Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle

Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle

Deep in the rainforest of northern Guatemala lies one of the earliest Mayan cities, established around 300 B.C. Explorers came across these incredible ruins only in the late 17th century, and in 1848 the first scientific expedition was organized to discover and study the Mayan ruins. Take a fascinating journey into the jungle and see with your own eyes these amazing remains of a city of an ancient civilization.

What is Tikal?

Tikal is a complex of about 3,000 buildings with up to 16 temples. The city was inhabited by between 10,000 and 45,000 people from about 600 B.C. Tikal was the capital of this ancient land and from 300 B.C. to 900 B.C. it gradually became the largest Mayan center. The city is located in the reserve of the National Park of the same name and covers an area of more than two million hectares. In 1979 the ruins of Tikal and the surrounding national park were inscribed on the World Heritage List. They occupy a special place on it because of their high biological and archaeological value and diversity, making them a heritage of both culture and nature.

Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle - Photo 2

What is Tikal?

Today the archaeological complex in Tikal is considered the most important site of its kind left over from the Mayan civilization. The main urban area covers about 400 hectares and includes palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, residential residences, ball fields, and roads and plazas. The part accessible to tourists is only a small fraction of this majestic city. You will spend many hours there admiring the impressive architecture of ancient civilizations and learning the secrets of Mayan culture. In the morning, it’s worth traveling to Tikal with a guide or on your own. The weather in this region is often overcast, but this adds to the atmosphere of a walk through the abandoned Mayan capital.

History of the name

Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle - Photo 3

History of the name

Opinions on the meaning of the name Tikal have always been divided in the world of archaeology and have caused much heated debate. William E. Coe, an American archaeologist, wrote that “Tikal” was simply the traditional name for the ruins of the city and had little significance, but his predecessors, including Theoberto Malera, were of a different opinion. Mahler thought that “Tikal” meant a place where ghostly voices were heard. This theory agrees with the Mayan translation, since “ti” means “place” and “k’al” means “spirits.” Alternatively, the name “place of voices”, translated from the Mayan Itza language, has been adopted. However, “Tikal” is not the original ancient name. Researchers who discovered the ruins in 1840 agreed with this name, but ancient inscriptions on the glyphs showed that the city was called Yax Mautal or Yax Mutul , which means “First Mutal”. It is likely that the term Mutul itself was used in everyday life, but the founders of the city wanted to emphasize that it was the first kingdom created in these parts.

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How to get to the Mayan city?

Before reaching Tikal, you must go to Flores, which is the base and starting point of your trip to the Mayan City. Very often tourists visiting these regions of Guatemala live in Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala. From there you can get to Flores by plane or bus. Air travel is offered by TAG and Avianca and is definitely an easier and quicker connection, but it costs about $100 round trip. If you decide to travel by bus, be prepared for a 9-hour trip and take the night bus . They are air-conditioned and have comfortable reclining seats and are designed for long distance travel.

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle - Photo 4

How do I get to the Mayan city?

Once you arrive in Flores , you should head to a local bus carrying tourists. Luckily it already goes straight to Tikal National Park where you will start your fantastic tour of the Mayan capital. The round trip by local bus costs about 60 Guatemalan quetzales , or 80 Guatemalan quetzales in the case of organized transportation, which directly takes tourists from the hotels. The bus organized for tourists goes about 1.5 hours and stops at the gate of the park. It runs several times a day from 4:30 am to 3 pm . You can also return by local transport, which runs until about 5:30 pm. It is worth spending a whole day visiting the ruins to see all the complexes of this amazing city. Admission to the park and ruins costs about 150 Guatemalan quetzales. If you miss your bus or want to stay overnight in the mysterious jungle, you can find suitable accommodations in the area. You can also visit the park at sunrise or sunset, but you will have to pay about 100 Guatemalan quetzals extra for the security of the gamekeepers.


Because of Tikal’s vast area and excellent preservation, the city is considered the largest archaeological collection of Mayan civilization ruins. The area available to visitors is extremely vast. Spend a day in the rainforest and learn the secrets of the culture and history of the ancient inhabitants.

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1. the Temple of the Great Jaguar

Also known as Temple I, this is one of the most distinctive and unusual structures of this type found in Tikal. It is a stepped pyramid with a typical roof end typical of Mayan architecture. It owes its name to the lintel with the image of the ruler seated on the throne of the jaguar. The temple is located on the east side of the Grand Plaza, which is why it is so unusual. Traditionally Mayan temples , serving as tombs, were located in the northern part of the city near the urban Acropolis.

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle - Photo 5

1 The Temple of the Great Jaguar

It was built around 730 at the request of the then ruler of Tikal, Yasaw Khan K’avila I. Construction of the temple began with the main chamber containing the tomb, and then a pyramid began to form over it. The work was directed by the king himself and then by his son and heir to the throne, Yik’in Khan K’awiil. Yasaw Chan K’awil I probably, like many kings of the time, planned the construction of the temple long before his death. It is one part of the nine terraces symbolizing the nine levels of the underworld. Its orientation to the setting sun symbolizes the land of shadows into which the ruler enters after his death.

2. the Acropolis

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle - Photo 6

2. acropolis

In the center of the city of Tikal, in the Great Square, are the ruins of the Northern Acropolis. They include up to a hundred buildings, built one on top of another over a period of 1,500 years, as well as three temples. In the entire Acropolis, the rulers of Tikal from 1 to 550 AD were buried. In addition to the typical tombs, some rulers decided to build a temple before they died. In one of the three buildings rests Sihyaj Chan K’aviil II, also known as “Storm Sky”, who ruled until 457 AD. In the ruins of the acropolis is a stele erected by Sihyaj Chan K’aviil II, depicting a jaguar. This animal was considered a god who took care of the city of Tikal.

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3. The square of the seven temples

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle - Photo 7

3. The Square of the Seven Temples

South of Temple II and west of the South Acropolis is a huge complex of ruins, called the square described. It is about 300 meters from the Great Square, which can be visited. The square, as its name implies, contains the remains of seven small temples of the period 600-900. This impressive collection reaches an area of 25,000 square meters, making it one of the three largest in all of Tikal. Thousands of ceramic fragments have been found in the area of the Seven Temples, indicating that the area was inhabited around 650 B.C.

4. Twin Pyramids

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Immerse yourself in the Mayan jungle - Photo 8

4. Twin Pyramids

One of the most architecturally advanced structures in the entire Mayan city is the twin pyramid complex. They were built to commemorate the 20-year k’atun, a cycle of the Mayan calendar. The twin pyramid complexes are located in nearby towns, including Yaxha, about 30 kilometers from Tikal. This may indicate a political connection between the surrounding settlements. The pyramid complex in Tikal consists of identical structures located on the east and west sides of a small square. On the north side the plaza is surrounded by a wall with a carved stele acting as an altar. The term “twin pyramid complex” was first used in 1956 by the American archaeologist Edwin M. Shook. He noted the similarities between the five groups of similar ruin complexes in Guatemala and the Tikal area.

In the Shadow of the jungle: Archaeologists found lost settlements of the ancient Maya

An international team of archaeologists discovered in the north of Guatemala ruins of huge Maya settlements, hidden in the rainforest. They were able to find them using laser radar. The result of the work of scientists has become the most comprehensive map of Maya settlements built during the period from 1000 BC to 1500 AD. According to experts, the found structures, among which were canals, farms and roads, testify to the complex structure of the ancient civilization.

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Archaeologists from the U.S., Europe and Guatemala have discovered the ruins of huge Mayan settlements in northern Guatemala. About 61 thousand ancient buildings were hidden from the eyes of scientists in the dense tropical forests in the vicinity of Tikal – one of the largest cities of this ancient civilization, the capital of the Mutul kingdom.

For 12 days, scientists flew over the territory adjacent to the Tikal area of 2144 square kilometers and examined it with a laser radar. Powerful laser beams passed through the dense vegetation and reflected off hard surfaces – the ruins of stone buildings. This is how scientists were able to establish where the structures hidden from sight are located.

“The number of ancient structures scattered around Tikal was staggering. El Palmar, which I have been studying for quite a long time, turned out to be 40 times larger, becoming a large settlement,” Thomas Garrison, an archaeologist from Ithaca College (USA), told Gizmodo, one of the authors of the study.

Scientists found 61,480 sites in the area studied: canals, farms, sidewalks, defensive fortifications, wide roads, and terraces built on steep slopes to plant crops.

“One of the most interesting finds is a small pyramid complex in the jungle. It is a structure we have yet to explore,” Harrison emphasized.

Organizational structure

Based on the data specialists have built the most ambitious 3D map of Maya settlements built during the period from 1000 BC to 1500 AD. D. Examined it, the researchers concluded that in this area of 1.6 square kilometers lived 210-310 people. With such a high population density, according to scientists, an advanced infrastructure is needed, requiring competent management, distribution of water, food and other resources.

Mayan Pyramid © imagebroker/jean-pierre lescourr

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Researchers also noted that in the jungle, the Maya developed sophisticated farming methods, fundamentally different from the arable land of European farmers: artificially created plots of land surrounded by canals.

Scientists were also able to consider an extensive network of roads, the total length of which amounted to 106 km. They connected Tikal with other cities. Among the sites discovered by the researchers were several defensive structures.

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Thus, on the outskirts of the nearest to Tikal city El-Zotz archaeologists found a fortress more than 7 meters high. A deep moat stands in front of it. According to scientists, the impressive size of the citadel can speak of the high level of militarization of the ancient Maya, and also confirms the theory that there was no single empire of this civilization – the population lived in the city-states, sometimes at war with each other.

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According to scientists, the results of the study are not yet final and require fine-tuning.

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“Something could have been missed by laser radar, and vegetation, on the contrary, mistaken for a man-made object. In addition, in the laser radar images we can see 2.5 thousand years of Mayan history at once. Not all buildings were erected at the same time, and now archaeologists will have to conduct field research and study in detail each structure”, – said Harrison.

According to Basil Sklyar, a specialist in Mayan culture, the study conducted by Western colleagues proves the enormity of the civilization. He noted that previously it was not possible to carry out such detailed work, but found in some areas of irrigation systems, through which the Maya irrigated corn fields, prompted scientists to think about the high level of development of this civilization.

“If we look at a map of the Yucatan and that part of Central America, where the Mayan settlements discovered today were located, we see that the population density was very high. If today there are about 5 million people living on the territory of the ancient Maya, a few thousand years ago there lived about 11 million people. To provide food for so many people there had to be a developed state structure, as the researchers have proved with their findings, “- said Sklyar.

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