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Tikal National Park lies in northern Guatemala, located between the municipalities of Flores and San José, Petén. It is located within the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR), and is one of the core zones of the reserve. The park stretches across 57,582 ha. It is bordered on the southwest by the San Miguel la Palotada Protected Biosphere (El Zotz). There is a strip between the biosphere and the park, which the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) has declared in a category for special use, with the same management goals as the core zones (CONAP, 2001b). To the east it is bordered by Yaxhá, Nakum, Naranjo National Monuments and to the northwest by a biological corridor that leads towards El Mirador-Río Azul National Park. The multi-use zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve borders it to the north, while its southern edge is protected by a buffer zone.

 

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The park features striking ruins, mainly from the classic Maya period.  Tikal and Calakmul were the greatest and most heavily populated cities of the Maya civilization during the Classic Period (Schele & Freidel, 1999).  The civilization was at its peak from 700-850 AD, when it covered an area of 120 km2 and wielded influence over an area of 2,500 km2 (Valdés et al., 1997).  Tikal gradually became more important from the Late Pre-classic Period onwards (250 BC - 250 AD).  Its decline was apparently due to internal fighting which led to the downfall of the civilization's leading cities (Fahsen, 2002, per. com.).  In 1979 UNESCO declared Tikal National Park a Mankind Heritage Site for its exceptional cultural and biological characteristics (UNESCO, 1979).

 

                           
This carving is a portrait of one of the most important rulers of the Classic Period, called Stormy Sky. This is one of the best-preserved carvings found at Tikal, and is a work of art stored in the park's Pottery Museum.

 

The landscape of the national park is generally rolling.  To the northwest, there is a range of hills that extends into the Zotz Biosphere and the MBR Multiple Use Zone. From southeast to northwest the area is crossed by mid-altitude highlands with a flatter topography.  From southwest to northeast, the area is covered by lowland forest that stretches as far as the park boundaries and is split only in the highest reaches of the central area of Tikal.  The highest points, in the northeastern section, reach a height of 400 meters, while the lowest areas are 200 meters high (CEMEC/CONAP, 2001), and lie in the lowland areas of the northeast and southwest.  The surface layer of organic matter is shallow, with an underlying layer of clay-like soil that lies on top of limestone.  According to data provided by Tikal's meteorological station, the climate in the area is mainly warm and humid, although there is no clearly defined dry season.  Average annual temperatures is 23.9° C, ranging from 20-30.7° C. Relative air humidity rates 81%, with a maximum of 100% and a minimum of 36%. Average annual rainfall is 1,323 mm.  February - May are generally considered the dry months.  There may be up to an 11°C temperature difference between the warmest and coldest months.

 

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