Guatemala (May 2006)

The journey began in Belize City. The morning after arriving in Belize City, we boarded a very small airplane for the trip to Flores, deep in the Guatemalan jungle, about 60 km from Tikal.   We flew for about 45 minutes over dense tropical jungle, with the occasional cenote peeking out from the foliage.  Arrival at the Flores airport was exactly what one would expect - hot, steamy - the air was heavy with the jungle humidity.  We were met by our private guide, and a 50-passenger bus for our private trip to Tikal. 

The ruins are located inside an immense nature preserve.  Our guide knew all the back trails through the rain forest, so we saw an interesting variety of critters - crocodiles,  howler monkeys, parrots, numerous other birds, and a coatimundi (pisote).  The jungle atmosphere in Guatemala is heavy with humidity.  You could get hot and sweaty just thinking about how steamy it was!  

Map of Belize and Guatemala

Click on the map for a larger view


Photos from the trip

The Plane Jungle Cenote
The plane (yes, the small one in the foreground!)

Dense jungle

Cenote,  viewed from the air

Ruins Flores
Flying over some ruins enroute Flores, Guatemala - approaching the airport
The site covers 222 square miles of jungle all around the ceremonial center, consisting of the archaeological ruins and extensive jungle.  Over 1000 years ago, a city of 60,000-70,000 people once bustled with activity.  It took the University of Pennsylvania 13 years to uncover about 10 square miles of structures at Tikal.  However, much of it is still left to be unearthed. 

Tikal remained a mystery for centuries, after being abruptly abandoned by the Maya over 1000 years ago and overgrown by a relentless jungle.  Only a legend survived among the Indians of a lost city, where their ancestors had achieved a high cultural development.  In 1848 a lucky gum collector stumbled upon the site, seeing the temple's roof combs in the distance.

Many of the major structures appear to have been positioned to align with or indicate important solar events.  By sighting from one temple to another, it was possible to identify the precise dates of the solstices and equinoxes (click here to read more)

Click for map of Tikal Site

Click for larger map (133 KB)

Tikal sign Chris Monkey
Entering the park Monkeying around for the camera Just hangin' around ...

Temple IV

Temple IV, at 72m tall, is the tallest structure in the complex.  Built around 741 A.D., it rises out of the jungle as you approach it.  They have thoughtfully provided (very steep) stairs to enable climbing to the top.
Temple IV Temples I and II Pyramid
It rises from the jungle Treetop view of Temples I and II Lost World (Mundo Perdido) complex
Teotihucan Pyramid
  (30 meters high) - the oldest pyramid on the site
Chris Tablet Crocodile
What goes up must come down Altar V, at the base of Temple IV

With a diameter of more than five feet, this bas-relief clearly reveals the two individuals adorned in full regalia. The skull and bones at the bottom center of the drawing accentuates the revered nature of death.

Atop Temple IV
View from atop Temple IV, with Temples I and II on the left and Temple III on the right

From atop Temple IV, it is apparent that only one man-made structure intersects the horizon, and this is Temple III. However, it does so only with an architectural embellishment known as a "roof comb" (a false front added by the Maya to their otherwise squat buildings to give them more imposing height) -- in this case, a triple roof comb whose azimuth marks the winter solstice sunrise position over Victoria Peak, which is often invisible in the morning haze.

Temple III

Temple III lies directly west of Temple I, marking the sunset position at the time of the equinoxes.
Temple III


Temple III


Ceiba Tree
Ceiba Tree Bromeliads
Temple III, from the front and the back

The Ceiba Tree is one of the largest in the Central American Rainforest, reaching as high as 60m,  The Mayans believed it was the tree of life, standing at the center of the earth, connecting the terrestrial world to the spirit-world above.  This one is covered with Bromeliads.

The Main Acropolis, with Temples I and II

The Main Acropolis, showing Temple I, and Temple 33 on the left side of the Great Plaza

Temple II (Temple of the Masks)
38 meters

This temple faces the rising sun.

You come upon the Main Acropolis from the back side of Temple II.  You can climb Temple II for a great view of Temple I and the Great Plaza.

It is believed that Ah Cacau, ruler from A.D.684, created Temple II to honor his wife. Unfortunately, no burial chamber has yet been found beneath it to definitively prove this theory.

Interestingly, these temples have very little space inside. The only rooms were those located at the top. The relative shortage of interior space supports the belief that these great buildings were reserved solely for religious and ceremonial use, and for only the highest nobility in the society. 

Temple II Temple II
Temple I
Jungle Bird Temple II, viewed from the Great Plaza
 through a Ceiba tree with bird nests


Temple I (Temple of the Giant Jaguar) - 45 meters

This temple faces the setting sun, considered by the ancient Mayas as the portal to the underworld

Temple I Temple I (back) Woodpecker
Temple I The back of Temple I Woodpecker
Temple 33 Temple I Temple I
Temple 33 Temple I Temple I
Finally we stopped for a native-type lunch inside the park.  We had beef, but our guide ate what we suspect was "the black chicken".   We hiked back through the jungle to the entrance and the shops, for some fine price-haggling for great Guatemalan souvenirs.  Ever the shoppers, we finished up our visit to Guatemala with extensive purchases of cheap liquor at the airport Duty Free shop, and flew back to Belize City; bidding good-bye to the ancient city of Tikal.
Nesting Parrot Nesting Parrot Nesting Parrot
Parrots nesting in tree.  Second parrot is barely visible at the foot of the parrot on the far left.
Coatimundi Coatimundi Black Chicken
Coatimundi (Pisote) I may have been too close to this critter ... Black Chicken
Tapestry  Tapestry
Tapestry Souvenir

TIKAL National Park - provides a map of the archaeological park, information and photos about the principal temples and plazas, and more.
Natural World Heritage Property: Tikal - details the ruins physical features, surrounding flora, fauna, history and culture of its human populations, and conservation value.
Journey Through Tikal - offers a map of the ruins, photos and descriptions of treasures recovered, and a cultural history of the Mayan people (great 360 degree interactive panoramic views!)
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