We had visited eight different Mayan ruin sites while in Mexico. Some were quite impressive but after seeing the fourth or fifth site, we kind of got ruined-out. So since being diagnosed with ruin-fatigue, we were actually very much considering bypassing Tikal and going a different route into Guatemala altogether. Instead we decided to go through with visiting Tikal after all and we definitely made the right decision.
Tikal is set amongst a beautiful tropical rain forest. The ruins are spectacular but what we found to be equally (or more) impressive was this jungle and its wildlife within. Upon a brief stop at the entrance gate to the National Park, we had already spotted our first monkey of the trip!
There are only three lodges actually within Tikal National Park itself and we stayed at one of them so that we could have the opportunity to partake in the oft-recommended sunrise from Temple Four. Upon being escorted to our hotel room we saw and startled a huge grey deer that quickly scampered away into the surrounding forest. We were delighted at the property’s relaxing poolside area, but there was no time for us to lounge. This afternoon we only had a few hours of daylight left to trek into the rain forest in attempts to check out just a few of the many sites throughout the massive area.
This was not like other ruin sites we had visited in Mexico where the structures are all relatively nearby within a square mile area or so. These remaining structures were spread-out across several miles of lush tropical rain forest.
It took us more than a thirty-minute walk just to see the first set of ruins. The walk itself was not a burden though as we strolled passed enormous trees full of all sorts of tropical birds and more spider monkeys hanging from the branches.
As the forest opened up into a courtyard of sorts, we laid our eyes on the first set of ruins, which were striking and amongst some of the tallest we’d seen. Temple One was quite impressive and if it looks familiar perhaps you’re recalling it from Mel Gibson’s Apocolypto. We were able to climb up the back of Temple Two, the second tallest in the area for a great birds-eye view of the other structures that surround.
We continued to see more wildlife, even at this clearing. I’m not sure exactly what this tailless gerbil-looking rodent is.
We saw a strange long-nosed raccoon-cat-looking animal prancing around the area. We later found out this was something called a coati.
And there was an odd breed of colorful turkeys unique to this particular area of Guatemala just wandering around the ruin site.
We even saw a fox scaling up the side of Temple One! (This reminded me of the infamous Simpsons episode in which Homer ate the “Guatemalan insanity peppers” at the chili cookoff and followed the fox up a Mayan pyramid. Remember? Hmm… perhaps this is where the writers got their inspiration from. Nonetheless, we were living Homer’s hallucination. Awesome!)
We were so impressed with the abundance of wildlife throughout the area. But it was time to get back to the hotel. We were in need of a solid dinner and a good night’s sleep before waking up at 3:30 am to witness the glorious sunrise peak out over the rain forest and its pyramids.
After the sunrise we spent most of the remainder of the day roaming around the dozens of different trails crisscrossing throughout the National Park. A few more ruin highlights was the Central Acropolis, Pyramid Five, Three, and the Lost World.
But what was just a fun was simply walking around the trails. First off, it seemed that we had the place nearly all to ourselves. There were not hoards of tourists as there was at many of the sites in Mexico. We would walk for thirty minutes at a time and not come across a single person. And the trails themselves were good hikes. It wasn’t just some flat well-maintained path, this was fun. It was important to keep your eyes and ear open too. As you’d walk and here a bit of rustling, you’d look up and “hey there’s a monkey!” or “wow, look at the toucans!”
We also liked the Indiana-Jones feeling of being able to climb up and on top of many of the ruins. Often such sites are off limits to climbing, so this was a unique treat. However ascending the steps seems easier than in reality. You don’t realize how steep they actually are until you start climbing.
Once atop and inside some of the structures, you realize the windows were not just haphazardly placed. Instead they align perfectly with views of other nearby structures. Its really amazing to think how they managed to architect this thousands of years ago.
Some of the ruins are still being excavated or have not been excavated at all yet. This gave some of the sites a pleasantly rough feel to them. The jungle had swallowed many of the ruins up and they’d yet to be uncovered. Perhaps all the better to leave a few sites in this state.
Out of all the Mayan ruins we visited, this was our favorite. We would highly recommend visiting and staying at the one of the lodges. Our two days at Tikal was magical and spectacular.
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