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World / Central America and the Caribbean / Guatemala / Maya Pyramids, Tikal, Guatemala

Maya Pyramids, Tikal, Guatemala


People often ask us how we manage to get photo permits in different countries. The answer is good luck and persistence!

Before arriving to Guatemala, Dmitry and I had no idea how to get a photo permit for Tikal. We learned from our experience in Machu Picchu that we should look for the right people in the capital, not in the national park. Just like in the rest of Latin America, Guatemalans speak Spanish. And they seem to be completely unaware of existence of other languages. That is odd, because considering their proximity to the USA, they could have been a little bit more cosmopolitan.

Struggling on our first day with a driver, who understood only gestures, we found an agency where, after long negotiations, we met the only English-speaking guide in the entire capital (soon after publication of this article we were contacted by representatives of the Institute of Tourism. They told us that we could have found English and even Russian speaking tour guides through their organization. We've just gone to a wrong place). Our guide's name was Angel. Fortunately for us, he turned out to be a former employee of the Ministry of Culture. Angel listened to our request very carefully and then suddenly turned away from the planned route and took us somewhere else, not where we wanted to apply for a photo permit at all. As it turned out, he was right. Thanks to our guide's persistence, things moved along very quickly: we found the right officials, stated our request, and after a half-hour conversation they decided to help us. Instead of standard two-weeks period, they promised us to consider our photo permit request within a day. Only the price was way beyond what we could ever afford. After our persistent requests to bring down the price we were pointed in the direction of the Institute of Tourism to see if they could do something for us.

Tikal, Guatemala

Young employees of the Institute of Tourism carefully studied AirPano website and became so interested in promoting local landmarks through our website that they decided to lend us some of Guatemalan budgetary funds to cover the cost of photo permit. Honestly, that has never happened to us before!

The following evening we were on a bumpy road to Tikal. All required paperwork was in Dima's backpack.

Shooting of Tikal pyramid went very smoothly. The park administration assigned us a guide, and we went on with the usual shooting routine: three days of running in the dump hot jungle, catching sunrays between the clouds; takeoffs and landings, and tourists staring at us. 

Tikal, Guatemala

I remember a few moments of those three days. During one of the breaks between flights, we were lucky enough to see a green tree snake hunting a bird on the outskirts of the central square. The snake was spotted by a photographer-guide, whom we met the day before. I still don't know how he noticed it: the reptile practically blended into the surrounding grass. This excellent camouflage allowed the snake to sneak up on a bird and wrap around it in a deadly grip. This is how we found them: the bird was still alive, as the snake was not strong enough to strangle it right away. I wanted to help the bird, but our guides did not allow it, explaining that it's better not to intervene. 

Tikal, Guatemala

But let's look on the bright side! One of our most vivid impressions of visiting Tikal came from climbing to the top of Temple IV. If you ever have the chance to visit the park, be sure to climb to the top of this temple! It is the farthest one from the entrance (about 40 minutes walk along the shortest path) and hardest to climb, because of its steep stairs, but it's definitely worth it! There is a stunning view of endless sea of ​​jungle from the top! Just be silent! Don't talk loudly! Let the sounds of jungle surround you and cut you off from the rest of the world. If you are as lucky as we were, you will be able to hear the chirping of birds, and the roar of monkeys, which can easily be mistaken for a predator roar.



The first Maya settlements were established on the continent of North America around 2000 BC. This ancient civilization greatly influenced the history of mankind with their writing, art, architecture, mathematical, and astronomical systems. And then it went into decline, leaving behind not only its cultural heritage, but also many questions and mysteries.

The modern Maya people, who live in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras don't have such amazing inventions, but cherish their ancestors' heritage. Tikal is one of many monuments of the Maya that survived to this day and one of the largest cities located in the province of El Peten in Guatemala. It is also a part of Tikal National Park.

Tikal, Gutemala

The name Tikal, which in means "the place of spirit voices" Mayan language, appeared in the 1840s when Europeans discovered this area. Perhaps this monumental abandoned complex, full of shadows and memories of past greatness, made explorers tremble in awe, and native Indians, descendants of the ancient Maya, decided to strengthen this impression by giving this place an appropriate name. 

In fact, long before its decline, Tikal has been known as Yax Mutul, that is how it's referred to in hieroglyphic inscriptions. The strange name is explained by the fact that from 1st to 9th century Tikal was a capital of the Mutul Kingdom. This large city occupied the area of ​​60 square kilometers with hundreds of stone structures.

Not all of the structures have been excavated yet! Currently, the cleared area of ​​the ancient city covers only 16 square kilometers, but there is a lot to see there (no wonder UNESCO included Tikal in its World Heritage List). There are six step pyramids in the center, each with a temple on the top. In the past the complex housed various palaces, the Acropolis, funeral ritual grounds, and even a prison.

Frame from the movie «Apocalypto»

Frame from the movie «Apocalypto»              

The majority of buildings in Tikal have no official names; instead they are marked by numbers or letters. However, the most significant sights of Tikal have been named. Thus the 44-meter-high Temple I is called the Temple of the Great Jaguar; 38-meter-high Temple II is called the Temple of the Mask; and the central area of the complex is called the Great Plaza.

Temple IV, which was built in the middle of the 8th century, is hidden somewhere on the outskirts of discovered area. However, "hidden" is not the right word. Temple IV, also known as the Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent, is 64 meters high and is considered to be the tallest structure in Tikal.

Tikal, Guatemala

The city reached its apogee in 600 to 800 AD, and, according to some studies, its population during that period could have been 100,000 people. But at the end of 10th century, for unknown reasons, Tikal suddenly went into decline and was engulfed by the surrounding jungle. However, the Maya were known not only as prominent scientists and architects, but also as bloodthirsty and courageous warriors. Mutul Kingdom had a long and complicated history full of military victories and defeats. The disappearance of entire nations was quite typical of the ancient times.

It is interesting that even now Tikal managed to become an arena for military operations: the cult movie Star Wars was filmed here; in Episode IV (1977) the rebel camp was situated on the territory of Tikal.

In December 2012, during the celebration of Mayan "End of the World", the ruins of Tikal became one of the most important destinations for thousands of tourists from all over the world. The park management arranged various colorful ritual ceremonies, and some tourists even climbed up to the top of the pyramid to fully enjoy the show, despite of the fact that it is strictly prohibited. As a result, some structures suffered irreparable damage. 

However, it takes more than that to take down the majestic Tikal that survived ten centuries of rich history and ten centuries of desolation. We invite you to fly over these incredible monuments of ancient civilization, witness their strength, and imagine many treasures yet to be discovered by Tikal explorers! 

Photo and text by Stanislav Sedov and Dmitry Moiseenko

20 May 2013

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Add your review about "Maya Pyramids, Tikal, Guatemala"

I came here looking for info on permits for Tikal, but had to post a comment about how extremely offensive and outright racist this post is.

Just like in the rest of Latin America, Guatemalans speak Spanish. And they seem to be completely unaware of existence of other languages. That is odd, because considering their proximity to the USA, they could have been a little bit more cosmopolitan.

Just so you know, there are other languages in Latin America.

Struggling on our first day with a driver, who understood only gestures...

No! Your understanding of the place that you were in was so naive that it was YOU who only understood how to hand gesture. Don't put that on your driver. If someone from Guatemala came to your business and could 'only' speak, say, Q'ekchi' Mayan and Spanish, would you think it was fair of them to say AirPano only understood hand gestures. You would think because of their proximity to Central America that they could speak at least a little Spanish.?

we met the only English-speaking guide in the entire capital

You met all the guides in the entire capital? In a day?

You are no ambassadors of other cultures or places. Do better, guys.

J Lowry, Canada

Yaneth Adriana, I'm so glad you saw the ignorance and blatant privilege in the writers' assumption that people in other countries should be required to speak English. I also disregarded the rest of the information in this article as I could tell it would be inauthentic. This is ironic and shows flagrant misinformation and disrespect. So you know, most Guatemalans will take at least in introduction to English in primary or secondary school, which is more than can be said for most Americans. Also, by trying to skirt paying the full price you're devaluing the same culture you claim to want to draw attention to. When visiting other countries you should note that their economy is not as strong as the western world's and as such, you should do everything you can to contribute, not rob.

Yvonne Miranda, USA

Good job guys

Cody Waterman, USA

Best pictures of Tikal is incredible makemy remember wen I was there

Oscar Chavez, USA

FYI just because Guatemalans cant understand what youre saying doesnt mean that theyre unaware of other languages of the world. Guatemalans have 28 different dialects and the country is very visited by tourist a lot so i think that we Guatemalans know of other languages of the world. Before saying that someone is unaware of other languages, remember that they dont understand you because they cant speak your language not because theyre unaware of other languages. BTW a lot of your facts are wrong.

Yaneth Duarte, USA



I was in Tikal early 70's. Good to see so much more has been uncovered. Climbed to the top of the Temple of the Jaguar. I'll never forget how steep the steps were and hot and humid it was. Flew in on a DC-3 from Guatemala City. Three weeks previous a plane of NYC school teachers had crashed at the end of the runway. Runway on one side was lined with thatched huts. Planes came back in the afternoon to pick us up as no overnight accommodations.

Janes Maltby, USA

FYI I´m guatemalan and I can speak english, french and german so we DO know about the existence of other languages. And it is odd that we are judged for "not speaking english"!! I believe that if you want to visit any country in the world you should at least learn to speak their language before you go. I aprreciate that you came to Guatemala and took the time to blog about TIKAL but that was such a bad introduction I didn´t even finish readind...

Adriana Escobar, Guatemala

This video has brought back so many of the places I have traveled with my wife. Thankx for some wonderful memories.


Incredible...but Tikal is only one of the main cities of the Mayan culture, you should also include: COPAN, PALENQUE, UXMAL, CHICHEN ITZA, KABAH, SAYIL...to give a real semblance of who de Mayans were and also promote more turism to Central America.Congratulations.

Pedro Cerrato, Honduras

Just breath taking super good information well done , what a wonderful world we have , we are so bless . Im a Guatemala girl and have never been in Tikal but i have always dream that one day i will . Thank for the hard work . 305

Jenneth Fernandez, USA

very good. ilike it.

jagjit sooch, Canada

muy pero muy bueno ,gracias por compartir al mundo a mi bella Guatemala y algunas de sus maravillas!! y lo maravilloso que nos han dejado como herencia nuestros antepasados, los Mayas!!

luisa zelada, USA


Danilo Flores, Guatemala

Wow blew me away. We are learning bout Maya and when i found this my whole class looked it up. Even my teacher was amazed! Thanks fo a great expirence and wonderful job with this panorama!!

michelle Barrera, Cuba

Me gusta mucho esta pagina

Eliana Ferrarotti, Argentina

Muy bueno

Mario Chenal, USA

Viaje imaginario al pasado...

otto rafael herrera sosa, Guatemala

owa....it is awesoooooooooome.....mind blowing....
please send me code....aur download link..

thanks in advance...

Durga Prasanna Acharya MONA, India

Thank you, Durga. You can not save panoramas to your computer. You can read it here: http://www.airpano.com/FAQ.php

Varvara, AirPano

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to experience our world in such a breathtaking and extraordinary way. Thank you, with all of my heart, for embarking on this endeavor and sharing it with us. Many of us will never have the chance to see most of these places. Many of us never knew we shared this Earth with them. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to know something of the people, places, and what we are actually a part of. This opens up a dialogue toward truly knowing our history, and our place in the cosmos. What a magnificent blessing, thank you!

Heidi Gilmore, USA

the panorama is very very great,I like it so much…… and you guys are doing really fantastic work!by the way, the backgroud music sounds great , can you give me a link to download it or can you just send a copy to me if there's no copyrights issue^

Liu Jie, China

that was good view thank you and really you have pretty site

mohammad farahmandfard, Iran

fantastic images! It makes me want to see them!

Kim Anddruk, Canada

très beau magnifique!
superbes images

eva delhez, Belgium

very good i liked it soo much....!!!!!!!! it's look's really awesome...

hari babu, India


You should put a "Share" buttom for EVERY panorama(for twiteer), so the peaple can "hear" about your amazing proyect.
Not only your principal pages.

Federico Gonzalez, Argentina

Dear Federico, we have button for sharing in twitter under every panorama. Take a closer look :)

Varvara, AirPano


Juan Calderón, USA


leon Duterne, Belgium

Incredibly beautiful panorama of something so enduringly precious. Never thought I could view this from home! Very special thank you for all your hard and hot work. The jungle treasures are well worth your effort. Thank you.

Saskia Whitehead-Van Dijkum, New Zealand

Only THE BEST !! OF THE BEST; Simplemente, LOS MEJORES !!

German Porras, USA

Congratulations! Fantastic series of panoramas, truly a work of art.
Could you tell me who performs on the soundtrack in the film clip of the Maya Pyramids, Tikal.
Again, great work!
I. Yurchuk

Irenaeus Yurchuk, USA

Thank you, Irenaeus! You can read how to find the authors of music here: http://www.airpano.com/FAQ.php

Varvara, AirPano

best wish!

henry simajianshe, China

Thank you for letting me see a part of the World that I never knew existed.......It truly was an adventure....

Doris Mason, USA

tek kelimeyle harika ellerinize sağlık

Cafer cafermeydan@gmailcom, Turkey

Urmaresc de ceva vreme imagini din lume si sunt uimita de frumusetea locurilor. Ce pot spune ? Multumesc pentru ca existati pentru ca o alta posibilitate sa vad la fata locului ceea ce vad aici eu nu am.Continuati cu alte minuni antice .Ele sunt raspandite pe intregul Pamant.

Cecelia Gadiuta, Romania

good moring?

xie lin, China

Es una obra artistica de gran calidad fuera de dar a conocer al mundo entero la existencia de otras civilizaciones.El solo pensar como alcanzaron esas alturas en sus piramides nos muestran un gran ingenio.Nuevamente GRACIAS.

Pablo Emilio Moreno Angel, Colombia


sandro sandri, Italy

Many thanks for your superb creative work and long may it continue.


Very nice and Butiful Thank you!!

Valentino van Utrecht, Netherlands

So beautiful!

jiawen feng, China

See this pictures,I want to go there,thank you,It is so butiful

xuanyao yin, China

beyond words,amazing work.thank you for the wonderful experience

biju viswanath, Italy

Absolutely amazing, beautiful, touching.
Thanks so much guys for doing this.
I really love your work.

Rosana Cavanelas, Brazil

So fair and beautiful! My compliments!

Andrew Merz, Switzerland



I almost cried when I saw your photos of Tikal. Due to my age I know I can't go but thanks to you I feel as though I've "seen!"
I hope you do Palenque in Mexico.

Linda Lee Pursley, Mexico


paiman ahmadi, Iran

These are definately the best pictures taken of Tikal. Thank you!

Mauricio Fernández, Guatemala

very nice and butiful

alireza pournaghi, Iran


Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Iran