Abandoned by its original inhabitants more than a thousand years ago, Tikal remained unknown to outsiders for almost a millennium. In 1525, Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés passed within a few dozen miles of the place without learning of it. Likewise, in 1841, the American diplomat, journalist and explorer John Lloyd Stephens and the British illustrator Frederick Catherwood reported with great fanfare their “discovery” of ruins in the Maya region, but they missed Tikal. Guatemalan archives mention that local people lived in Tikal in the 18th century, but the first official expedition to the ruin wasn’t until 1848. Even “Tikal” is a relatively recent name, derived from the Mayan word ti ak’al, or “at the water hole.” Deciphering Tikal.
This is a great YouTube video: Tikal.
The modern name is fairly ironic given the fact that modern day historians now believe that Tikal was wiped out by drought!
One of my greatest concerns about visiting Tikal, aside from the cost, was that it might not quite live up to all the hype. Lots of travellers, over the years, have said how amazing Tikal is.
Towering pyramids poke above the jungle’s green canopy to catch the sun. Howler monkeys swing noisily through the branches of ancient trees as brightly colored parrots and toucans dart from perch to perch in a cacophony of squawks. When the complex warbling song of some mysterious jungle bird tapers off, the buzz of tree frogs fills the background and it will dawn on you that this is, indeed, hallowed ground. Certainly the most striking feature of Tikal is its steep sided temples, rising to heights of more than 61m. Tikal is deep in the jungle, about an hours walk from the park entrance, where you buy your ticket. Its many plazas have been cleared of trees and vines, its temples uncovered and partially restored, but as you walk from one building to another you pass beneath the dense rainforest canopy. Rich, loamy smells of earth and vegetation, a peaceful air and animal noises all contribute to an experience not offered by many other Mayan ruins.
Suffice to say, I was blown away by Tikal.