We left San Ignacio with one of the day trips to Tikal. We checked into the Jungle Lodge, which is right at the entrance. It was nice to stay so close; by about 2:30, the daytrippers had left and we had the Grand Plaza to ourselves. After a long day of walking, we sat by the pool with our books, watched the parrots and toucans, and listened to the jungle sounds.
Tikal was one of the biggest and most powerful cities in the Mayan world. It was settled around 800 BC, and abandoned sometime in the 10th centry AD. At its peak around 700 AD, between 100,000 and 200,000 people lived here.
After a 15 minute walk through the jungle, we saw the back side of Temple I. This temple marks the east end of the Grand Plaza. It contained the tomb of the Mayan ruler Hasaw Chan K'awil (Heavenly Standard Bearer), and was probably constructed by his son in the early 8th century.
We are standing in the Grand Plaza, looking at the North Acropolis. This was one of the oldest parts of the city, and was the site of many royal tombs.
The original steps up Temple II are closed, but you can climb a step stairway to get to the top.
The view looking east from the top of Temple II: the North Acropolis to the right, Temple I across the Grand Plaza, and the Central Acropolis to the right.
Paul at the top of Temple II
The steps up Temple I are closed, but we didn't really want to climb up them anyway.
We climbed up the steep steps of a temple just north of Temple I. A few feet from the top of the steps (left), it looked like a sheer drop. A little closer to the edge (right), the steps appeared. We kept walking and found an easier way down.
Temple II was built at the same time or slightly before Temple I by Hasaw Chan K'awil.
The jungle has been cleared away from many of the structures, but is growing back wherever it can.
The Lost World pyramid was probably used as a solar observatory. Archaeologists have found four more pyramids under this; the earliest dates from 700 BC.
The steps on all of the temples were very tall.
View of Temple IV from the top of the Lost World pyramid
View of Temple I from the top of the Lost World pyramid
View of Temple III from the top of the Lost World pyramid
At the top of the 104 ft tall Lost World pyramid
The view from the top of the Lost World; only the tall temples are visible above the jungle. From left to right: Temple IV, Temple III, Temple II, and Temple I. Template V is just behind the big hill on the right.
Going down was harder than climbing up.
Kimberly about halfway down the Lost World steps.
Between the temples was dense tropical rainforest.
We saw this toucan in the trees near the Lost World.
Built in 711 AD, Temple IV is the highest temple in Tikal at 209 feet. We were too tired to think about climbing all those steps, so we decided to save it for the next day.
The west side of Temple IV has not been excavated. It's hard to tell there's something man-made under the jungle.
Behind Temple IV, we heard rustling in the trees, and looked up to see several spider monkeys swinging through the trees.
On our way out, we approached Temple II through the jungle. We stopped in the Grand Plaza for a little while before heading back to our hotel.
We got up early the next morning to get to the entrance when it opened at 6:00 am. We climbed to top of Temple II again to have breakfast and watch the day brighten. We could hear howler monkeys roaring, and there were lots of parrots and other birds making noise. Then we headed west to get to the top of Tikal's tallest pyramid, Temple IV, while our legs were fresh.
We bought a map on our way in. On the back, the map had a list of rules. The English translations were sometimes very funny. Some of our favorites:
View from the top of Temple IV. From left to right: Temple I, Temple II, Temple III, and the Lost World
Looking for the Millenium Falcon
We thought this was the trail to Temple V, but it seemed to be further when we thought. Several times, we thought it was getting a little overgrown, but then it would open up. Sometimes we thought we saw something just up ahead. Eventually we turned back; we have no idea where this trail went.
Some of the steps have been broken up by tree roots.
Either this temple wasn't completly excavated, or the jungle is taking it back.
Only about 10% of the city has been excavated, and archaeologists are still working here.
Restoration of the 190 foot tall Temple V was just completed in 2004.
Temple V had the scariest stairway yet -- it looked like a ladder, but with seven flights of steps.
At the top, there was a narrow boardwalk, but no railing.
From the top of Temple V, the Grand Plaza is hidden by jungle. Temple I is on the right, and Temple II is on the left.
While sitting at the top of Temple V, we heard a strange whooshing noise. We realized it was the sound of the rain coming toward us just before it hit us. Climbing down the stairs was even more exciting going backwards in the rain.
The jungle was so dense that most of the rain didn't get through, but we did eventually get wet.
Temple VI is only partially excavated. The thatch roof on the left is sheltering a carved stela.