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How to Vacation Like Indiana Jones

by Douglas Wright

Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

It's unknown why Tikal, a once-powerful trading capital and centerpiece of the mighty Mayan empire, was abandoned sometime after the year 900 and left for the Guatemalan jungle to reclaim. The ancient city of stone palaces, courtyards, and pyramid temples that once spanned around 20 square miles was completely forgotten for centuries until it was discovered accidentally by a local in 1884. Today, gung ho travelers can freely explore the ruins of more than 3,000 structures that have been excavated by university archaeologists (with many more yet to be unearthed). These remains are anchored by five Mayan pyramids with names like Temple of the Jaguar Priest and are connected by trails winding through the 142,000-acre Tikal National Park. Look for petroglyphs of Mayan gods such as Ixchel on the stone steles and altars erected in the main acropolis, check out the ball court where the Mayans played a curious version of soccer (which ended in human sacrifice for the losers), and climb to the top of Temple IV (the tallest pyramid) to gaze out over the treetops and imagine what the city might have looked like in all its glory.

Follow the right path: There are many tour outfits with overnight trips to the Tikal ruins. Mayan Travel offers one- and two-day tours that include airfare from Guatemala City. If you'd rather explore on your own, catch a bus from the town of Flores to Tikal National Park and the beginning of the trails.

Next: Limestone labyrinth in Ukraine >

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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