Situated deep in the jungles of northern Guatemala near the town of Flores, Tikal (map) is the largest of the ruined cities of the splendorous Maya civilisation. This ancient city with its breathtaking pyramids (some of which are higher than 60 meters!), temples, palaces and monuments reached its epitome in the 1st century AD but can trace its roots back to the 4th century BC. It is estimated that the city was abandoned in the 10th century. A listed UNESCO World Heritage Site and a sure highlight of a trip to Guatemala, Tikal possesses a mystical atmosphere, compounded by its location deep in the tropical rainforest, that is truly unique.
Exploring the various temple and palace complexes requires hiking through the rainforest along trails that are sometimes steep and slippery but are extremely rewarding. Look out for the colourful toucans, green parrots and various monkey species such as the spider monkey along the way.
The best place for a panoramic view of the city and the jungle is the top of Temple IV. It’s a challenging climb involving ladders and giant tree roots for support but the views are breathtaking. The Star Wars fans among us will also recognise this spot where scenes for the first movie were filmed.
Save the best for last: plan your journey around the city so that you’ll end up at the palace and the ‘Plaza Mayor’. The ‘Plaza Mayor’ is the central square with two immense pyramids (Temples I and II) flanking both ends and is definitely Tikal’s centrepiece.