An Adventure through Tikal

Temple I from the Central Acropolis

Tikal has been on my bucket list since the Mayans captured my imagination at Chichen Itza a few years ago. So imagine my excitement when I started planning my visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the wonders of the Ancient World. As one of the largest and most impressive Mayan sites, it would be an honour to walk in the footsteps of one of the world’s most mysterious societies.

After descending from the dizzy heights of Temple IV, it was already 6am and the sun was burning off the mist. The air was still cool and the jungle still empty of others, apart from our group. It seemed like the perfect conditions to explore this ancient kingdom.

There are two main types of structures in Tikal, pyramids and temples. The main difference is that temples have just one staircase leading to a tall platform with a temple building on the summit, and pyramids have a flat platform on the top with four staircases leading up from the four sides.

 

 

Temples rising up through the jungle at Tikal

Temples rising up through the jungle at Tikal

Following the guide through the pathway under the canopy, we caught glimpses of towering temples looming through the trees and could hear the monkeys and birds shrieked above us.

The climb in the Mundo Perdido Complex, Tikal

The climb in the Mundo Perdido Complex, Tikal

Breathless with muscles burning after climbing the steps of a smaller pyramid in the Mundo Perdido complex, I excitedly spotted my first howler monkey and was able to put a face (or tail) to the name.

A Howler Monkey swinging in the trees in Tikal

A Howler Monkey swinging in the trees in Tikal

We spent some time up there admiring the views of the neighbouring Lost World Pyramid and ticking the indigenous wildlife off of our mental checklist.

Quetzal …check.
Woodpecker…check.
Humming bird…check.
Toucan…check.
Ocellated Turkey… check.

You get the idea.

Lost World Pyramid, Mundo Perdido, Tikal

Lost World Pyramid, Mundo Perdido, Tikal

Feeling like Indiana Jones, expecting mayhem to appear around every corner, we made our way through the ruins of the Plaza of the Seven Temples.

Plaza of the Seven Temples, Tikal

Plaza of the Seven Temples, Tikal

Although much of the city is smothered with jungle now, it wasn’t always like this. Since the Mayans abandoned the civilisation in around 900BC, the jungle has had time to reclaim its land.

Tikal Park encompasses 222 square miles of surrounding jungle and the University of Pennsylvania was responsible for excavating 10 square miles of structures from 1956 to 1970. Interestingly though, only about 20-30% of the site has been uncovered today with a significant amount of structures believed to still be encased in jungle and earth.

Our tour guide leading the way through the jungle in Tikal

Our tour guide leading the way through the jungle in Tikal

On the road again, our guide led us through the jungle until the path opened up to the majestic Temple V, the second tallest building in Tikal. Standing at 57 meters high, it makes it one of the most beautiful temples in the area. There is no access to climb here, but the view from the ground just added to the impressiveness and splendour.

Temple V at Tikal

Temple V at Tikal

After trekking back to the the Grand Plaza we had one last climb. As the heat was rising and the energy lulling, this was one we took at a slower pace.

Temple I across the Grand Plaza, from the top of Temple II at Tikal

Temple I across the Grand Plaza, from the top of Temple II at Tikal

At the top the scene opened out for spectacular views of Temple I, the Grand Plaza and the North Acropolis.

The view of Temple II on the left, Temple I on the right and the North Acropolis in between, Tikal

The view of Temple II on the left, Temple I on the right and the North Acropolis in between, Tikal

Whilst trying to find a good place to sit, we spotted a deserted platform at the top of the North Acropolis. Climbing down out of the fray we made our way through the Grand Plaza and over the cool stone steps to find our more secluded vantage point to watch the day warm and recharge on our cereal bars.

Tikal is unlike the ruins at Chichen Itza. It has a sense of serenity and quietness about it. The are no pushy vendors, there are no crowds (at this time in the morning) and the thick foliage secludes you from others as you explore the grounds.

It certainly is a small word, since deep in the Guatemalan jungle is the last place that you expect to bump into people you know. Somehow we managed it though, and spent the rest of the scorching hot morning exploring the housing areas together.

Temple I from the Central Acropolis, Tikal

Temple I from the Central Acropolis, Tikal

Little birds swooped and chased each other at crazy speeds through the corridors and archways. Even through was barely past 9am we struggled to find cool in the shade now the sun was fully up.

Eventually we headed back. Battling against the crowds as an influx of workers, vendors and visitors flooded into the park, in a thick and unrelenting stream. My advice to you if you want to experience Tikal without the crowds and heat is to try to sunrise tour. After having been awake for six hours, and overheating, the last thing I wanted to do was fight my way through the throng to get a glimpse of the fascinating city.

We booked the night before through Sergio at Crasborn Travel (+50230016770) for $20 USD per person (excluding the park charge of 250 GTQ approx $35 USD) and although the sunrise wasn’t what we had hoped for, the overall experience was certainly one not to be missed.

Last modified: 27th July 2016

7 Responses to :
An Adventure through Tikal

  1. Christine says:

    I visited Chichen Itza but I can tell from your beautiful pictures that this place is more serene and not as touristy. What an incredible culture! and quite the adventure. thanks for sharing.

  2. Natalie says:

    Wow! I think the sunrise tour would be more my style than trying to battle crowds in the heat, too.

    It’s pretty funny that you ran into someone you knew at Tikal!

  3. Holly says:

    My muscles would be burning too. I am not the biggest fan of stairs. I would love to see this though.

  4. Kenny says:

    Thanks for the information. I have heard a lot about Belize and I am pleased to know that the country has such impressive heritages as well. I have been to the Yucatan, Mexico and LOVE the Mayan heritages like Chichen Itza / Coba and Tulum. I think I will definitely enjoy this one too! @knycx.journeying

  5. Melissa says:

    We visited Tikal just last week. It is absolutely stunning! Great article on this ancient Mayan site. We didn’t get to do the sunrise tour, but even still the park is so big that we still felt like we had the place to ourselves at times.

  6. janna says:

    What an interesting place to explore. I’ve always wanted to visit the ruins in Mexico. This one seems to be a bit more quiet and isolated than the one’s I’ve seen online. Could it be the day you guys visited or is it low season?

  7. Natasha says:

    I always love when I can feel like Indiana Jones. Never been to Tikal but it would be a really interesting a place to visit someday!

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