Tikal, Guatemala

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I am writing this piece about the Maya people while sitting in a hammock in Central America. Coincidentally, our friends in the Pacific Northwest are enduring a winter storm weathermen have named, Maya.

We’re thinking of you. Woody in a hammock

Back in the fifth grade I remember an assignment to write a paper on any ancient civilization I was interested in. I chose the Mayans. Something about their advanced mathematics and knowledge of time was so compelling. Then add the intrigue of their demise, and that was the spark! I have had a life long interest and fascination of the Mayans.

Last week Hali introduced the Mayans of Belize. Today we cross into Guatemala to see the granddaddy of Mayan temples, Tikal.

Once Towering Temples

painted interpretation of a temple

painted interpretation of a 800AD temple

The landscape of these ruins have been taken over by jungle; less than 20% has been cleared from this Mayan site. Since 1848, many archeological research & restoration projects have carried on the job of uncovering these temples. In 1979 Tikal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and opened to the public.

Temple of the Jaguar

Temple of the Jaguar today

National Geographic used cutting edge technology in 2017 to “X-ray” the landscape of Tikal, uncovering a complex civilization, roadways and water systems – much, much larger than ever anticipated. And, get this: the wheel or draft animals were not used for modes of transport.

National Geographic image

Laser scans revealed more than 60,000 previously unknown Maya structures that were part of a vast network of cities, fortifications, farms, and highways.

According to our guide, uncovering Tikal today, is more of a “when they feel like it” endeavor.

Jungle Hike

The most impressive part of the tour was an experience: hiking through a jungle for about a mile, climbing the outside stone walls of the Temple of the Masks, turning the corner, and then having the jungle open up to a sweeping view of the Grand Plaza. The Temple of the Jaguar is off limits to climbing, but stands as the centerpiece of what was once a civilized city of approximately 150,000 Mayans.

Touring Tikal

Whatever Tikal’s your fancy.

There are several options for touring the spectacular temples of Tikal: You can do the self-guided, where you take your selfie, and get yourself out of town tour.

There is the overnight, sunset to sunrise Celestial tour – which is especially in demand during the winter or summer solstice.

Our family option – with the best value – was the five hour, five mile walking tour, with a knowledgeable guide. Serge was a guide to a total of 5 of us – it was an intimate group, so I had plenty of opportunity to ask all Maya questions. Serge would answer, and then site his sources… oftentimes, the recent National Geographic discoveries.

Our trek through Tikal began at 7:30am, included transportation across the border, the tour, and a traditional Guatemalan meal.

As a lifelong student of history, this tour added another chapter. Sure could’ve used it for that fifth grade paper. For any Mayan enthusiast, Tikal should be on your Life List…. I get to cross it off Mayan.

About Woody

We are a couple who took the first step toward a life of traveling in May, 2015. Staying within the continental US, we amp'd the adventure-factor by traveling in a VW Vanagon, circa 1985. Our mission is to share irresistible and compelling stories conceived from this lifestyle of travel.

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