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.
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.
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.
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.
Ocellated Turkey… check.
You get the idea.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the top the scene opened out for spectacular views of Temple I, the Grand Plaza and the North Acropolis.
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.
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