Tikal – El Petén, Guatemala
Incomparable Ghost Metropolis of the Maya
In an empire that once encompassed Mexico, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, Tikal was the most resplendent of all Mayan cities. Its towering pyramids and acropoli were the highest structures in the western hemisphere, and by its heyday in the 7th century A.D. (it is believed to have been mysteriously abandoned around A.D. 900), an estimated 50,000-100,000 people (some accounts say twice that) lived in the 6-square-mile ceremonial city.
Now Guatemala’s most famous and impressive Mayan ruin, its centerpiece is the Great Plaza, flanked by tall, well-restored temples that were once covered in stucco and painted bright colors. At 186 feet and 212 feet respectively, Temple V and Temple IV are the highest on the grounds, and ideal for watching the sunset. Tikal lies in the middle of the vast, forest-covered Tikal National Park, so wildlife viewing and temple visiting to the cries of toucans and howler monkeys go hand in hand. Special passes are granted to visit the Plaza after-hours when the moon is full, but Tikal is magical at any time of day. You can wake up and fall asleep to the sounds of macaws by staying on the park grounds in the modest bungalows of the Jungle Lodge, initially built to accommodate those who came to excavate.