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April 15, 2003

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If you're in northern Guatemala you must visit a frontrunner in the world's contest for best Mayan ruins, a place called Tikal. There you'll find pyramids rising to heights over 44 meters and breaking through the jungle's green umbrella. Howler monkeys swing in the trees, bright birds chirp, and tourists scramble for shade. Wandering through the jungle it's not hard to imagine the Mayan ceremonies that took place here hundreds of years ago.
Climb around Tikal like a Mayan, except you'll be wearing Nike shoes and not worrying about being sacrificed.
In 2000 BC fishing villages settled on Guatemala's Pacific coast and became the vanguard of a great civilization known as the Mayans. By AD 250, temple cities dominated the Guatemalan highlands and ushered in the empire's golden age. At the turn of the millenium (1000 AD), the Mayan civilization had collapsed due to causes unknown today. Disease, overpopulation, these are some of the theories yet no one can say for sure. In 1523 when the Spaniard Pedro de Alvarado came to conquer Guatemala, he found only remnants of the Mayan civilization, a fractured land of warring tribes. Alvarado's men subjugated these tribes, enslaved the people, and took their land. The subsequent arrivals of Spanish missionaries who might have wanted to stop these crimes but could not, added their own form of imperialism, religious in nature, which may have caused the most destruction to what remained of living Mayan culture. These ruins stand like the tombstones of a bygone empire.