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Tikal, Guatemala
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Jaguar Temple, rising out of the jungle Tikal  Guatemala

Jaguar Temple, rising out of the jungle

No matter how many postcards or magazine spreads you've seen of this place, nothing prepares you for the surround-sound of Tikal's jungle setting. Walking on your way to the plaza of Pre-Columbian limestone 'skyscrapers', howler monkeys scream overhead, flocks of parrots and toucans play in the canopy...

With all of the hype surrounding the year 2012 and various interpretations of the Maya calendar, there is a lot of interest in this ancient civilization. But in Guatemala, "Maya" is not merely synonymous with the past--it's the living present of this Central American country. When the lowland Maya cities were abandoned about a thousand years ago (of which Tikal was one of the largest), the people didn't disappear; they migrated. Up in the highlands they built new cities, which is where the Spanish found them in the mid 1500's during the Conquista. Today about half of Guatemala's population is indigenous, and some twenty different Maya languages are still spoken...

Tikal is, predictably, one of the most popular sites in all of Central America. Book ahead and stay in one of the lodges adjacent to the park. Wake up early the next morning and you'll have the jungle and pyramid-temples to yourself...and the animals. Weaverbirds are everywhere, other species of monkeys...coatimundi, the elusive quetzal and jaguar...