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Tikal Guatemala: Mayan Ruins and National Park

Tikal is located in the department of Petén, in the north side of Guatemala Central America. The Mayan city of Tikal is located at the low lands in the middle of the jungle, with an extension of 575.83 km²; an area of 24 km² is open to the public. Tikal is one of the more important and largest one site 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), and hand-made altars using high and low relieve and thousands of instruments used as tools to manufacture decorations, house instruments, polychrome ceramic, architecture, etc.

More than 3,000 constructions have been found in the Mayan area, some of them amazing like the pyramid-temples and many palaces, ball game fields, houses, poor houses, temples, thermal baths, markets, crips, and roads.

Tikal Mayan History:

Close to the II and III Centuries B.C. we approach the Mayan classic period and where a great status of life is experienced in all senses, in relation to architecture, large centers with temples built using a chalked type stone, which was abundant in that area, and from the same type of stone and marga, they discovered a filling material similar to concrete which was used to build complicated constructions. The chalked type stone mixed with water resulted in a chalk material which was used to finish the constructions. The excellence of the construction materials resulted in an architecture with special characteristics, pyramids reach up to 45 meters high with a base of more than 59 meters , and the walls were as wide as one meter and the use of a bault as a fake or Mayan arc.

During the classic period (300-900 B.C.), a strong and extensive economy develops, resulting in a large population in spite of the fact of the many wars during that time. It is calculated that Tikal 's total population during the Classic period was around 10,000 up to 40,000 habitants, and during that period the writing system appeared, telling the story of the governors wrote on the stone sculptures, as well as the mayan calendar. A calendar which many believe was more accurate than the Gregorian which is currently used (360 days plus 5 more days, to complete a solar year). In addition to the solar calendar or Haab, the used a religious calendar or Tzolkin (20 names for each day in a combination with 13 numbers, resulting in a 260 cycle). The combination of both calendars formed the circular calendar with a 52 years cycle (the name of solar calendar is repeated after a period of 18,980 days); this count is known as the Long Count.

The Mayan vigecimal number system presumes the discovery and used of the cero and this is a non-value number related to other symbols (the dot and the bar). In addition to the mathematical and calendar calculations, the Mayas studied the perfection of astronomy, by using complex devices for the observation and prediction of the moon cycles, the movement of the stars, the planets, the seasons, and the eclipses.

During this stage of the Mayan civilization, a strongest economy development is achieved, as well as measurement of time, agriculture, arts, architecture, the buildings are monumental and are finished with great tops, roofs with a stone bault are built and everything was decorated with stucco and multiple-colored paints, resulting in an integration of architecture, sculpture, and painting.

Political organization of the Mayan Civilization

Political organization was characterized with 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 meant “Sacred Sir” and the power was reached by dynastic succession. The governor was surrounded by a group of people with an economic, religious, and military power, who assisted him to lead the government and had many privileges. The K'uhul Ahaw was an intermediary between gods and citizens and there was a tradition to register the political changes in the Mayan sculptures, as well as the domination of the territories, the wars, and any extraordinary events, marked with the “emblem glyphs” which was a gerogliphic which identified the sculptures and other monuments of an 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 or conformed a Kingdom, but two predominant and rival cities were Tikal and Calakmul, which main objective was to dominate all commercial resources and routes and by means of agreements, and diplomatic or matrimonies agreed to, for commercial purposes or for the domination of the territory, strengthened them. In other words, 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.

The Sacred Sirs or K'uhul ahaw had a lot of political power, and based that power in a direct relationship with their gods, it means, they were the liaison of the population with their gods by means of ritual acts or public activities registered in the gerogliphical texts or stone sculptures; those ritual acts were offered to the gods to thank them the good crops, the protection against the war and to keep them safe of illnesses and human sacrifices were common (most of all when they were war prisoners) and blood offers, sometimes the blood of the governor himself, which was very much appreciated by the gods.

Within the social level of authority system, there were other individuals close to the governor who belonged to the noble class, known as the sirs Ahaw, Bakab, Kalomte, etc., priests and the shamans, and on the other side, the artistic class, who were very appreciated within the Mayan society of the Classic time, probably because of their knowledge and abilities spread and left a testimony of the greatness and importance of the governor in turn, mainly the different social classes can be seen during the burring or at the crips which are located inside the large pyramidal buildings constructed specially for them, as temple I or the Gran Jaguar at Tikal, which kept the remainders or Hasaw Chaan K'awil, or temple II built for his wife “the 12 guacamaya woman” (a complex of twin pyramids), also it is important to point out that the sacrest place in which city was the crip of the founder of the dynasty.

At the end of the VIII Century, all progress reached by the Mayan civilization started to diminish, and this happened until the IX century, urban life did not disappeared immediately, but little by little the splendor and knowledge disappeared, resulting in many wars among the cities and social unhappiness against the dominant classes, which provoked a social political discontent resulting in the abandonment of the cities and migration to other cities, that is known as the “Mayan collapse”.

The Mayan civilization by means of their constructions reveal a world of splendor and greatness using an artistic language which let us imagine their conception of the world, their environment, their ritual acts, wars, fears, and social and political conflicts, establishing a high stereotype level in the remaining that are available to us after almost two thousand years.

Tikal is nowadays known as the Tikal National Park and is considered a preserved area surrounded by a forest, and it represents a great value 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.

Places to visit :

The most important plazas and temples in tikal national park are:

The great plaza
The most spectacular structre in tikal is the plaza surrunded by stelae and sculpted altars, ceremonial buldings, residencial 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 150 feet in height. the temple was erected in 700 ad. *temple ii. this temple stand in the western end of the great plaza and rises to a height of 120 feet. it was constructed in 700 ad.

Temple of the jaguar priest (temple III)
Rising to 180 feet, and located west of temple ii, it was constructed around 810 ad.

Temple of double·headed serpent (temple IV)
At 121 feet, this is the highest standing structure in tikal. it was built around 470 ad by yaxkin caan chac.

Temple v
Constructed around 750 ad and located south of great plaza. this temple is close to 190 feet high.

The lost world "plaza of the great pyramid"

Located southwest. this area features the largest pyramid at tikal. it is approximately 100 feet high and, together with the structures to the west, form part of an astronomical complex. to the south is the group called "great masks".

Plaza of the seven temples
Located east of the great pyramid, it is formed by ceremonial structures of the post-classic period. a palace with five doors, from the preclassic period can be seen covered up and used as a foundation for another building called "great masks".

Twin Pyramids Complex:
This name is given to groups of four buildings, which consist of two truncated pyramids with staircases at each of their sides and located to the east and west of the plaza; To the south; a structure with 9 entrances and to the north, the Recinto de la Estela. Inside the Recinto, there is a stele with its corresponding altar, which is generally craved. Directly in front of the pyramid located on the east side, there are 9 smooth steles with their altars, out of which 5 can be visited. To this day, there are 7 of these complexes known to exist in Tikal. They were built at intervals of 20 years in order to celebrate the ending of the Katún (period that equals 20 years).


  • N Complex: Located nearby Temple IV. It was built in 711 AD (Mayan date:
  • P Complex: Located at the end of Maudslay Road; it was built in 751 AD 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 Y THE RULERE Chitam (Mr. C). Here you will find stele 22 and altar 10. It has been partially restored, for which 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 AD by the ruler Chitam. Here you will find stele 19 and altar 6.

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 on the south end of the Great Plaza. There you can see several residential and administrative structures, with several rooms and levels, such as the Palace of the Stormy Skies, the Maler Palace, and the Palace of the Five Stories. To 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.


There are five visible streets (or roads) in Tikal. These were used as processional avenues.

  • MÉNDEZ: Starts at the east Plaza and runs towards Temple VI. It is approximately 1 km long.
  • MALER: Joins the north zone with the east plaza and measures about 350 meters. Near the north zone, along this street, sits a sculpted rock from the Late Classic period.
  • MUDSLAY: Joins Temple IV with the west Plaza. It is about 750 meters long.
  • TOTTER: Joins Complex IV with the west Plaza. It is about 250 meters long.
  • MORLEY: Located in Group 6B-IT (Or Barringer), and is about 100 meters long.

Other Interesting Landmarks:

  • GROUP G: It is located on one side of Méndez Street. It has several palaces like structures. It is notable for 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 the mouth of a huge mask.
  • GROUP F: It contains 4 palace-like buildings, which are partially joined. Nearby is Structure 5B-22, which is one of the two temascales (steam baths) known to exist in Tikal. There is a restroom area located here.

Palacio de las Ventas

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 gets its name has been partially restored and contains many rooms interconnected throughout its interior.

North Zone:

Maudslay and Maler streets end here. Its main buildings are structures 3D-41 and 3D-42. In the west end of the platform that holds structure 3D-43, there is another tamascal (or steam bath), which was in turn covered by later buildings. Inside structure 3D-43, the piece known as The Man of Tikal was found.

Travel to Tikal

We offer you two different tour packages; we operate these tours on a daily basis from Belize , Guatemala City or Antigua . Please check availability with us.

Department of el Peten Map including Tikal

View Peten Department - Tikal in a larger map

Google Earth 3D Map of Tikal

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