Tikal: The Ancient Maya City

When we were planning our trip to Guatemala, we knew that one of the highlights would be the Unesco World Heritage site of the ancient Maya city of Tikal. Tikal lasted from 600 BC to 900 AD and, at its peak, had a population of 90,000 people. According to archeologists, the city was abandoned suddenly with no sign of attack.

There are a few hypotheses. Some archaeologists believe there was a great famine or an epidemic strike. Others believe the constant battling with foreign tribes drove the people away.

Warning: Gran Jaguar Tour Agency

Read the TripAdvisor forums before your trip. Many travelers were complaining of arranging their transportation from Flores to Tikal with a tour company called Gran Jaguar who collected money online and then never showed up. Our taxi from the airport offered us his services. Dan asked the name of his company and it wasn’t Gran Jaguar, so we took him up on it.

We told him about Gran Jaguar and he was shocked. He’s friends with the people from Gran Jaguar but didn’t know what they were doing. Dan checked the forums for a while after our trip and people were complaining about new incidents.

The National Tree of Guatemala

Ceiba tree with its conical spikes

The Ceiba tree is the national tree of Guatemala. The Maya believed its roots went down to the underworld (Xibalbá) and that Xtabay, the malignant demon, lived in it.


Close-up of the Ceiba tree

When you arrive at the park, you hire one of the licensed guides to take you through the park. There are jaguars in the park so it is better to be accompanied by someone who knows the area. Our guide Jesus was very knowledgeable but only speaks Spanish, but you can find guides who speak English, too.

In Tikal with tour guide
With our guide, Jesus
Jesus, our guide, was waiting for us below

The pyramids of Mexico and Guatemala do not look like those in Egypt. This style is called talud tablero, which is built in steps.


Fact: The Maya and Rubber

To the left of the pyramid ahead was the ball field. The ancient Maya, like the Inca, played with rubber balls. The Inca even had rubber-soled shoes! To create rubber from the sap of the rubber tree, you need a process for it to coagulate. The Maya and the Inca added sulfur from Morning Glory vines. They were using rubber for over 1,000 years before it was being used in the western world!


These animals are called coati. A band of about 20 of them ran out of nowhere, startling all of us tourists. Coati are from the raccoon species, and they’re very fast. I read later that they’re in Venezuela, too, but I’ve never seen them.

The Island of Flores

Dinner in Flores

Flores is a colorful tourist island in lake Petén-Itza. Many tourists stay here when they visit Tikal.

The other option, which many prefer, is to stay at one of the three sanctioned hotels in Tikal National Park, where you sleep in the jungle with the sounds of the animals and the chance to wake up bright and early to see the spectacular sunrise. These hotels, though, do not have air conditioning and Tikal is a hot and sticky place. We stayed in Flores and after a long, hot day in Tikal, we were grateful to have air conditioning!


The best way to get to the Petén Province is by a one-hour plane ride. Driving can take from 8-10 hours. You’ll need your energy for the long walks and steep climbs in the hot, humid weather.

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