Tikal, Guatemala

Recent photographic techniques have shown thousands of buildings and an extensive road system

Tikal is the ruin of an ancient city, which was likely to have been called Yax Mutal, found in a rainforest in Guatemala. Ambrosio Tut, a gum-sapper, reported the ruins to a Guatemalan newspaper, which named the site Tikal. After the Berlin Academy of Sciences' magazine republished the report in 1853, archeologists and treasure hunters began visiting the forest. Today tourism to the site may help protect the rainforest. It is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. The site is part of Guatemala's Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.

Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, c. 200 to 900 AD. During this time, the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily, while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica such as the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the distant Valley of Mexico. There is evidence that Tikal was conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century AD. Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century. Tikal is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities, with a long dynastic ruler list, the discovery of the tombs of many of the rulers on this list and the investigation of their monuments, temples and palaces.

Tikal National Park is in Northern Guatemala's Petén Province within a large forest region often referred to as the Maya Forest, which extends into neighbouring Mexico and Belize. Embedded within the much larger Maya Biosphere Reserve, exceeding two million hectares and contiguous with additional conservation areas, Tikal National Park is one of the few World Heritage properties inscribed according to both natural and cultural criteria for its extraordinary biodiversity and archaeological importance. It comprises 57,600 hectares of wetlands, savannah, tropical broadleaf and palm forests with thousands of architectural and artistic remains of the Mayan civilization from the Preclassic Period (600 B.C.) to the decline and eventual collapse of the urban centre around 900 AD. The diverse ecosystems and habitats harbour a wide spectrum of neotropical fauna and flora. Five cats, including Jaguar and Puma, several species of monkeys and anteaters and more than 300 species of birds are among the notable wildlife. The forests comprise more than 200 tree species and over 2000 higher plants have been recorded across the diverse habitats. 

Tikal, a major Pre-Columbian political, economic and military centre, is one of the most important archaeological complexes left by the Maya civilization. An inner urban zone of around 400 hectares contains the principal monumental architecture and monuments which include palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, small and medium sized residences, ball-game courts, terraces, roads, large and small squares. Many of the existing monuments preserve decorated surfaces, including stone carvings and mural paintings with hieroglyphic inscriptions, which illustrate the dynastic history of the city and its relationships with urban centres as far away as Teotihuacan and Calakmul in Mexico, Copan in Honduras or Caracol in Belize. A wider zone of key archaeological importance, around 1,200 hectares, covers residential areas and historic water reservoirs, today known as “aguadas”. The extensive peripheral zone features more than 25 associated secondary sites, historically serving protective purposes and as check-points for trade routes. The peripheral areas also played a major role for agricultural production for the densely populated centre. 

Research has revealed numerous constructions, carved monuments and other evidence bearing witness to highly sophisticated technical, intellectual and artistic achievements that developed from the arrival of the first settlers (800 B.C.) to the last stages of historic occupation around the year 900. Tikal has enhanced our understanding not only of an extraordinary bygone civilisation but also of cultural evolution more broadly. The diversity and quality of architectonical and sculptural ensembles serving ceremonial, administrative and residential functions are exemplified in a number of exceptional places, such as the Great Plaza, the Lost World Complex, the Twin Pyramid Complexes, as well as in ball courts and irrigation structures.


Yaxha & Topoxté Mayan Sites

Topoxté is on an island and we had a boat to take us there. It was very wet and started to get better as we went on to Yaxha on the shore of the lake.Topoxte was named by Teobert Maler in 1904; the name means "seed of the Ramón tree." There is no record of the name Topoxte prior to this. The Ramón tree, commonly known as breadnut, was an important component of the ancient Maya diet. Prior to this the site was known as Islapag, as noted in 1831 by Juan Galindo in his report to the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Archaeological investigations have revealed that the site was occupied from the Middle Preclassic right through to the Late Postclassic. Obsidian from the Ixtepeque source started to be used from the Terminal Classic onwards and is used as a diagnostic marker for dating finds to the later periods of occupation at the site, when Ixtepeque became the principal source of obsidian for Topoxte and the wider Maya lowlands. The site was abandoned at the end of the Classic period (ca. 900) and reoccupied during the Postclassic at approximately 1100. After being inhabited for a further three and a half centuries it was probably finally abandoned around 1450.

Yaxha was the third largest Mayan city in the region and experienced its maximum power during the Early Classic period (c. AD 250–600). The city was located on a ridge overlooking Lake Yaxha.

The name of the city derives from the Mayan for "blue-green water". The Yaxha kingdom is estimated to have covered an area of 237 square kilometres and to have had a peak population of 42,000 in the Late Classic period of Mesoamerican chronology. Yaxha had a long history of occupation with the first settlement being founded sometime in the Middle Preclassic period (c. 1000–350 BC). It developed into the largest city in the eastern Petén lakes region during the Late Preclassic (c. 350 BC – AD 250) and expanded into an enormous city during the Early Classic (c. AD 250–600). At this time, in common with other sites in Petén, it shows strong influence from the distant metropolis of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico.

It was eclipsed during the Late Classic (c. AD 600–900) by neighbouring Naranjo but was never completely dominated. The city survived well into the Terminal Classic (c. 800–900) but was abandoned by the Postclassic period (c. 900–1525). The ruins of the city were first reported by Teoberto Maler who visited them in 1904. The site was mapped in the 1930s and again in the 1970s and stabilisation work began in the late 1980s. The ruins include the remains of more than 500 structures with a number of major archaeological groups linked by causeways. Approximately 40 Maya stelae have been discovered at the site, about half of which feature sculpture.


Hotel La Lancha

9.0 On Booking.com and on TripAdvisor. Located around an hour from the Belize border and 45 minutes by road from the archaeological ruins of Tikal, La Lancha is a tranquil 10-room lodge, set amongst a jungle landscape high above the shores of Lago Peten Itzá. Each of the rainforest casitas is connected to the main lodge by a series of winding pathways and all come with private bathrooms, locally sourced furnishings, covered decks and stunning views. The lodge also offers an open-air restaurant, a , so called, split-level pool and a chance to take a canoe ride across the waters of Guatemala’s second largest lake.

We stayed here as we were visiting the ruins at Tikal. It is probably not a good choice for this as you have to do a good half hour off the asphalt, on a bad dirt track, to reach the hotel

When we arrived the first thing that happened was a "waiver" was thrust at us to sign. This basically was to absolve the hotel from any responsibility for my safety , even if it was caused by gross negligence by their staff. This is a hotel, not a high risk zone, and they have no right to try to absolve themselves from their own negligence. I have stayed in hundreds of hotels and never had to sign this sort of paper. I refused to sign, and after a bad tempered stand off I was "allowed" to stay (I would have left rather than sign). I asked to see the manager, and was told it was his two days off. Now you should not leave a 5 star hotel without a management presence, but Mr Ford Coppola does. It is a pretentious hotel, with no reason to be pretentious. It should be ashamed of its waiver form and lack of manager

Our casita was large and had a balcony overlooking the lake. The furniture is sourced from Guatemalan producers and this Guatemala luxury hideaway features many locally made arts and crafts.

The limited choice restaurant offers good basic fare, but is not five star cuisine.

Then an hours drive to the airport at Flores and a flight to Guatemala City, where we were picked up and driven to Antigua


Central America Holiday