Tikal © Dennis Jarvis
Set deep in the jungle of Parque Nacional, Tikal is home to one
of the most important remnants of Mayan culture, the City of
Voices. First occupied around 800 BC and mysteriously abandoned
about 1,000 years later, its most striking features are the steep
sided towering temples rising up to heights of 192ft (60m).
Scattered around the area are countless other structures, many still partially buried in the ground or engulfed by the verdant rainforest.
The central area, or Great Plaza, with its five main temples, was the heart of the ancient city and the centre for religious and ceremonial activity. Temple I, the Temple of the Grand Jaguar, is the main landmark of Tikal and was built to house the magnificent tomb of King Hasaw Chan K'awil. Temple II, opposite Temple I, has two grotesque, eroded masks on either side of the stairway and there are fantastic views from the top. The jungle around the ruins is alive with the sounds of bird and animal life, particularly the fearsome roars of howler monkeys, which have conjured up images of jaguars in many a frightened traveller's mind.
This combination, of rainforest and ruins, make it one of the few sites declared both a 'Cultural and Natural Heritage to Humanity' by UNESCO. There are two museums on site, containing copies of some of the elaborate sculptures, bas-reliefs and stelae from the ruins, a map showing Tikal as it was in 800 BC, as well as items recovered from the excavations, including the burial goods of King Hasaw Chan K'awil.