on September 26, 2008
Despite its location, tucked away deep in the lowland jungle of the Guatemalan department of El Petén, the magnificent Maya site of Tikal attracts its fair share of tourists. After all, the Tikal ruins are probably the greatest Maya buildings in the whole of Guatemala, maybe even in the world. Unesco-listed already since 1979, the ancient town provides a great insight in daily Mayan matters as well as on religious and cultural affairs of this great nation. Nowadays the ruins are part of the 576 km2 large Tikal National Park, trying to preserve both the historical and natural treasures of the region. Established in 1955, it's about the only conservation area in Guatemala that escaped the human threats of deforestation, thanks to a huge support of its national park status by each subsequent government, no matter how corrupt or brutal they were. The park is incorporated in the 30 times larger Maya Biosphere Reserve, covering the whole north of the country and established in 1990, in a worthy attempt to combat illegal logging there. All visitors are required to go to the Tikal Visitor Centre, right in the centre of the national park and just east of the main ruin area. You are to buy your ticket here (150 Quetzals, around 20US$). When you arrive after 4PM, you also receive a ticket for the next day, a great way to see Tikal at different times. Apart from a relief map of the ruins, there is also a quite pricy restaurant, some gift shops and even a post office in the visitor centre. Nearby are a few cheaper eateries ("comedores"), two museums (the Tikal museum is free), a few expensive but good hotels, like the Jungle Lodge charging around US$100 for a double, and even a campsite (only 30Q per person).Apart from the extensive cultural heritage, which I will discuss in other reviews extensively, the park also contains rich natural treasures. Located in the lowland tropical rainforests of the Petén Basin, its climate is hot and humid all year round, but during the wet season (June-November) precipitation rises sharply. Many parts of the rainforest are impenetrable but a few dirt roads and trekking routes are available. Should you want to spend some time in the rainforest, the travel agents in Flores and Santa Elena offer specialised tours. There are great rainforest treks to one of the numerous Maya sites still hidden deep into the El Petén departement, like nearby Uaxactun and El Zotz or the great El Mirador site close to the Mexican border. But even if you don't participate, the ancient site of Tikal offers already great opportunities to discover the forests. A few temples towering over the sea of trees are climbable, which offers excellent bird's eye views on the lush green rainforest. Several of the ruins are overgrown with indigenous flowers, trees and plants. Several of the forest's wildlife, including howler monkeys, coatis, toucans and Guatemala's national bird, the Quetzal, are regular visitors to the ancient site and can be spotted, most likely during dusk and dawn, but also during the day. Larger mammals like the ocelot or the jaguar normally hide deep in the rainforest.
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