Of all the great Mayan ruins, Tikal is perhaps the crown jewel. First settled in about 700 BC and reaching its peak in about 250 AD, it continued to be a major religious, political and commercial center until the disintegration of the Mayan world in about 900 AD. For centuries it was the center of that entire culture, a city of over 100,000 people spread over 30 square kilometers with over 4000 structures in its central area alone, now a world of ruins under the jungle canopy with its tallest structures poking through it to over 190 feet in height.
While most of Tikal lay buried in the jungle from its abandonment in about 900 AD, visited only perhaps by the indigenous living still at Flores and elsewhere close by, it was not until the Guatemalan government sent an expedition in 1848 that it was really known to the larger world. In 1979 it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
To walk through the ruins is to wander down narrow jungle paths from one complex of buildings to another.
The Grand Plaza, containing two major pyramids and numerous other buildings, most of them residential, was the center of activity at Tikal but not by far its only focus.
Most of the structures are still in some degree of jungle entanglement, and it is pretty clear that if left without almost constant maintenance they would soon revert to the way they were for hundreds of years.
Yet when fully uncovered, most of the structures are beautifully symmetrical and imposing, particularly in the lush green of the jungle surroundings.
This was a return visit for us as we had been here in 1988 and had camped in a small yellow tent in what was then just a meadow with a few cabins and a small restaurant, The Jaguar Inn, for accommodations. Here was our campsite this time–the same meadow but now with palapas and a number of hotels for food and lodging.
Oh–we did have visitors each early morning and dusk. They are called Coatis by the Latin American world and are part of the raccoon family. They range from the U.S. Southwest, where they are called ‘Hog Nosed Coons’ to Argentina where we saw them at the Iguazu Falls National Park. They’re real cute from a distance, but if they are threatened they can be very dangerous with razor teeth and unretractable claws that resemble those of bears.