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They say when you travel, you should reach for new heights. That goal can be figurative or literal or, in the case of the Guatemalan ruins of Tikal, both.  

Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest remaining archeological sites of the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization. Sitting in the Petén region, the national park covers roughly 575 square kilometers of jungle and is home to thousands of ruined structures. It’s now part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, which helps combat illegal logging. Tourism has also contributed to keeping the jungle in a healthy state.        

While Temple I is the typical photo-op for most visits to Tikal, there are actually six that make up the current recovered area of the park. No visit here is complete without taking the daring sunrise hike to the peak of Temple IV, one of the tallest structures of the ancient Maya, to sit atop the jungle. If you’re an experienced hiker, you an make the journey alone, but it’s best to leave around 3:45 a.m. with a tour group to miss heavy crowds and enjoy the hike uninterrupted.

Snakes and spiders lurk through the jungle, keeping hikers on their toes, but the thrill is worth it once you reach the top of the temple. As the sun rises, you can hear howls from monkeys, jaguars and birds. And as the mist clears, viewers can see the entire ancient city—massive, rocky, mesmerizing.    

After coming down from Temple IV, explore the ruins and the jungle to find other fascinating ancient Maya artifacts. Old living rooms, ruler tombstones, and unearthed remnants of the city give visitors a sense of what living in Tikal was like, and how important its history is to present-day Guatemalan culture.    

Once the sun is out, nature becomes more viewable. Howler monkeys, foxes and birds run throughout the area. Because the forest is protected, wildlife sightings are frequent. The Tikal National Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., but numerous tour groups throughout Guatemala offer sunrise and sunset tours.   

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