Tikal Travel Blog

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Temple of the Gran Jaguar on the Plaza Central
Tikal is one of the largest excavated Mayan cities in Central America. You can wander around for hours, even days between the temples and still haven't seen it all And there's lots that is not even discovered yet! Add to the amazing ruins the jungle setting and the wildlife (gotta love those monkeys!) and this makes for one of the most interesting Maya cities to visit.

There are many temples to explore so I'll try go give a general description of the ones we visited.

The Plaza Central
The Plaza Central is arguably the heart and the most recognizable part of the park. It is flanked by two impressive pyramids/temples: Temple I or the Temple of the Gran Jaguar, and the smaller, squatter Temple II or the Temple of the Masks (the one you can climb).
Stela and altars in front of the North Acropolis
On the sides of the plaza are two acropoli: the North Acropolis, an impressive jumble of buildings from different time-periods built atop one another, and the Central Acropolis, a massive, spread-out complex of 'palaces'.
The Plaza itself was a ceremonial square and the floor was covered with plaster in Mayan times. Below the grass are no less then four plaster floors. Rulers used to sit atop the pyramids and look down on the ceremonies being performed below.
The tree in the middle of the plaza is full of hanging 'oropendola' nests. You can't miss these birds with their distinctive cry!
Try getting to the Plaza early in the morning before the masses of tourists arrive so you can have it to yourself and listen to the cry of the birds and the monkeys in the surrounding vegetation.
The North Acropils in the Plaza Central
You'll see most wildlife during this time. We took some nice pictures of oscillated turkeys amid the ruins without people scaring them away. Also, we saw a fox in the Central Acropolis.

Central Plaza: Temple II
For some reason, we neglected taking a decent picture of this, the less 'glamorous' of the two pyramids on the Plaza Central. The temple is 38 meter (127 foot) high and also called the temple of the Masks because of the two masks next to the restored ceremonial steps. On the roof-comb, though very eroded, you can still see an enormous mask and inside the temple inscriptions were found (access to these is closed because of vandalism).
Climbing this pyramid is still allowed but by way of a wooden staircase, built against the side of the pyramid.
Traffic Jam climbing Temple II
This prevents the erosion thousands of tourist-feet were causing to the steps of the temple. An obligatory 'to-do' if you want to take the classic postcard picture of Tikal is to climb temple II on the Plaza Central to you can take a picture with the temple of the Gran Jaguar (or temple I) in the background. This is actually one of the easiest, and the most popular, 'temple-climbs' of the park. If you want to avoid mob scenes like in the picture, make sure you do this climb early in the morning, when there are few people around!
Like with many temples, in front of the pyramid you can see a restored stela (the largest one at Tikal) and altar.

The Central Plaza: temple of the Gran Jaguar
The temple of the Gran Jaguar or temple I , directly opposite temple II, is, at 44 meters high, the 'grande dame', the most photograped pyramid of the park.
Arriving at Temple V

This pyramid dates from around 700 CE and consists of nine (a holy number for the Mayas) stepped terraces with a temple on top. Inside of the temple carvings were found which (of course) have been shipped off, mostly to museums in Europe and the US. The construction is capped by an impressive roofcomb. At the base of the temple the grave of the important ruler Ah Cacau (gotta love that name, a ruler who liked chocolate!) was found. You can see a reconstruction of the grave, including grave-offerings, in the on-site museum. Ah Cacau was a remarkably tall man by Mayan standards (1 .85 m). This would have contributed to his status. He reigned for almost half a century.

The Central Plaza: the North Acropolis
The North Acropolis is a jumble of buildings from different time-period built op top of each other and therefore, not so easy to make sense of.
Stairs up Temple V

The Maya had the custom to cover up existing buildings and build others on top of them. Excavations have revealed interesting details below the buildings you see nowadays (like the mask in one of the accompanying pictures). It is estimated that the oldest buildings date from around 200 BCE. The mask would date from this period. Also, various tombs of rulers were found in this area. Findings from these can be seen in the museum.
In front of the Acropolis you'll see a row of carved stela and sacrificial altars.

Temple V
Take a left from the Gran Plaza, past the Central Acropolis and you'll get to the recently restored Temple V, built around 700 CE and almost 60 meters high.
The pyramid can be climbed using a wooden staircase to the side of the wide steps.
OMG, WHAT am I DOing?! :-)
There is a small temple on top with very thick walls but most people will climb this one especially for the view. In the distance you'll see the two temples on the Gran Plaza.
If you are afraid of heights, like I am, just go easy on this one, it's very steep! I found that going up wasn't as bad as coming down again. It helped to face toward the wall when coming down!
In front of the pyramid is a small palapa with some 'before and after'-pictures explaining the restoration work that was done (the text is in Spanish).

Temple IV
This pyramid, or rather the view from this pyramid over the jungle canopy toward the other temples, must be one of the best-known views of Tikal (except maybe the one of the temple of the Gran Jaguar). Why? Well, that scene from the original Star Wars movie of course!
This temple is also particularly popular for the sunrise and sunset views, although the views from the Great Pyramid are just as fine and less crowded.
Temple IV *cue Star Wars theme*

Temple IV, dated 741 CE, is more than 64 meters high (it is placed on a man-made terrace, making it even higher) and the highest ancient building in the Western Hemisphere.
From the top you can see the roofcombs of Temple I and II (on the Great Plaza) in the distance, facing each other, and closer, Temple III and V.
The pyramid is quite easily climbed by way of metal and wooden stairs winding through tree roots.

Temple VI (Temple of the Inscriptions)
This temple is situated a bit 'off the beaten path', via the Mendez-causeway (raised paths or causeways built by the Mayas are still in use nowadays and named after archeologists who have worked at Tikal) from the Gran Plaza or via a path parallel with the entrance-road to the National Park.
Climbing Temple IV: not as scary as Temple V!
Not a lot of people take the time to visit this complex so you won't see many people on these paths, which makes for good wildlife watching.
The temple itself, dated 766 CE, is not particularly impressive, compared to the other (more restored) temples and especially noted because of the inscriptions on its roofcomb.
In front of the pyramid you'll see an altar and a stela, both partially restored.

El Mundo Perdido/The Great Pyramid
Between Temple V and Temple IV you'll find the area called 'El Mundo Perdido' (The Lost World), consisting of 38 structures, of which the Great Pyramid is the largest one.
The Great Pyramid is flat-topped, not crowned by a temple and roof comb like the other pyramids, so you'll have a great all-around view from the top, although it is by no means the highest pyramid in Tikal (32 meters high). The pyramid has steps on all sides, the restored ones (flanked by large masks) are on the west side.
The Mayas used to built structures on top of each other, and digs into this pyramid have revealed that this is the oldest structure at Tikal. It is thought that this pyramid, together with three others close to it, formed an observatory.

Plaza de los Siete Templos
And finally (phew!), there's the Plaza de los Siete Templos (Plaza of the Seven Temples), situated between the Mundo Perdido complex and Temple V and consists of a ball-game court to the north, seven small temple-mounts on the east side, and some ceremonial buildings at the south side.
This plaza is actively excavated and restored at the moment.

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Temple of the Gran Jaguar on the P…
Temple of the Gran Jaguar on the …
Stela and altars in front of the N…
Stela and altars in front of the …
The North Acropils in the Plaza Ce…
The North Acropils in the Plaza C…
Traffic Jam climbing Temple II
Traffic Jam climbing Temple II
Arriving at Temple V
Arriving at Temple V
Stairs up Temple V
Stairs up Temple V
OMG, WHAT am I DOing?! :-)
OMG, WHAT am I DOing?! :-)
Temple IV *cue Star Wars theme*
Temple IV *cue Star Wars theme*
Climbing Temple IV: not as scary a…
Climbing Temple IV: not as scary …
Tikal General Tips & Advice review
Tikal Practicalities
Some info that might come in handy if you're planning on visiting Tikal: Visiting hours are from 6 o' clock in the morning till 6 in the evening. L… read entire review
photo by: Biedjee