added boon for the traveler are the natural surroundings. The archaeological site at Tikal is only part of a large national park, which is home to spider and howler monkeys, parrots, toucans, macaws, and other varied and spectacular wildlife. In fact, it is the only place on earth declared by UNESCO to be both a world culture and nature heritage site.

By Nellie Huang
02 Oct 2009

Things to do in Tikal

Gran Plaza

135186The heart of the ancient Mayan civilization lies in this plaza, the focal point of the king’s realm. Temple I, also known as the Pyramid of the Giant Jaguar, faces west toward the setting sun, ...

Museum Tikal / Museum Cerámico

135196Situated right behind the park ticket stand, the entrance of Museum Cerámico is flanked by beautiful orchids and thick plants. It has more exhibits of valuable items discovered in the temple’s ...

Northern Complexes

135194These complexes are found one kilometer away from the Gran Plaza via the isolated Maudslay Causeway; all of them are late-Classic twin pyramid complexes that are erected to honor the end of a katun. ...

Templo IV & Complejo N

135192The largest pyramid at Tikal, Templo IV is the second tallest surviving Mayan structure, reaching a height of 65m. The only taller Mayan pyramid is located at the ruins of El Mirador. Famed for the ...

El Mundo Perdido (The Lost World)

135191This sizable complex consists of 38 structures oriented in a traditional Mayan pattern serving as an astronomy observatory. The ancient Mayans observed solstices, equinoxes and planetary cycles with ...

Plaza de los Siete Templos

135190Next to the Acrópolis del Sur is the complex comprised of seven little temples built in a row. Although the temples were assembled during the late Classic period, there are other structures in the ...

Acrópolis del Sur & Templo V

135189South of Gran Plaza is Acrópolis del Sur, which is a massive area yet to be restored. This two-hectare mass of stonework is still covered by vines and trees. The palaces atop the masonry date back ...

Acrópolis Central

135187This maze of residential palaces and small temples is found on the south side of Gran Plaza. Believed to be where the royal family and their relatives lived, some chambers still have remnants of low ...

Templo de las Inscripciones (Templo VI)

Only discovered in 1951, this temple is located 1.2 km southeast of Gran Plaza. Unlike Copán and several other Mayan sites, most Tikal temples bear comparatively few inscriptions, but this temple is ...

Plaza Oeste

North of Temple II is Plaza Oeste, where a considerable late-Classic temple is buried under the earth. The entire area is yet to be restored, allowing you to see it through the eyes of the first ...

Museum Lítico

The bigger of the two museums in Tikal, Museum Lítico houses the important stelae excavated from the within the ancient temples. It displays imposing carved rocks, with interpretations of what the ...
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