Tikal – Maya – Temples and Pyramids in the Rainforest of Guatemala


The Maya city of Tikal is located in the rainforest in the lowlands of Guatemala. Flores on Lake Petén is just a hop away. When the Spaniards conquered the highlands of Guatemala, they were also aware of the presence of this ancient city here in the lowlands.

Strange is that, Cortez who must have come close during his expedition to Honduras, didn’t mention the city. But the knowledge of Tikal’s existance seems never got lost completely. Nevertheless, after several expeditions had been undertaken to investigate the area, it took until the 1950s to start the systematic inspection of the site.

Tikal: The Northern Acropolis and Temple II

Tikal: The Northern Acropolis and Temple II

The colonization of Tikal began in the pre-classic period around 900 BC. The first architectural traces are dated from 200 BC. This period also marks the first golden age of the city.

Tikal avoided the general decline that began at the end of this period, and reached a new size during the classical period. Nevertheless, the city was abandoned around AD 900.

Tikal - TemTikal - Temple IV - Wooden stairs at the side to climb up to the top of the pyramidple IV

Tikal – Temple V – Wooden stairs at the side to climb up to the top of the pyramid


During this second peak, the area of Tikal might have provided habitat to about 200,000 people, a number bigger than for any town in Europe at this time. The city covered an area of 65 km². So far, 6,000 buildings have been identified. However, it is believed that another 10,000 buildings are waiting to be discovered.

The most remarkable buildings are located in the center of the city, which has an area of 16 km². The temple pyramids have no special names and are numbered with roman numbers as Temple I to Temple VI.

Tikal: Temple 1 and 2, standing face to face

Tikal: Temple I and II, standing face to face at the Plaza Major


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Alongside other great temples and palace buildings, Temple I and Temple II flank a large central square, the Plaza Major.

The Temples III to VI can be found on the margins of this central area or even completely outside.

The Temples I and II have a remarkable height for Central America with 40m and 47 m, respectively. Even more impressive are the Temples IV and V. They reach a height of 65 m and 58 m.


Tikal: Temple II at the Plaza Major

Tikal: Temple I the Jaguar Temple at the Plaza Major


Travel Advice:

Tikal can be reached easily by public transport. If you stay in Flores then you can start at the bus station in Flores / St. Elena.  From El Remate you can simply stop a colletivo. The ride in the collectivo takes less than an hour. Good shoes and sufficient drinking water are recommended for the tour to this location. The routes within the site are relatively long. Be prepared to walk a lot.


Map of Tikal

Map of Tikal


Recommended Reading:

A description of the amazing experience to visit Tikal can be found on the Website of Marcella and Claire – “Best regards from far“: Tikal: where nature and culture merge



Further reading:

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Christian Schoen

Christian Schoen is a globetrotter, travel writer and author of the very successful travel guide "Die Ruinenstädte der Maya", published in Germany. He loves to visit temples, pyramids and any kind of ancient ruins. The SLR in his hand, he can be met on adventurous hiking tours in tropical jungle landscapes - sometimes - or just somewhere in his neighbourhood, the Black Forest Mountains in Germany.

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2 Responses

  1. Tikal was by far the most impressive temple I visited in the Yucatan area – it doesn’t just feel like being a “tidily dug out archeological site presented on a silver platter” for tourists to see. Especially the walking up of the jungle (howler monkeys going nuts) was an awesome experience -> Get there before sunrise! Have to return there someday and visit El Mirador.

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