The largest and best preserved of Mayan ruins is the ancient metropolis of Tikal. Located in the northern department of El Petén, Tikal is probably the most notable tourist destination in Guatemala.

Built around 300 BC, Tikal was the center of the vast Mayan empire, which extended into the Yucatan Peninsula, and at its peak (300-900 AD) had a population greater then 100,000. The most prominent features of Tikal are the towering temples. Six pyramid shaped temples, the largest of which rise over 200 ft, were constructed by the Mayans as a tribute to past leaders, and as an honor to their gods. The ruins also include palaces, houses, public buildings, and many stone monuments and inscriptions.

A day trip to Tikal can be arranged, but for some may not be enough time to see everything. There are a few hotels and campgrounds in the park. An overnight stay can provide one of the most awe inspiring views of the ruins, watching the sun rise atop temple IV. As the mist clears and the sun rises, the jungle comes alive. Howler monkeys can be heard in the distance, as well as the occasional tree crashing down through the jungle. As the sun rises higher, the other temples can be seen through the fog.

It is not necessary to hire a guide, but I strongly recommend it, at least for a few hours. English speaking guides are available, and provide a wealth of information that cannot be seen just by walking through the ruins. They provide a wealth of information on the history and culture of the ancient city, as well as names and descriptions of many of the plants and animals in the surrounding jungle.

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