Visiting Tikal with an organized
tour is the best way to take advantage of the site, preferably
with a knowledgeable guide who is equipped with intricate
facts about Tikal. Unless you have done your homework,
a guide offers the best chance to gain precious insight
into the Tikal pyramids and the great Tikal Mayan temples
that you will encounter. Buses and daily flights from Guatemala City and other
Latin American cities, such as San
Jose, Costa Rica and Cancún,
Mexico transport visitors to nearby Flores,
where the adventure begins. There are even direct flights
Texas that service the Flores airport, meaning you
can be in the area within a few hours of changing planes.
While you can book a tour ahead of time online or with
a travel agent, you will have plenty of chances to select
a tour at one of the many agencies once in Flores.
From Flores, the Tikal National Park is just a short shuttle bus trip away. If you are driving a rental car to the site, there is parking near the Morley Museum. If you decide to tour Tikal on your own, you can purchase your ticket at the park’s entrance, or at a ticket booth close to the trails. To maximize your experience, and to get a chance to enjoy the ruins at Tikal before other tourists arrive, you might consider booking a sunrise tour. Imagine sitting atop one of the great Tikal pyramids all by yourself as the jungle’s morning mist shrouds the magical surroundings. Prices for Tikal excursions vary widely. While they can quickly become expensive as you pile on the amenities, generally Tikal excursions are quite affordable and should only make a small dent in your travel budget.
Complimenting the ruins at the Tikal National Park are a variety of animals you will see during your excursion. From howler monkeys to colorful toucans, the jungle is certainly alive. Other creatures you may witness during your trip are spider monkeys, falcons, coatis and the occasional jaguar or cougar. At the Morley Museum, visitors will find a valuable collection of Tikal ceramics and artifacts. The park’s other museum houses the Stelae of Tikal, which are sculpted slabs or pillars that most likely served as Tikal tombstones. Rounding out the park’s facilities are an assortment of restaurants and coffee shops. Guidebooks purchased at or near the park are a great way to arm yourself with facts about Tikal so you know what you are looking at.
The great Tikal pyramids are among the site’s most prominent attractions. The six largest Tikal pyramids are numbered I-VI, and they consist of Mesoamerican step pyramids which support the great Tikal Mayan temples that rest atop them. The tallest of these pyramids is the nearly 230-foot high Temple IV, which is only matched in height by the great La Danta temple at El Mirador. The majority of Tikal pyramids were built between the 7th and 9th centuries AD, after Tikal re-established itself from its 6th and 7th century hiatus. Reaching a population of 100,000-200,000 citizens during its glory days, Tikal’s importance within the realm of Mayan civilization was immense. However, the cultural and population center that it was, facts about Tikal reveal that preceding the city’s hiatus, it had suffered a comprehensive defeat to the Caracol Mayans from Belize. The hiatus is marked by population decline and a lapse in inscriptions and significant construction. More facts about Tikal show that at the onset of their defeat, the city’s leader, Double Bird, was sacrificed by the conquering Caracol rulers. The founding Mayan civilization of Tikal would regain their great city, which they would retain until their mysterious decline in the late 9th century.
The great surviving Tikal pyramids begin with Temple I, which is known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar. Built around 695 AD, it stands over the city’s Grand Plaza. Temple II, also known as the Moon Temple, was constructed near the year 702, with Temple III following around the year 810. The largest of Tikal Mayan temples, Temple IV provides a commanding view from its exposed crest. Temple V is the only example among the Tikal pyramids where no tomb was found. It dates to 750 AD, while the Temple of the Inscriptions, or Temple VI, was erected around the year 766. The Tikal Mayan temples were important ritual centers, where high priests performed often macabre sacrificial rituals. One can imagine the terror that sacrificial human victims must have felt as they were led up the steep pyramid stairs. Often, those killed had their arms and legs restrained while a priest cut into their chests, removing the heart. While the main seven Tikal Mayan temples are the biggest draw at Tikal, visitors can also expect to encounter the ruins of royal palaces, smaller pyramids, and inscribed monuments. Also found at Tikal are seven Mesoamerican ballgame courts. Facts about Tikal show that while the popular Mesoamerican ballgame was often enjoyed as recreation, it also served as a ritualistic event, often accompanied by human sacrifice.