Most visitors to Tikal  head straight from the park entrance to the Great Plaza, and if you are crunched for time this is probably the best approach. A path from the ticket control booth leads you to the plaza in about 20 minutes. You’ll gain an appreciation for the site’s elevated setting as you walk uphill toward the heart of the ceremonial center.
The view from the back of Temple I as you approach the Great Plaza is always impressive at first sight, as it gives you an idea of the sheer size of the monuments erected by the Mayans. Tourist brochures and posters can never adequately convey just how large and impressive Tikal’s temples are.
The path continues alongside the temple and you are at once greeted by the magnificent Temple II, which faces Temple I, as you enter the large, grassy plaza. Also known as “El Gran Jaguar” (The Great Jaguar), Temple I rises to a height of 44 meters (144 feet). The imposing structure was erected to honor Hasaw Chan K’awil (Heavenly Standard Bearer), the ruler who successfully led Tikal to victory against Calakmul. It was built to harbor his remains and was completed shortly after his death in A.D. 721 by son and successor Yik’in Chan K’awil, probably with instructions from his father.
The tomb was situated at the temple’s core and contained the ruler’s remains surrounded by jade, stingray spines, seashells, and pearls, which were typical of Mayan burials. It was believed the instruments would aid the person in his journey into the underworld. This journey is depicted on a bone fragment, also found in the tomb, showing a royal figure in a canoe rowed by mythical animal figures. Tikal’s museum harbors a reconstruction of the tomb, known as Tumba 116. Carried off to a museum in Basel, Switzerland, is the door lintel found at the top of the pyramid depicting a jaguar from which the temple gets its name.
It was once possible to climb Temple I, but this has not been allowed for several years now. The view from the top was truly spectacular, with Temple II in the foreground and the roof combs of Temple III  and Temple IV  protruding from the jungle behind it. The structure was closed to climbers partly because of damage caused by a chain aiding in this activity, though the death of at least two visitors after tumbling down its steep steps certainly put the final nail in the coffin. The view from the top was popular in tourism posters and brochures from the early 1980s and you can still sometimes see them in unexpected places.
Across the plaza stands the slightly smaller Temple II, built to honor Hasaw Chan K’awil’s wife, Lady 12 Macaw. Also known as the Temple of the Masks for the large, severely eroded masks flanking its central staircase, it is thought to predate Temple I by a few years. As recently as five years ago, a staircase was constructed on its side to allow access to the top, though you could once climb directly up its central staircase. The view from the top is still as good as ever, with a frontal view of Temple I and the North Acropolis  off to the side. Temple II probably once stood at the same height as its counterpart when its roof comb was intact, though its restored height is 38 meters (125 feet).