In the heart of the jungle in northern Guatemala and surrounded by lush vegetation, lies one of the major sites of Mayan civilization. The ceremonial center contains superb temples and palaces. Remains of dwellings are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside.
Tikal National Park is located in northern Guatemala's Petén Province within a large forest region often referred to as the Maya Forest, which extends into neighboring Mexico and Belize. Embedded within the much larger Maya Biosphere Reserve, exceeding 2,000,000 ha (5,000,000 acres) and contiguous with additional conservation areas, Tikal National Park is one of the few World Heritage properties inscribed according to both natural and cultural criteria for its extraordinary biodiversity and archaeological importance.
The park comprises 57,600 ha (142,330 acres) of wetlands, savannah, tropical broadleaf and palm forests with thousands of architectural and artistic remains of the Mayan civilization from the Preclassic Period (600 B.C.) to the decline and eventual collapse of the urban center around 900 AD.
The diverse ecosystems and habitats harbor a wide spectrum of neotropical fauna and flora. Five cats, including Jaguar and Puma, several species of monkeys and anteaters and more than 300 species of birds are among the notable wildlife. The forests comprise more than 200 tree species and over 2000 higher plants have been recorded across the diverse habitats.
Tikal, a major pre-Columbian political, economic and military center, is one of the most important archaeological complexes left by the Maya civilization. An inner urban zone of around 400 hectares contains the principal monumental architecture and monuments which include palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, small and medium sized residences, ball-game courts, terraces, roads, large and small squares.
Many of the existing monuments preserve decorated surfaces, including stone carvings and mural paintings with hieroglyphic inscriptions, which illustrate the dynastic history of the city and its relationships with urban centers as far away as Teotihuacán and Calakmul in Mexico, Copán in Honduras or Caracol in Belize. A wider zone of key archaeological importance, around 1,200 ha (3,000 acres), covers residential areas and historic water reservoirs, today known as "aguadas."
The extensive peripheral zone features more than 25 associated secondary sites, historically serving protective purposes and as check-points for trade routes. The peripheral areas also played a major role for agricultural production for the densely populated center.
Research has revealed numerous constructions, carved monuments and other evidence bearing witness to highly sophisticated technical, intellectual and artistic achievements that developed from the arrival of the first settlers (800 B.C.) to the last stages of historic occupation around the year 900.
Tikal has enhanced our understanding not only of an extraordinary bygone civilization but also of cultural evolution more broadly. The diversity and quality of architectonical and sculptural ensembles serving ceremonial, administrative and residential functions are exemplified in a number of exceptional places, such as the Great Plaza, the Lost World Complex, the Twin Pyramid Complexes, as well as in ball courts and irrigation structures.