From the World Heritage inscription:
Together with Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, Maya is the most important reserve in the country, because of its archaeological and bio/ecological interest. Rivers, lakes, swamps and flooding savannas are important for biodiversity and for migratory birds. The reserve contains the largest area of tropical rainforest in Guatemala and Central America, with a wide range of unspoilt natural habitats. A large area of the reserve still comprises dense broadleaved forests with more than 300 species of commercially useful trees, such as cedar, mahogany, ramon (bread-nut tree), Araceae
(osier for furniture), chicle, pepper and others.
In the heart of this jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, lies one of the major sites of the Mayan civilization. The ceremonial centre contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps. Remains of dwellings are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside. The ruined city reflects the cultural evolution of Mayan society from hunter- gathering to farming, with an elaborate religious, artistic and scientific culture which finally collapsed in the late 9th century. At its height, AD 700-800, the city supported a population of 90,000 Mayan Indians. There are over 3,000 separate buildings dating from 600 BC to AD 900, including temples, residences, religious monuments decorated with hieroglyphic inscriptions and tombs. Excavations have yielded remains of cotton, tobacco, beans, pumpkins, peppers and many fruits of pre-Columbian origin. Large areas are still to be excavated.
When I mentally categorize world heritage sites I visit, one of the ways I segregate them in my mind is between major and minor sites. I’d estimate that 90% of the sites I visit are minor, with 10% being major. The major sites are the ones that most people know of: The Pyramids, The Grand Canyon, The Great Wall, etc.
I’d easily categorize Tikal as one of the most significant heritage sites in the world. Easily a top 100 attraction.
Not only is it perhaps the most important Mayan site in the world, but it is an important biosphere reserve as well. In the hours I spent at Tikal I saw monkeys, heard howler monkeys and many different and colorful species of birds.
The importance of Tikal can be seen on the Guatemalan license plates and currency, both of which carry and image of temple #1 from Tikal.
I highly recommend a visit to Tikal if you are in the region (Southern Mexico/Belize/Guatemala). I considered it to be on a par with Angkor in Cambodia and one of the top destinations for archeological ruins in the Western Hemisphere.
View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.