Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tikal

A ringing endorsement for Tikal, the ruins in Guatemala that Vanessa and I visited in January this year.

Among Mayan sites, Tikal has long been second banana to Chichén Itzá in Mexico, which was named one of the seven new wonders of the world in July, after a global Internet vote. (Tikal wasn’t even a finalist.) But that popularity seems based on factors other than the ruins themselves. The great advantage of Chichén Itzá is accessibility, in particular, its proximity to the resort towns of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is less lively than Tikal and smaller — its centerpiece a step pyramid that is half the height of some Tikal structures.

Visiting the jungle has its drawbacks, of course. To stay at Tikal longer than a few hours on a midday trip, you must spend a night in the confines of Tikal National Park, which is impossibly humid and filled with mosquitoes. (As it was when I visited in October.) It gets better: the power goes off at night, leaving you hiding under your mosquito net and sweating into your mattress. But for my park entry fee, no ruins can match Tikal’s. Some ancient sites — the Pyramids, the Colosseum — feel monumental. Others — Ephesus, Petra — feel like cities. Stand in the center of Tikal’s Great Plaza, and you will have a feeling of both.

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