The borders that encircle the countries we recognise today as Belize, Guatemala and Honduras mean little in the story of the Maya.
Tikal: A centre for political and economical power
Then: It’s thought that this site, originally named Yax Mutal, was one of the largest cities of the ancient Maya. Construction of Tikal’s temple complexes and its political strength peaked during the Classical Period, between 200-900 AD. There’s also evidence that the Maya of Tikal interacted with other large cities in modern-day Mexico, at one point even being captured by Teotihuacan.
Next: In 1979, Tikal was understandably declared a UNESCO site. This extra protection during otherwise turbulent times in Guatemala is probably one of the reasons that it is one of the most understood and developed of the Maya sites. Within it’s own national park, it’s also home to monkeys and hundreds of species of birds.
Today: It was still dark as I perched silently on the upper steps of the Maya’s Templo IV, built in 800AD as one of the final huge structures in the city complex. Its stones were cold and sucked any last warmth out of me as I strained my eyes to make out anything at all on the horizon. By 5.45am, I was able to identify several of the ancient towers that punctuated a horizon of dense jungle.