Tikal is a large archaeological site in the Guatemalan
department of Petén. During the Classic Period it was one of the largest and most important of the Mayan cities. Today it's one of the most fascinating and enjoyable of the Mayan sites to visit, largely due to its remoteness, but also its jungle setting. Tourists still descend on it by the busload, but it's far from feeling overrun like Chichen Itza
and other sites. Some of the temples are still being uncovered, and you can watch archaeologists busy at work. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Tikal dates back as far as 400 BC, and grew into one of the largest and most powerful of the Mayan cities during the Classic Period (AD 200-900). It often clashed with other cities in the region, and was eventually defeated by Caracol in 562 AD. King Ah Cacau returned Tikal to its former glory about a century later, and it remained somewhat prosperous until the general decline of Mayan civilization set in around AD 900.
Tikal was eventually abandoned completely, consumed by the jungle, and pretty much fell off the map. Stories of its existence started to surface in the 17th & 18th centuries, but it wasn't until the mid-1800's that expeditions were hatched to explore and map it. After a hundred years of roughing it overland by horse and foot to reach the site, a small airstrip was built in the mid-fifties. The University of Pennsylvania oversaw major excavation work at Tikal during the 1960's, and the government of Guatemala began the work you still see being done in the late 1970's.
Lots of very tall trees provide shade along the wide trails as you trek from one ruin to the next. With the exception of Temple IV the elevations are small. Very steep wooden staircases lead up to the temples that are open to the public. Only minimal disabled access is provided.
» Flora and fauna
If you go early enough in the morning (or better still, stay at one of the hotels in the park), it's possible to see and hear the monkeys. Spider monkeys sleep together in large groups, but during the day they disperse. It's easiest to see them when they've woken up and are beginning to move around. Howler monkeys are more often heard than seen. Coatimundis,a racoon-like mammal and brightly colored wild "ocellated" turkeys, are everywhere. Toucans and other exotic birds contribute to the ruins' reputation for wonderful bird watching. Jaguars are rare but have been spotted on the more remote trails.
It's sunny, hot and humid in winter so dress lightly and bring water since you will be sweating climbing up the many steep steps of the monuments which are spread out. The trails are also muddy in a few places but there is plenty of shade under the canopy of trees. Winter nights can be cool.