Hiking Tikal for Sunrise

Tikal from Temple IV at Sunrise

Fumbling through the darkness, my eyes searching the small pool of light radiating from the torch strapped to my bag, concentrating hard, I tried to keep up with our guide. It was 4:30am on a humid and increasingly warm spring morning and he was expertly and speedily navigating through the Guatemalan jungle with 20 or so sleepy tourists following in his wake.

After only 2.5 hours of sleep, an hour minibus ride and a gallon of insect repellent, I was finally fulfilling my dream of seeing Tikal at sunrise.

The ancient Mayan city of Tikal is buried deep in the jungle that is in the Peten Province in Eastern Guatemala near the bored with Belize. Tikal boats thousands of Mayan ruins and monuments but is famed for its temples and pyramids. The biggest of which, Temple IV, is over 70 meters high and is the tallest ancient building in Central America. Today we were to conquer Temple IV and witness the spectacular sunrise over this expansive ancient kingdom.

Feeling slightly smug as we stumbled through the jungle, I was one of the only people who brought a torch. Knowing me I’d have twisted my ankle two minutes into the trek and since it was pitch black, no one would have noticed that I was missing until daylight broke. My foresight made me an instant hit with others who hadn’t brought anything. Including a man on crutches. Yes you read that correctly. Tikal is such a must see destination in Guatemala that people will trek to see it even if they can’t technically walk.

As we hiked deeper into the jungle, it was as though someone had been slowly turning up the dials for light, temperature and volume. We rounded a corner and suddenly, towering ahead loomed Temple IV and its giant wooden staircase. As one of the first people to reach the top of rickety wooden structure I was rewarded with an unobscured view of the temples (I, II and III) beyond peering out of the canopy. Star Wars fans may recognise this as the view from the Moon Yavin 4 rebel base in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope!

The View from Temple IV in Tikal before Sunrise

The View from Temple IV before Sunrise

We all took our seats on the steps of the summit platform, eagerly awaiting the moment that the sun would burst up through the clouds. It was almost as if we were sat in a cinema: the best seats in the house to one of nature’s most spectacular events.

Spectators sunrise watching from the summit of Temple IV of Tikal

Spectators sunrise watching from the summit of Temple IV of Tikal

The morning light began to illuminate the scene sprawling out below. We sat in a hushed silence – mainly due to the hike leaving us all breathless – then the expectant atmosphere started to fade. Photos had been taken and most had reverted to long meaningful stares into the distance, willing the sun to make her appearance.

Tikal Temple III with Temples I and II beyond

Temple III with Temples I and II beyond

Then our guide materialised. It was light now. We’d missed that most epic moment because the sky was too cloudy. Just my luck. However, the view itself was worth the journey.

Admiring the view over Tikal

Admiring the view

Making our way back down the stairs, at a much more leisurely pace, we all assembled to resume our tour.

There is so much to tell you about my experience at Tikal during daylight hours, so check back later this week…

Last modified: 3rd April 2017

16 Responses to :
Hiking Tikal for Sunrise

  1. Teanna says:

    Beautiful. I know I wouldn’t have been happy waking up so early, but some times you gotta do what you gotta do. I look forward to your posts about Tikal!

    1. I’m not going to lie, it was tough waking so early on so little sleep! But it was certainly worth it! Thanks Teanna

  2. Colby says:

    Ahhh, that’s kind of a bummer the weather was cloudy. I’m sure the views were still amazing as you stated. The same thing happened to me at Angkor Wat. I was up before 4 a.m. just to get there early to get a good spot and capture that iconic sunrise photo, but it was so cloudy that morning. It was still an amazing experience none the less.

    1. Apparently it is quite common, and I am told that sunsets are more reliable. Although the sunrise didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, having the jungle and temples pretty much to ourselves was an amazing experience.

  3. Molly says:

    Sunrise hikes are always worth it, even if you miss the right moments or don’t see exactly what you’re expecting to. Just getting to start your day off that way makes a difference. Can’t wait for more updates.

    1. Yes, absolutely Molly! I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Enjoyed the post. Even with the iffy weather, you still did a great job of capturing the experience.

    1. Thank you so much Christine!

  5. The saying is true…..the early bird does catch the worm!

    1. Indeed! It was definitely an experience to hear see and hear the jungle awakening around you!

  6. I am not a morning person but that would be so worth waking up early!

    1. Me neither Ashley! But I would do it again in a heartbeat!

  7. Christina says:

    Tikal was such an amazing experience for us. We were not there for the sunrise (sorry it was so cloudy for you) but I can just imagine the beauty of the place with the sun’s rays peaking through the trees.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It was pretty special and something that I won’t forget in a hurry!

  8. Mara says:

    Beautiful pictures! I love how you show the “slowly turning up the dials for light.” Even if it was cloudy, it still sounds like a great experience.

    1. Thank you Mara, glad you enjoyed my article!

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