Tikal is an ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, located in the northernmost region of Petén. The city lies within a lush rainforest roughly twelve miles south of another ancient Mayan town, Uaxactún. No longer a core Mayan civilization, the ruins of this ancient city now lie within the confines of the Tikal National Park. The park was founded in the 1950s and garnered the prestigious designation of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Tikal was once the hub of Mayan ceremony. The city’s first occupants were small in number – just a small simple village; however, around 300 BC the city became ceremonially important and construction of pyramids and major temples began; however, it wouldn’t be until around 600 AD that grand plazas and palaces, hieroglyphs, systems for counting time, and other arts and sciences would begin to flourish.
The largest of the structures in the city’s center encompass approximately one square mile. The entire area covers a little over six square miles and highlights small, modest residences along the outskirts. The residential areas here were unlike Teotihuacán in that these were widely separated. Estimates point to a population of near 10,000 people in the “downtown” area at the height of Tikal’s day, but with this outlying population, the total was nearer to 50,000.
The main structures within the city’s center include five temple pyramids as well as three large acropolis. These are presumed to have been the pyramids and palaces for the richer of the townspeople. One such acropolis has several buildings underneath which have been discovered ornately arranged burial spaces.
Of these buildings, there are five notable pyramids. The Temple of the Jaguar sets atop Pyramid I, and the structure is 148 feet tall. To the west is Pyramid 2, which supports the Temple of the Masks. Pyramid 3 is 180 feet tall. Close by the Seven Temples Plaza is Pyramid 5, coming in at 187 feet tall. Of these major ruins, however, Pyramid 4, in the westernmost corner of the ruins, stands tallest at 213 feet tall. In the entire Western Hemisphere, Pyramid 5 remains one of the tallest structures of the pre-Columbian era.
The Tikal National Park is open every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.