The jungle is immensely thick. It is almost impenetrable on all sides, cutting off any sort of view of the sky. Howler monkeys swing from tree to tree screeching along the way. Small agoutis, a type of large rodent that looks like a cross between a guinea pig and a kangaroo, can be seen in the dense underbrush. The trail takes you deeper into the jungle and just as suddenly as the forest surrounded you, it disappears and you find yourself in the Central Plaza. This is the heart of the abandoned city of Tikal.
Tikal used to be the largest city in the Americas and was the capital of a powerful Mayan kingdom. It was abandoned in the late 900’s and was left to be reclaimed by the jungle. It was not until 1956 when archaeologists began to slowly unearth what had been lost. Even today, only about 15% of the city has been uncovered, but you will still be amazed at the sheer scale of the place.
The central plaza is flanked on both sides by massive temples that stretch perilously high towards the clear Guatemalan skies. The view from the top of the pyramid structures is impressive.
Many of the structures have been given rather unoriginal names like Temple I and Temple V. This is mainly due to the complete lack of knowledge about Tikal’s history. Archaeologists have pieced together as much of the history that they could based on the evidence left at the sites, but much of what actually went on here is a mystery. The Mayans had developed a written language, but it has sadly, baffled linguists who have tried to decipher these hieroglyphs. If you hire a guide for your visit through the site, almost every bit of information that they will give you about the history of Tikal will be preceded by them saying, “Archaeologists think…” or “It is believed…”No one is entirely certain.
The ruins are incredible to see and the setting is magical. It would be very easy to spend several days exploring the massive complex and imagining what it looked like at the height of the Mayan civilisation.
Written by Joseph Ramsey for theEssentialDestination.com