The department of Peten is the largest one in Guatemala. This department inspired the Guatemalan writer Virgilio Rodriguez Macal to write the book “La Mansion del Pajaro Serpiente”. This region is of an incredible natural beauty and is considered one of the most important ecological areas in all Central America. Its nature and the international importance of the archaeological sites have made Peten one of the most interesting tourist places of the world.
Tikal National Park is undoubtedly the most important of the archaeological sites. However, there is a long list of site worthwhile visiting, among them: Yaxha, Nakun, Nakbe, Aguateka, Petexbatun, Piedras Negras, and Ceibal.
One of Guatemala's most mystical features is its archaeological heritage, the heart of the Maya World. The signature site is majestic Tikal but recent decades have showcased spectacular San Bartolo, with its “Sistine Chapel” murals; and Yaxha wit its main walk ways and beautiful lagoon; El Mirador, the largest pyramid by volume in the world; TakalikAbaj with ten terraces rising 1500 m from the Pacific and spanning the Olmec to the Maya civilization. Peten is one of the most important areas during the Pre-Columbian occupation and therefore the large number of archaeological sites located in this region, which are considered invaluable and have been declared as a patrimony of men. A walk to Tayasal will soon take you to the imaginary time of the Prehispanic occupation. The current itza'es and the mixed peteneros still tell stories about the history of these warriors.
Peten is a paradise for bird watchers: the climate and the widespread green areas guarantee a wide variety of different species. Guatemala is famous among birdwatchers because it is in the North-South migratory path of birds from South and North America, the two coasts of the United States and Canada.
In the department of Peten, there are two Biosphere Reserves, seven national parks, five wild life protected areas, four protected Biotopes, three Cultural Monuments, and a Biological Reserve. All of them, in addition to the splendid nature, are settings for the invaluable archaeological sites.
An area of almost 17,000 km² are protected lands, as large as the departments of Totonicapan, Quiche, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, Chimaltenango, Sacatepequez, and Guatemala all together.
Places to visit in Peten:
Tikal National Park
The National Park was instituted in may, 1955. In 1979, UNESCO declared Tikal a Cultural Treasure of Humanity. The whole park has an overall area of 576 sq. km.
Archeologecal Site: In 1848, Colonel Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut Administrador and Governor of Peten, performed the first official survey of the site.
The mapped surveyed area with almost 4000 different structures on it, covers about 16 sq. km. The first signs of occupation date back to the year 800 BC during the Middle Pre-classic period. The last buildings found are from the late Classic period (900 AD). The 1500 consecutive years of occupation conveyed this civilization with a high cultural, artistic, architectural, urban, mathematical, astronomical, agricultural and commercial development. This has been the cause of international scientific admiration and interest.Tikal
Tikal is located in the department of Peten, in the north side of Guatemala Central America. The Mayan city of Tikal is located in the middle of the jungle. Only an area of 24 km² is open to the public, while the total extension is 575.83 km². Tikal is one of the most important and largest sites of the Low Lands in which the Mayan civilization was developed.Tikal Architecture
There are more than 40 sculptures in Tikal, some of them very high. Here you will also find high and low relieve altars, thousands of devices that were used as tools to manufacture decorations, house instruments, polychrome ceramic, etc.
More than 3,000 constructions have been found in the Mayan area, some of them amazing like the pyramid-temples, the many palaces, ball game fields, houses, poor houses, temples, thermal baths, markets, crips and roads.Tikal Mayan History:
In the Mayan classic period (starting in the 2nd / 3rd century B.C.) the Mayans reached a high life standart. This is especially true for architecture and construction: large centers with temples were built from a chalk stone, which was abundant in that area. From the same type of stone and marga, they produced a filling material similar to concrete and used it to build complicated constructions. The chalk stone mixed with water was also used to give the constructions a finish. Their excellence in construction and the great quality of the materials shows in the amazing architecture. The Mayan pyramids reach up to 45 meters standing on a base of more than 59m with 1m thick walls.
During the classic period (300-900 B.C.), a strong and extensive economy developed which lead to an increase of the population in spite of the fact that many wars were fought during that time. It is calculated that Tikal 's total population during the Classic period was between 10,000 up to 40,000 inhabitants. It is interesting to know that during that period a writing system was the developed. The stories of the governors were told on stone sculptures and the mayan calendar was written down. This calendar is said to be more accurate than the Gregorian one which is currently used (360 days plus 5 more days, to complete a solar year).
The Mayan vigecimal number system presumes the discovery and use of the cero. In addition to the mathematical and calendar calculations, the Mayas studied astronomy, by using complex devices for the observation and prediction of the moon cycles, the movement of the stars, the planets, the seasons and eclipses.Political organization of the Mayan Civilization
Political organization was characterized by the arising of the Mayan states, in which a great deal of lines of authority marked the different social levels. State power was centered in the governor which had the title of K'uhul Ahaw, that means Sacred Sirand. The power was reached by dynastic succession. The governor was surrounded by a group of people with economic, religious, and military power. They assisted him to lead the government and had many privileges. The K'uhul Ahaw was an intermediary between gods and citizens. The Mayans thanked the gods for the crops, the protection from war and illness in ritual acts. Human sacrifices (mostly war prisoners) and blood offers, sometimes the blood of the K'uhul Ahaw himself, were common. There was a tradition to write down the political changes on the Mayan sculptures, as well as the domination of the territories, the wars and any extraordinary events. Those notes were marked with the emblem glyphs which identifying sculptures and other monuments as part of specific city, the emblem glyph was a kind of title given to the K'uhul Ahaw of each city.
Cities became independent states and never were unified to one Kingdom. Two predominant and rival cities were Tikal and Calakmul. The main goal of these two was to dominate all commercial resources and routes. They tried to strengthen their territory by means of diplomatic agreements, weddings or war. Many wars took place between these to powerful cities and the minor cities surrounding their territory (Caracol, Dos Piles, Palenque, Naranjo, Yaxchilan, Piedras Negras and other cities), but never between Tikal and Calakmul.
Within the social authority system, there were individuals close to the governor who belonged to the noble class, known as the sirs Ahaw, Bakab, Kalomte, etc., priests and the shamans. There also was a class of artists, who were very appreciated within the Mayan society of the Classic time. Their knowledge and abilities helped spreading a testimony of the greatness and importance of the governor in return. The difference in the social classes are reflected in their graves located inside the large pyramidal buildings especially constructed for them. The most prominent examples are of course the Gran Jaguar at Tikal, which kept the remainders of Hasaw Chaan K'awil and temple II built for his wife Lady Twelve Macaw (a complex of twin pyramids).
At the end of the 8th century, all progress reached by the Mayan civilization started to diminish. Urban life did not disappeared immediately, but little by little the splendor and knowledge disappeared. Many wars between the cities were fought and anger against the leading class arose. There was a social political discontent resulting in the abandonment of the cities and migration to other cities. Until the 9th century the Mayan civilization had collapsed
Tikal now is a National Park and represents a great value also because of its flora with more than 115 species, more than 350 different bird species, 105 reptile species, 105 mammal species, 25 species of aquatic animals, 50 species of snakes, and 535 species of butterflies.
The most important plazas and temples in tikal national park are:The great plaza
The most spectacular structure in Tikal is the plaza surrounded by sculpted altars, ceremonial buildings, residential palaces and a ball court.Temple of the Great Jaguar (Temple I)
Located on the eastern side of the great plaza, it is more than 45m (ca. 150 feet) high. the temple was built in 700 BC for Hasaw Chaan K'awil.Temple II
This temple is situated in the western end of the great plaza. It reaches a height of 36m (ca. 120 feet) and was constructed in 700 BC for Hasaw Chaan K'awil’s wife Lady Twelve Macaw.Temple of the Jaguar Priest (Temple III)
Reaching a height of 55m (ca. 180 feet) this extraordinary pyramid is located west of temple II. It was constructed around 810 BC.Temple of Double Headed Serpent (temple IV)
At 37m (ca. 121 feet), this is the highest standing structure in Tikal. It was built around 470 BC by Yaxkin Caan Chac.Temple V
Constructed around 750 BC and located south of great plaza. This temple is almost 58m (ca. 190 feet) high.The Lost World: Plaza of the Great Pyramid
Located in the southwest, this area features the largest pyramid at Tikal. It is approximately 30m (ca. 100 feet) high and together with the structures to the west forms part of an astronomical complex. South of it you will find the group called Great Masks.Plaza of the Seven Temples
East of the Great Pyramid you will be able to admire a palace with five doors from the pre-classic period. I was covered up and used as a foundation for another building called Great Masks.Twin Pyramids Complex:
This name was given to a group of four buildings, which consist of two truncated pyramids located in the east and west of the plaza with staircases at each of their sides. In the south there is another structure with 9 entrances and in the north the Recinto de la Estela. Inside the Recinto there is a stele with a corresponding altar, which is mainly craved. Directly in front of the pyramid located east, there are 9 smooth steles with their altars of which 5 can be visited. To this day there are 7 of these complexes known to exist in Tikal. They were built in intervals of 20 years in order to celebrate the ending of the k'atun-cycle (20 years long).Complexes:
N Complex: Located nearby Temple IV. It was built in 711 BC (Mayan date: 184.108.40.206.0).
P Complex: Located at the end of Maudslay Road. It was built in 751 BC by the ruler Yaxin Caan Chac (Mr. B). Here you can find replicas of stele 20 and its altar.
Q Complex: Located east of Complex R, it was built in 771 AD (L 220.127.116.11) Y THE RULERE Chitam (Mr. C). Here you will find stele 22 and altar 10. It has been partially restored, giving visitors can get a better idea of what these groups of buildings are.
R Complex: Located halfway along Maler Road. It was built in 790 BC by the ruler Chitam. Here you will find stele 19 and altar 6.
Acropolis: There are currently 3 groups of buildings in Tikal, which have been dubbed The Acropolis.
North Acropolis: Located on the north side of the Great Plaza.
Central Acropolis: It is located in the southern end of the Great Plaza. Here you can see several residential and administrative structures, with several rooms, such as the Palace of the Stormy Skies, the Maler Palace and the Palace of the Five Stories. In the south lies what is called Embalse or Aguada del Palacio (Water Hole of the Palace).
South Acropolis: This area has not been surveyed yet. It is located between Temple V and the Plaza of the Seven Temples.Streets:
There are five visible streets (or roads) in Tikal. These were used as processional avenues.
Mendez: This road starts at the east Plaza and runs towards Temple VI. It is approximately 1 km (ca. 3280 feet) long.
Maler: Joins the northern part with the plaza in the east and measures about 350 m (ca. 1150 feet). Near the northern part, along this street, sits a sculpted rock from the Late Classic period.
Mudslay: Joins Temple IV with the plaza in the west. It is about 750 m (ca. 2460 feet) long.
Totter: Joins Complex IV with the western plaza. It is about 250 m (ca. 820 feet) long.
Morley: Located in Group 6B-IT (Or Barringer), and is about 100 m (ca. 328 feet) long.Other Interesting Landmarks:
Group G: Located on one side of Mendez Street, it is constituted of several palaces. Especially notable are its decorations shaped like canals on the outer wall of structure 5B-54. You can enter the group through a domed tunnel and its entrance is shaped like the mouth of a huge mask.
Group F: Four partially connected palace-like buildings are part of this group. Structure 5B-22, which is one of the two steam baths known to exist in Tikal can be seen nearby. There is a restroom area located here.
Palacio de las Ventas: This palace is also known as Palace of the Bats. It is formed by a group of structures west of Temple III. The building from which the Group got its name has been partially restored and contains many rooms interconnected.
North Zone: Maudslay street and Maler street end here. The most interesting buildings in this area are structures 3D-41 and 3D-42. In the western end of the platform that holds structure 3D-43, there is another tamascal (or steam bath), which was covered by later buildings. Inside structure 3D-43, the piece known as The Man of Tikal was found.Travel to Tikal
There are two different tour packages to Tikal that Turansa Tours offers. They operate these tours on a daily basis from Belize, Guatemala City or Antigua. Please check availability with them.
Other Places to visit in Peten:
This site is located 17km (ca. 10.5miles) southwest of Sayaxche along the river banks of La Pasión river at an altitude of 150m (ca. 492 ft.). It is placed within a humid tropical forest environment. Ceibal was declared National Monument in 1970. It was later declared National Cultural Heritage of the Nation in 1985, which guarantees prohibition of archaeological predators, hunting, mining explorations and wood- cutting. The reservation area not only protects the archaeological heritage but also the plants and animals of the area. The protected area of covers 31.66 sq. km (ca. 12 square miles). It includes two additional archeological sites: Arroyo de Pierdra, 4 km east of Dos Pilas; Tamarindo, 3 km northeast of Arroyo de Piedra, and several caves with evidence of pre-Hispanic occupation. To the south of the park is the village of Nacimiento to, to the west lies Reserva de San Román and to the north is the cooperative area of Manos Unidas.
The existence of Ceibal was first reported by Federico Artes in 1892. He named the place Saxtanquiqui, which is Mayan name for a white bird indigenous to the region.
The fist archaeological surveyor of this site was Teobert Maler in 1895 and 1905. He named the place Ceibal due to the large number of Ceiba trees that still can be found in the area. He also drew the first map of the site, which he published in 1902. Later, in 1914 and 1915, Sylvanus Morley arrived at the site interested in the large number of sculpted monuments. The site was also visited by Francisco Villacorta in 1928 and 1930, Richard Adams in 1961 and Ian Graham 1967.
The systematic research and restoration work done on some of the main buildings, as well as the standing of the steles, was performed by scientists of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, between 1964 and 1968. Ceibal was the largest settlement during the Late Classic period, with more power on the west side of La Pasión River, by having a very favorable location as control and interaction point during trade and transportation activities, as well as social and military efforts. This site is located at the highest altitude, on top of a limentone slope 100m (ca. 328 feet) above the river.
The site in composed of a ceremonial center covering an area of 1 sq. km (ca. 10.7 sqare feet) and is distributed on three high hills, each one separated by deep ravines that drain into the river. On each hill there’s a high number of buildings that have been named Groups A,B,C and D. The 31 monuments with hieroglyphs sculpted from limestone where manufactured in the late classic period. Its most notable feature is the group of characters depicted, which differ from those of the southern classic Mayas of the lowlands. A central figure is the most outstanding one, which reflects a return to the classical period style from the early stage of cultural development where the figure in question is standing with its toes pointing outward.
Aside from the non-classical elements added to classical monuments, there is a clear omen of the arrival of final downfall and decadence. Although the sculpture is clearly artistic in nature, the carvings are very wide and rough, compared to monuments 20 years older found at the site.
Group A contains most of the monuments: 15 steles and 9 glyph panels in front of A-14 building. Monuments 5 and 7 depict ball players. Stales are located where streets II and III intersect, with an altar near platform C-18. The round altar with its jaguar head is located in front of building 79 at the end of Street II.Dos Pilas:
There are two ways to reach the site, either by water or by land. The first is from Sayaxche by boat, along La Pasión River, while going southwest so to take the Petexbatún creek, with a total journey of two h until ranching a place called Paso Caribe, from where the 12-h walk starts until reaching the site.
During the dry season, you can make the journey in 3 h, either by foot or on horseback, while walking the first portion of the trail through privately-owned land without trees, farmlands and grazing lands, an finally entering a forest area that belongs to the protected area of the park itself. If you take, the trail that goes west and leads to Chico Zapote, La Montería, Las Pacayas, El Jordán and Nacimiento (approx. 2 h using 4x4 vehicle).
The ruins were discovered by brothers Jose María and Lisandro Flores in 1954. The first name given to the site was Caribal or Caribe. In 1960,the French writer and ethnologist Pierre Ivanoff Christens the place as Dos Pozas, due to the streams that flourish nearby. That same year, G.L. Vinson changes this name to Dos Pilas.
This site does not show any exposed architecture, but comprises 492 mounds oriented on an east-west axis within an area of 71 hectares. It contains many rectangular platforms, some pyramid-shaped mounds and some palace-like buildings. It also has four staircases with glyphs, and other staircases with characters that resemble book-keeping. The most outstanding buildings in terms of construction are buildings L5-49, which was related to ruler I, and building p5-7 know as the Pyramid of the Elf, which is the tallest mound among the sites located in what are assumed to be the residential quarters of the spouse of Ruler I.
Its architecture does not show clear examples of domed rooms, nor stone roofs. It does have several mounds with pyramidal bases, quite possibly with temples built atop its superstructure, palace-type building, U-shaped buildings and low rectangular platforms.
The whole site is very compact and follows a linear pattern. Most of the mounds are oriented eastward, very few southward and even less to the north or west. This site also has a defensive system.
According to Stephen Houston’s hypothesis (1986), the high classes of Dos Pilas settled near the river. From this location these people had control over their visitors.
The departament is divided as follows: 10 municipiums; 206 caserios (a group of houses in a determined area); 153 large towns; 42 farms; 8 towns; 11 other; five parajes; 17 colonias; two cities; one asentamiento (an illegal settlement).Tours to the Archeological Sites
- Tikal Tours
- Tikal by Bus from Guatemala City or Antigua
- Ceibal and Aguateca Tours
- Yaxha, Topoxte & Uaxactun Tours
- Copan and Quirigua Tour
Map of the Peten Department
View Peten Department - Tikal in a larger map
Google Earth 3D Map of Tikal