Parque Nacional Tikal is located in Guatemala, about 50 miles northwest of the Belizean border. Within this jungle you will find the remains of the greatest of all ancient Mayan cities.
The Maya settled in Tikal around 700 BC, and no one knows why it was abandoned around 900 AD. The Spanish conquistadors didn't arrive to do their spring-cleaning until the 16th century, so this is one place in Central America we can't blame the removal of indigenous life on Chris Columbus and friends.
You will need at least a full day at the site, November to February being an ideal time to visit. March and April are hot and dry, and the June to October wet season is muggy with pesky mosquitoes running rampant. Apart from camping, accommodation around Tikal is quite expensive. Flores, a small island town 45 minutes from the site, offers an array of places to eat and sleep at much more reasonable prices.
Tikal is breathtaking. Unlike Mayan sites such as Chichen Itza in Mexico, the pyramids rise above vines and trees in a jungle thick enough to swallow you. With raucous howler monkeys swinging through the trees, colourful toucans and parrots observing overhead, and the heady scents of the earth, vines and huge trees winding through the temples, it's difficult to fathom that the twenty-first century is going about it's business elsewhere on the planet.
Climbing amongst these ancient ruins and rummaging through the humid jungle playing Indiana Jones and Lara Croft is an exotic experience. The raw beauty and mystery surrounding the site, makes Tikal one of the most romantic spots in the country.
The complex is 16 square miles, so it would be ambitious to imagine you could explore it all in one day. The urban core has over 3000 buildings, including five pyramids with ornate stone temples on their summits, rising 40 metres into the air. When you climb to the top of one of these ancient skyscrapers above the jungle canopy, it's like looking at five islands floating in a sea of greenery and mist.
The showpiece of the site is the Great Plaza, an open expanse of pyramids, temples, courtyards, and palatial structures. From the top of the towering Temple 2 you can cast your eyes over the entire site and fantasise about what life must have been like as a Mayan chief in 500 AD.
It was here, as I stood with arms outstretched and began referring to a group of tourists 40 metres below as "my loyal subjects", that Lara Croft ducked for cover within the nearest jungle canopy to avoid embarrassment or arrest. Despite the comfort of an air-conditioned bus awaiting, I knew it would be a long grueling trip back to Flores for this adventurer.