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Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-04-17 18:44:27 | Tikal, Peten, Guatemala
Keywords: Mayas, pre-hispanic, Ruins, UNESCO
I like to go early on an archeological site to be there before the crowds and have a chance to take nice pictures without people in them. Usually the sites open at 8 AM and the bus tours arrive around 10, leaving me some time to do the visit and take pictures. In the case of Tikal, it's a lot different. There are tours to bring you there to watch the sunrise leaving Flores at 3 AM so we can enter the ruins park around 4 AM, to have time to cross the site and reach the pyramid for the sunrise viewing. There are a few groups who are there at the same time... so even though it's pitch black out there... you can have easily up to 100 people roaming the location. I had picked my date after watching the weather forecast... and today was a clear sky day with a few clouds. Unfortunately, I still wasn't lucky.

The picture you see below is the best I could take of the view from the sunrise viewpoint. Soon after, all the area in front was covered in fog, leaving us only the close by trees to watch. The ascent of the pyramid was easy though... 196 steps on a wooden staircase along side of the ancient structure to reach the temple level at the summit. There are a few other high structures in Tikal that have such wood stairs, beating the steep original stairs (especially for the way down). We left the view point around 6h30, and soon after the sky began to clear up. I would have returned up to take pictures... but the Sun would have been in the way and most I would have seen would have been the jungle with a few tall structures pointing up.

The best view I had of the sunrise.

I've already seen a handful of Mayan sites. Although Tikal is the second largest of them all (El Mirador, North of Tikal is the largest Mayan city ever), its structures are largely still covered by the jungle, leaving about only 20% visible. The excavation of Tikal began in the 1960s and is conducted by teams from foreign universities in partnership with the government. The city spreads over 16 square kilometres and was the home of over 60 000 people at its peak around year 800, a few decades before the global fall of the Mayan empire.

Tikal was an important trade post and had many commerce relationships with the neighbouring cities of El Mirado, Caracol, Calakmul and even Palenque. Many wars as well, which shifted the power controlling the city, and that partly accounts for the variety of architecture found on the site. Many structures were inspired from other civilizations as far as Teotihuacan.

Just as nearby Palenque (in Mexico), Tikal is in the jungle and the humidity is very intense. That explains why the structures can easily be absorbed by nature within a few years if they're not properly maintained. But Tikal UNESCO site is more than just the Mayan ruins.. it includes most of a large national park with great diversity both for fauna and plants. So, within the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, Tikal is registered a mixed site, both cultural and natural. It has been added to the list in 1979. It's also the first mixed site I visit during this journey.

Overall, I can say I was a bit disappointed by Tikal, since it's often referenced as THE site to visit within the Mayan empire. Of course, there was part of the weather with not being able to witness the sunrise, but there are other reasons as well. As a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures (especially panoramic ones in my case)... and Tikal doesn't offer much opportunities in that sense. Yes, it's a huge city but it's still mostly uncovered. Yes, it offers great monuments but the morning isn't the best time to visit the site and be able to take pictures of them, and they're often too much surrounded by the jungle. But I enjoyed the visit nonetheless even if it didn't reap the rewards I was hoping for. Although I've now seen over a dozen ancient ruins sites, I'm still impressed by the craftsmanship of those people who built structures without the help of any metal tools in many cases.

The Temple from where I waited the sun to come up.

Related posts:
What I've seen in Mexico
Joya de Cerén
Chichén Itzá
San Agustin site


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