Tikal Iconic Temple ©Solange Hando
Over 3000 Maya structures are scattered in the Peten jungle but the lost city which gives its name to the National Park is the most impressive.
Early archaeologists cleared a few monuments, such as Temple I seen above, but today, remains are deliberately left in their natural environment, eerie and hauntingly beautiful. Tikal means 'Voices of the Spirits'.
Exploring Tikal ©Solange Hando
It's hot and humid in the subtropical forest but beyond Temple I and nearby structures, the best way to explore is on foot.
There's plenty to discover along the way, from jungle-covered ruins to rare plants and trees, such as the 'incense stick' or the tall Ceiba or 'stairway to heaven'.
You might spot howling monkeys up in the trees but small tigers and jaguars keep well away, as do crocs and venomous snakes unless you stray off the well-marked trails.
View from the Top of Temple IV ©Solange Hando
When you approach Temple IV, the highest, only the top peeps above the trees but a carefully concealed stairway takes you up to a viewing platform. There the jungle unfolds as far as you can see, bristling here and here with abandoned Maya ruins.
There's no better place to reflect on this lost city, founded in 600 BC, a place where arts and science flourished under the watchful eye of the gods and an ongoing building boom catered for up to 100,00 people.
A Colourful Resident ©Solange Hando
Where there's a bench, there's humans and this bright ocellated turkey knows it well, hoping for crumbs as you take a break on your hot 6 km walk around the main complex.
But it's only one of the many creatures you might meet, alongside 352 species of birds and 535 of butterflies.
Expect Lots of Steps ©Solange Hando
Once you've had a rest, there's always more to explore, plazas and palaces, twin pyramids, acropolis,temples, altars, rock sculpture...
Yet all along, one can't help wondering why after 1500 years, this thriving city was abandoned, drought, war, disease, no one knows, but at least it was rediscovered in the 19th century and remains to this day one of the most atmospheric sites in the Maya world.
Lake Tikal ©Solange Hando
After a long day in the jungle, Lake Tikal is just a drive away, the perfect place to relax and enjoy a fabulous sunset.