In the north-east corner of Guatemala, situated between Belize and Mexico, lies Tikal Guatemala. An awesome site, the once powerful city of Maya rulers is currently blanketed in virgin forest. Discovered in the mid-19th century, it lies within the Tikal National Park, listed by UNESCO for both its natural and cultural wonders.
The site greets visitors with an ancient reservoir, one of 20 designed to capture rainwater, along with a couple of museums and a visitors’ centre. Beyond the entrance, however lies an untouched jungle paradise. Howler monkeys swing from trees whilst toucans put on a display of vibrant colours. The jungle plays host to some more menacing creatures; tarantulas, rattle snakes and even the odd crocodile bask by the reservoir waters. Fortunately the jaguars are likely to keep their distance. Trained guides keep the adventurous tourists who embark upon the miles of meandering trail safe. The jungle contains 185 species of trees, notably the lofty Ceiba, the national emblem of Guatemala. Other fauna includes the incense tree, still precious to Mayan rituals, and the sturdy Ya wood once used for lintels.
Tikal rulers built the city around 600 BC, from which they established their dynasty. They developed agriculture, religion and trade, built monuments and causeways and encouraged culture and arts. By 750 AD Tikal had grown to house 100,000 residents, but just 150 years later dwindling resources and warfare brought the city to its demise. Despite this, sizable vestiges are being unearthed while others remain buried in the surrounding rain forest. According to experts, this is the most important city of the Classic Period in Maya civilization.
Visitors can gaze at the remains of palaces, the unusual Twin Pyramids and the Lost World from which ancestors observed the Milky Way. Temples stand, powerful and unperturbed by the passing of time. They range from the old Inscription Temple to the Jaguar Priest, with the most recent dating back to 810 AD.
Most impressive is the Grand Plaza which lies at the heart of the city. Boasting an acropolis for residents, royal tombs and several temples where important religious events were held. Among them are the Temple of Masks and the famous Great Jaguar Temple. This temple stands as the true icon of Guatemala, protecting the tomb of the famous Jasaw. A scene carved in sapodilla wood shows the victorious ruler carried back to the city on his people’s shoulders.
Removed from the hustle and bustle of the centre lies Temple IV, known as the ‘Two-headed Snake’. This temple was erected around 745 AD and is the highest of all Tikals’ temples, standing 65 metres from the ground. Visitors can climb to the top of the temple and witness a breath taking view. Below lies a dense ocean of greenery spreading as far as the eye can see. Mysterious sounds echo in the breeze, shadows vanish into the undergrowth and, rising above the trees, the old Maya temples bear witness to a distant past.
By Solange Hando