Tikal National Park encompasses 575 square kilometres of jungle and thousands of ruined structures.
The central part of the ancient city alone contains 3,000 buildings and covers about 16 square kilometers.
Tikal is also part of the one-million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve created in 1990 to protect the dense forests of the Peten, which started to disappear at an alarming rate due to population pressures, illegal logging and slash-and-burn agricultural practices.
Archeologists estimate that the Maya settled in the area now known as Tikal in about 900 BC.
Tikal grew into an important ceremonial, cultural, and commercial centre over the centuries. Most of the city's huge temples were constructed during the eighth century AD when Tikal became the greatest city in the Maya world with a population of perhaps 100,000.
Like Maya complexes on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Tikal fell into decline at the end of the ninth century and was virtually abandoned. The causes of the Maya empire's collapse remain a mystery, but wars, famine, overpopulation and resource depletion have all been blamed.
Tikal's great stone monuments languished for centuries and were gradually reclaimed by the jungle. Hernan Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, and his motley band of conquistadors marched by Tikal in 1525, but they failed to see its temples concealed by 40-metre-tall silk, cotton, cedar and mahogany trees.