Tikal is just two hours away from the Belizean border and remains one of the most popular attractions in Guatemala. Almost any traveler who visits the western part of Belize (San Ignacio Town) travels to Guatemala for the day to visit this majestic Maya site.
Located in the Peten Region of Guatemala, Tikal is an early classic to late classic Maya City. Here are 12 surprising things about Tikal:
1.) Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya Civilization.
2.) The name Tikal may be derived from ti ak’al in the Yucatec Maya language; and it is said to be a relatively modern name meaning “at the waterhole”.
3.) The Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes passed within a few kilometers of the ruins of Tikal in 1525, however he didn’t mention them in his letters.
See also: Caracol Maya Ruins – The Largest Maya City in Belize
4.) There are traces of early agriculture in Tikal that dates as far as 1000 BC. A cache of Mamon ceramics for example, dates from about 700-400 BC were found in a sealed Chultun, a subterranean bottle-shaped chamber.
5.) The architecture of Tikal is built from limestone and includes the remains of temples that tower over 70 meters high, large royal palaces and a number of smaller pyramids, palaces, residences, administrative buildings, platforms and inscribed stone monuments.
6.) In 1979, Tikal was declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
7.) According to Archaeologists, Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.
8.) Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, ca 200 to 900 AD during this time the city dominated much of the Mesoamerican region politically, economically and militarily.
9.) The Tikal National Park covers an area of 575.83 square kilometers and was created on May 26 1955 under the auspices of the Instituto de Antropologia e Historia and was the first protected area in Guatemala.
See also: Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
10.) The population estimates for Tikal vary from 10,000 to as high as 90,000 inhabitants with the most likely figure being at the upper end of this range.
11.) The dynastic line of Tikal, founded as early as the 1st century AD, spanned 800 years and included at least 33 rulers.
A vessel with jade in lays from the tomb of Jasaw Chan K’awiil I beneath Temple I and bearing an effigy, probably that of the king.
12.) The tallest structure in Tikal is 65 meters in height and is the temple of the two-headed snake that was built by King Yaxkin Caan Choc in 470 A.D. This temple is a must climb for the adventurous!
About Tikal Mayan Ruins
Tikal National Park in Guatemala measures more than 220 square miles (575 square kilometers) in size, most of it pristine jungle. The park is also home to thousands of ruined buildings built by the ancient Maya, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal that is roughly 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) in size and contains more than 3,000 buildings.
Tikal National Park itself is inside of the Maya Biosphere Reserve that measures 2.4 million acres (1 million ha) in size. First established in 1990 to protect the forests that were being decimated by illegal logging and unsustainable agricultural practices, the Maya Biosphere Reserve is one of the most important natural areas in the country.
Archeologists have determined that the Maya first arrived in the area of Tikal around 3,000 years ago. Since its humble beginnings, the mega city state became an important commercial, cultural, and religious center. The world-famous temples that now draw millions of tourists were built around the year 700 when Tikal rose to become the preeminent city in the Maya world, having a population of approximately 100,000 people.
For unknown reasons, the Maya civilization rapidly collapsed just 100 years later, and the city’s vast structures were abandoned to the jungle. By the time the conquistador Hernan Cortes entered the area in 1525, few people remembered the great city lost in the jungle, and the Spanish warriors never realized that they had passed by so close to Tikal. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1848 when an archeological expedition dispatched by the government of Guatemala officially re-discovered the city.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the government of Guatemala in conjunction with the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania laboriously cleaned and restored the site to its current condition. In 1979, the United Nations declared the entire city a World Heritage Site. Today, Tikal is an important cultural icon for Guatemala, similar to what the pyramids of Giza are to Egypt.
Amongst the many interesting finds at the site were dozens of stone pillars, each matched with a circular altar. Archeologists have determined that these were used to record the history of the rulers of Tikal, boasting about their many accomplishments. The pyramids of Tikal were used as astronomical observatories that the Maya used to calculate their extremely accurate 260-day calendar that meshes with modern 365-day calendars every 52 years.
Probably the most mysterious find ever discovered in Tikal are stone pillars that describe an event that happened in eastern Guatemala more than 400 million years ago.
Questions about visiting Tikal in Guatemala? Send us an email or call 239- 494- 3281. We will love to help you plan a tour of Tikal Mayan Ruins.