Tikal Mayan ruins, Guatemala


Tikal

When we arrived in Belize, we took a shuttle bus to the village of San Ignacio in the highlands near the Guatemala border.  Our purpose was to see a little of the Belizean landscape and to tour  Tikal , the largest Mayan ruins in Central America with some 3000 structures, of which only about 30% have been excavated.

The ‘Discovery’ of Tikal

For almost a thousand years, from 900 AD to 1848, Tikal was virtually a lost civilization with its thousands of structures absorbed by rapidly growing jungle that covered all of the man-made sites built over 1300 years by Mayan peoples.  An early expedition in 1848 led to a second expedition in 1853 when a report was published by the Berlin Academy of Science which included illustrations of various stelae and descriptions of partially exposed temples.

A Swiss scientist, Dr. Gustav Bernoulli,  traveled to Tikal in 1877 and hired local Mayans to held remove wooden lintels across the temples which were transported to Basel Switzerland where they are preserved in the Museum fur Volkerkunde.

The world learned more about Tikal when an English explorer, Alfred Percival Maudslay, visited the site in 1881 and 1882  and drew maps and took the first photographs of temples after local workers had chopped down vines and trees exposing them for the first time in 900 years.

Jaguar temple steps

Temple of the Grand Jaguar

Traveling to Tikal

Out trip to Guatemala started early, leaving our Casa del Blanco Caballo mountain resort and driving fifteen minutes to the border where we checked through customs and boarded a van for the two-hour ride to Tikal.

Guatemala landscape is much different that mostly lowlands Belize; high mountains, dense jungle, and little villages where farmers had clear-cut trees to eek out a couple of years raising crops.  After two years, the soil is depleted of nutrients and the jungle foliage starts to take over again, a cycle that takes about ten years.

After driving two hours through a couple of police check points, passing along the shore of the largest lake in Guatemala, Peten-Itza, we arrived at the Tikal. National Park, a small settlement of jungle resorts, research center, two museums, a few tourist shops, and small cafes.  While we were there, we heard German, French, Italian, and Spanish from the diverse backgrounds of international visitors.

Temple of the Grand Jaguar 

Center courtyard of Temple I, dating from around 700 AD.  Site of Temple of the Grand Jaguar.

Center courtyard of Temple I, Temple of the Grand Jaguar

Courtyard of Jaguar temple

Courtyard of Temple I

Steps of Jaguar temple - hazardous climb

Steps of Temple of the Grand Jaguar – a hazardous climb

Out guide escorted us into the Tikal site, walking through dense jungle on a dirt path to an interpretive map that showed the major trails, pyramids, monuments, and temples, and unexcavated ruins.

History of the Tikal Mayans

The history of the Mayan people in Tikal is divided into several periods, used by archeologists to date the growth of the city and when its major temples, plazas, monuments were constructed.

A Preclassic prior began around 600 BC and lasted until the Classic Period around 250 AD.  A late Classic period that lasted until 450 AD when most of the major construction took place.  to the collapse of Tikal as a civilization around 900 AD.

A Post classic period continued after most Mayans departed, melted into the jungle, and built other sites throughout Yucatan, Belize, and Guatemala at Copan, Palenque, Calakmul, Altun Ha,  Cahal Pech, and Chichen Itza.

Mayan trekers

Mayan trekers

Tikal has an estimated 3000 ruins with only about 30% excavated by archeologists.  Walking on jungle trails, you can see mounds of dirt, vines, trees, and stones which are sites which have not been excavated.

Rear view of Jaguar temple from jungle trail

Rear view of Temple of the Grand Jaguar from jungle trail

South Acropolis

Rear view of partially excavated acropolis

Rear view of partially excavated acropolis

Side view of partially excavated acropolis

Side view of partially excavated acropolis

Front view of partially excavated acropolis

Front view of partially excavated acropolis

Ceiba Tree

Along the way, our guide pointed out Guatemala’s national tree, the Ceiba, which had a spiritual value to Mayans, signifying links from the underworld to the heavens.  They called it the “Holy Tree of Life” because they thought it was the axis of the world.

Ceboia tree

Ceiba tree, Mayan “Holy Tree of Life”

Crown of ceboia tree

Crown of ceiba tree

Trunk of ceboia tree

Trunk of ceiba tree

Spanish description of Ceiba tree

Spanish description of Ceiba tree

North Acropolis

Canopy view of north acropolis

Canopy view of north acropolis

Lucy at canopy level

Lucy at canopy level

North acropolis temple steps

North acropolis temple steps

Temple god preserved

Temple god preserved

Wildlife at Tikal

Golden turkey and Coatimundi

Golden turkey and Coatimundi

Wildlife was plentiful at Tikal, howler monkeys, golden turkeys, and white-nosed coatimundi related to the raccoon family.  Golden turkeys pecked at ant mounds and scratched for worms; coati roamed the hillsides, their long noses sniffing for bugs and worms.

Golden turkey

Golden turkey

Coatimundi roamed in packs, following alpha males and nursing mothers who’d stop on a hill to feed their young, distinguished by reddish fur like wild foxes.

Juvenile white-nosed coatimundi

Juvenile white-nosed coatimundi

 

* * * * *

Update:  We’re spending a month in Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama.  Travel with us and explore Central America.

Next:  Casa del Caballo Blanco, San Ignacio, Belize

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7 responses to “Tikal Mayan ruins, Guatemala

    • Hi, Fred, glad you’re joining us on our Central American adventure. We’ve been here three weeks, leave tomorrow from San Jose, Costa Rica for last ten days in Panama.

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  1. Sounds like a wonderful way to escape winter dreariness! I’ll be in CA late in March or early April. Will you be home then?

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    • Sure thing, Judy, we’re making a trip to Tucson sometime in May to see grandson Preston. Lucy will make a couple trips to Modesto in Feb and Mar to visit a new grandson born Xmas Day.

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  2. FABULOUS!-Great pics…it’s like I’m right there with you guys!-Keep the posts coming. I look forward to all the pics and info!

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    • Lots of neat posts coming, Holly, horse back riding and zip lining in Costa Rica. Oh, and I forgot the coffee plantation visit which was very interesting. Picked beans, watched them crush them, and lay out for drying. Fascinating.

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