Tikal National Park

Peten

Set within the northern reaches of Guatemala’s Petén department is the incredible Mayan site of Tikal. With its massive Mayan temples, steep limestone pyramids and thick green jungles, Tikal is undoubtedly one of the top attractions in Guatemala. The ruins and surrounding forest are located within the Tikal National Park.

Created in 1956, the Tikal National Park is Guatemala’s oldest national park. It spreads across 222 square miles (575 sq km) and protects not only the Mayan ruins but also a huge swath of tropical forest and a great variety of wildlife. In this way it offers travelers a unique opportunity to combine cultural and environmental attractions. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Its importance to human heritage and natural history cannot be overstated.

History

Tikal was settled around 900 BC. It stayed fairly small for the next 200 years and remained a minor settlement throughout most of the middle Preclassic period. The late Preclassic period saw the completion of the ceremonial buildings in the North Acropolis and the pyramid at El Mundo Perdido.

Around the time of Christ, Tikal’s Great Plaza was being built and the city was growing. By the Early Classic period, around 250 AD, Tikal had become an important commercial, cultural, and religious center. Architecture became increasingly sophisticated and the great pyramid grew another 100 feet (30 m) in height. Art also took off around this time—the styles that dominated throughout the Classic period were honed in these early years.

King Yax Ehb’ Xox (First Step Shark) established Tikal’s first dynasty around 90 AD. This lineage was recognized by all of Tikal’s 33 subsequent rulers until 869 AD, when the historical record of Tikal fades.

With the help of Teotihuacán, a powerful city-state in Central Mexico, Tikal came to dominate central Petén for the next 500 years. Its location was ideal for lowland trade routes, and Tikal grew to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful Mayan city-states. In the fifth century AD Tikal went to war with Calakmul, a city-state in present-day Mexico, and suffered a decisive defeat. This led to a period of decreased activity in Tikal.

Tikal again grew dominant in 682 AD under the new leadership of Hasaw Chan K’awil (Heavenly Standard Bearer). During this time, Hasaw Chan K’awil and his ancestors constructed the six great temples in Tikal’s ceremonial center. At the peak of the Classical period, Tikal covered about 12 square miles (30 sq km) and was home to at least 100,000 people.

Conditions worsened for Tikal and other Mayan cities in the Guatemalan lowlands during the 9th century. The last inscription in Tikal’s history dates to 869 AD. By the late 10th century, Tikal was completed abandoned.

Tikal was forgotten and taken over by the jungle until its rediscovery in the 17th century. The Guatemalan government commissioned explorers to visit the site in 1877 and a scientific study began four years later. Archaeological investigations continued throughout the rest of the 20th century.

Exploring the Park

Tikal can be explored over the course of one or several days. There are ruins to look at, trails to walk along, and animals to observe. It’s truly an incredible place.

Understandably, most visitors are here to see the ruins, which are indeed impressive. Most of the structures that still stand today were built around the end of the 7th century. Trails connect the various ruins and offer up good looks at the dense jungles of the Tikal National Park. During your explorations, you may come across spider monkeys, coatis, and several types of birds.

The Great Plaza is one of Tikal’s highlights. Here you’ll find Temple I, which you’ve undoubtedly already seen on posters and other tourism brochures. It’s a massive and awe-inspiring structure that rises to a height of 144 feet (44 meters). Temple I was built to honor Hasaw Chan K’awil, one of Tikal’s most prominent rulers. Across the plaza is Temple II, which you can sometimes climb to get views of the surrounding area.

Some of Tikal’s other important ruins include the North Acropolis, which has 12 temples sitting atop it, and the palaces of the Central Acropolis. The latter consists of a series of stairways and interconnected rooms that may have served as administrative offices and homes for Tikal’s elite. There are tons of other ruins at Tikal – including Temple III, Temple IV, Temple V, and the South Acropolis – that are equally fascinating to visit.

In addition to exploring Tikal’s ruins and walking along its trails, travelers can visit the park’s two zip lines. One zip line has 11 platforms and cables that range from 250–500 feet (75–150 m). The second zip line is more thrilling and includes a 650-foot (200-m) cable that’s 130 feet (40 m) above the ground.

Bird watching tours can also be arranged. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded at Tikal, and you can search for some of them atop Temple IV (Tikal’s highest structure). Morning is the best time to see birds.

Nearby Activities

 

Birding Tour at Tikal

4-in-1 combo|3 hours

Tikal

4.5 / 5.0
Starting At$150
Birding Tour at Tikal

On the first day of your journey, you’ll start your exploration of the area’s wildlife on a trail through the jungle of the Tikal National Park. Eventually you will...

4.5 / 5.0
Tour Details

Tikal One Day

6-in-1 combo|8 hours

Tikal

4.4 / 5.0
Starting At$83
Tikal One Day

Tikal National Park is the most amazing tour where you will be taken back thousands of years to the glory that was the seat of the Maya Culture.

4.4 / 5.0
Tour Details

Guatemala Highlights

8-in-1 combo|Multi-Day

Guatemala City

New Tour!
Starting At$1315
Guatemala Highlights

This 2-week tour hits the Guatemalan highlights. You'll explore a new place each day and make visits to Antigua, Lake Atitlán, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Semuc...

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Tikal Tour

6-in-1 combo|7 hours

Flores and Santa Elena

New Tour!
Starting At$385
Tikal Tour

Explore the vast ruins of Tikal during this one-day tour. You’ll visit Tikal’s temples and pyramids, learn about Mayan culture, and walk along short trails through...

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Tour Details

The Guatemalan Explorer

5-in-1 combo|a day

Guatemala City

New Tour!
Starting At$804
The Guatemalan Explorer

This tour combines a fascinating range of activities and destinations. Over the course of a week you'll visit Chichicastenango, Lake Atitlán, Santiago Atitlán,...

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Tour Details

Collective Tikal

3-in-1 combo|8 hours

Tikal

New Tour!
Starting At$83
Collective Tikal

In the morning we pick you up at your hotel or airport for the trip to the largest Mayan archaeological site of the classical period, counts with 4000 structures,...

New Tour!
Tour Details

Collective Tikal

3-in-1 combo|8 hours

Flores and Santa Elena

New Tour!
Starting At$83
Collective Tikal

This tour takes visitors to one of the most incredible Maya sites in the world. Tikal was one of the most powerful city-states that the Maya ever established, and...

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Tour Details

Tikal by Bus

3-in-1 combo|Multi-Day

Tikal

New Tour!
Starting At$228
Tikal by Bus

Be at the bus station for departure from Guatemala at 9:00 pm luxury bus hostess service, snack, video and bathroom.

New Tour!
Tour Details

Tarzan Tour

4-in-1 combo|2 hours

Flores and Santa Elena

New Tour!
Starting At$35
Tarzan Tour

Visit Ixpanjapul Natural Park just outside of Flores and Santa Elena to see a pristine tract of Guatemalan jungle. This park covers 3.5 square miles (9 sq km), and...

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Tour Details

Nighttime Tarzan Canopy Tour

4-in-1 combo|an hour

Flores and Santa Elena

New Tour!
Starting At$35
Nighttime Tarzan Canopy Tour

This Nighttime Tarzan Tour offers an exhilarating exploration of the jungle at night. Ixpanpajul Natural Park is just outside of Flores and Santa Elena. It covers...

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Tour Details

The Mayan Express

7-in-1 combo|Multi-Day

Guatemala City

New Tour!
Starting At$846
The Mayan Express

This weeklong tour exposes travelers to a variety of places in Guatemala. Among other things, you'll see the Mayan ruins of Tikal, the colonial buildings in...

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Nearby Lodging

 

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Hotel Casona del Lago

Hotel Casona del Lago is located in the town Santa Elena. The hotel lies along the shores of Lake Petén Itzá and has clean, spacious rooms. It’s a short walk from...

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Set close to Lake Petén Itzá in the town of Santa Elena, the Hotel Explore Lodge is a basic but comfortable hotel. The rooms here are air-conditioned and have Wi-Fi and...

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Hotel del Patio

Hotel del Patio is located in the town of Santa Elena, which lies along the shores of Lake Petén Itzá. The hotel has a tasty restaurant and rooms with modern amenities.

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Maya Internacional

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Casona de La Isla

Casona de La Isla is a hotel on the island town of Flores. Casona de La Isla has a pleasant swimming pool and excellent views of Lake Petén Itzá.

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Hotel Villa Maya

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