Shrouded in dense tropical jungle, Tikal in the north of Guatemala is probably one of the most extraordinary and impressive of all the Mayan sites. Tikal was first occupied as a small village sometime before 300BC but by around 700AD had become an important city with great palaces, plazas and pyramids. Walk through densely forested trails before arriving at the main plaza, opened up from the surrounding vegetation and surrounded on four sides by huge pyramid temples. There are also a number of other temple sites near to Tikal including Yaxha.
Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the Maya created one of the greatest civilisations in the Western Hemisphere. Mayan astronomers recorded precise tables of positions for Mars and Venus and predicted solar eclipses. They constructed great stone buildings and pyramid temples, devised intricate ball games, used hieroglyphic characters to keep written records, worked with gold and copper and developed advanced techniques of irrigation and terracing for the cultivation of crops.
Shrouded in dense tropical jungle in northern Guatemala, Tikal is probably the most extraordinary of all the Mayan sites of this once great civilisation. The buildings date back some 2500 years and the site is so vast, many are still hidden by the rainforest. Howler monkeys deafen you as you walk early morning through the thick vegetation to come across steep stepped pyramids and enormous temples.
The main plaza has been carefully cleared from the jungle, so you can appreciate the sheer size of some of these constructions. The brave can climb some of the pyramids to gain incredible views over the canopy and spy the tops of the other pyramids of this incredible site.
El Peten - Mayan heartland
Tikal may be the best known of the Mayan cities but the El Peten area is considered the heartland of the Mayan cities. It has an incredible number of other sites to be explored for those who are keen to discover more of Mayan history.
The site of Yaxha is wonderful at sunset with breathtaking views out to the green lake below and also excellent for bird-spotting.
The largest site but also the most inaccessible is the recently discovered El Mirador, reached by helicopter or a five day hike only, whose pyramids are said to be the largest in the world.
More remote sites near Sayaxche include Ceibal and Aguateca and you can even cross into southern Mexico towards Yaxchilan, Bonampak and Palenque or east towards Belize to visit Caracol - the list of Mayan sites in this region is impressive.
Read more about El Peten & Tikal