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.