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Tikal - Exploring the Ruins

    At the Entrance
    Before the ticket kiosk, on the right is the Tikal Museum (the official name is the Museo Sylvanus G. Morley), but most importantly, this museum has an extraordinary collection of Maya goodies. To the left is the Visitor Center and Museo Litico.
    Pick up a map of Tikal at the stalls outside the Visitors Center or at the ticket booth.
      Tip: At the ticket booth, buy day tickets for entrance to the ruins. Credit cards are not accepted, use quetzales. Day tickets (when we visited) allow you to go in and out, 6am - 6pm.
      It's about a 15 min. – 30 min. walk from the entrance to the Great Plaza, depending how many times you stop to look at the huge ceiba tree (the sacred Maya "tree of life"), ants marching on the path, spider monkeys jumping from branch to branch, coatimundis rooting around for a something to eat.
  Great Plaza – Start your explorations of Tikal at the Great Plaza. To the east is Temple I, to the west Temple II. On the north side of the plaza is the dense cluster of temples, the North Acropolis. A lower group of buildings, the Central Acropolis, is on the south side. Underneath Temple I was buried one of the greatest kings of Tikal, Hasaw Chan K'awil , formerly called "Lord Chocolate."
    Kids can climb to the top of Temple II on the wooden stairs, and when you come around to the Plaza side and there’s one word for it: breathtaking. Look across the plaza to Temple I, which is even higher, and it’s boggling to think that these majestic buildings were built with stone (no metal) tools. The newly restored white plaster masks across the top of the pyramid are Chak, the rain god.
    North Acropolis – The North Acropolis is really bunches of temples (pyramids) built one on top of the other, for hundreds of years. Underneath the temples, the kings and important people of Tikal were buried in tombs along with textiles, ceramics, precious jade ornaments and shells (you can see these things in the Tikal Museum).
    The North Acropolis a great place for kids to explore, go into each of the rooms, run up the stairs to the top of the pyramid, climb up to the top of the terrace. Sit there, imagining big temples behind you, as you look over at Temple I and II.
  Central Acropolis
    The Central Acropolis was residential palaces and administrative centers of the royal court for generations.  Each ruler added his own palace and remodeled others, layering one over the other.  
    One of the best preserved palaces is at the eastern end, the home of Jaguar Claw I.  Inside kids can imagine Jaguar Claw sitting on a bench in the royal throne room, presiding over important rituals and conducting the business of state. Kids can stretch out on the bench/throne.
    The Central Acropolis has just a labyrinth of rooms to explore.  Maybe it’s just the wet jungle environment but when you’re inside the rooms, they smell like tide pools at the ocean – faintly organic and salty, “Tikal perfume.”
  Temple V and Palace Reservoir
    South of the Central Acropolis was the palace reservoir. After huge amounts of stone were quarried for the great temples and palaces, the Maya constructed a large reservoir, lined with stucco. It was one of the ten reservoirs that provided water for this big city.
    From the Central Acropolis, on the eastern side is a path that goes across the reservoir, which is now jungle (use your imagination to see water). Walking on the path, you'll see ancient Maya stones under your feet.
    The path across the reservoir ends at Temple V, and it's a biggie, 157 ft high. When the temple was restored, the archaeologists excavated and rebuilt the stone on the right side; on the right side, they left the temple as is, and kids can see the forest covering the pyramid.

Lost World Complex (Mundo Perdido) This complex is from Preclassic era and is one of the oldest parts of the city, along with the North Acropolis.

    The Maya were incredibly good at astronomical observations, accurately charting the progress of the sun, moon and planets. In the Lost World complex, the Great Pyramid (almost 100 ft high) was precisely situated in relation to the three smaller temples to sight the position of the sun on the equinoxes, summer and winter solstices.
  Temple IV – Although Temple IV is tallest temple at Tikal, it's an easy climb up a wooden staircase to the top. From the top, you'll have that "Star Wars" view of Temple I and II, poking up through the dense canopy of trees.
    Tip: At the bottom of Temple IV is a small snack bar with cold drinks, and shaded area for picnics.
Trails There are miles of trails through the forest to other complexes. Some of these trails follow the causeways, raised "roads" built by the Maya through the swampy jungle. Depending on how old your kids are, or how much time you have, a nice loop is the Great Plaza to Temple IV, then take the Maudslay Causeway to Complex P, and the Mahler Causeway to the eastern end of the Great Plaza.

Additionally, after Complex P, walk on the Mahler Causeway, but instead of continuing straight to the Great Plaza, make a left, and go to Complex Q. At the pyramid with nine stelae in front, kids can climb the pyramid to the top. Then follow the trail round, which meets up with the main entrance trail to the park.

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