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The Mayan Ruins of Tikal had been on my radar for a while so I knew I wasn’t leaving Guatemala without seeing them. An ancient Mayan civilization rising out of the jungle? I couldn’t pass that up!
On a day that kept changing its mind between a drizzle and a downpour, I headed off to Tikal National Park with my personal guide. At Zapote Tree Inn, where I was staying, the owner’s wife and her son were both bona fide guides. Hence, Axuan became my guide for the day.
I knew for a fact that I was no expert when it comes to the Mayans. In fact, I realized how little I actually knew about ancient civilizations. I was thrilled to have a knowledgeable guide escort me all day. You can also go to Tikal National Park without a guide or find one at the gates.
Axuan was a fountain of knowledge. We talked on the 60-minute bus ride from Flores to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and he started filling my brain with facts about this Mayan civilization. It existed approximately between 600 BC and 900 AD and at its height, had a population of 100 000.
Tikal is a biodiverse jungle setting hosting massive stone structures that rise through the treetops. Oh, what these towering monuments have witnessed – a bustling city ages-old, its ensuing decline, dense jungle overgrowth and rediscovery.
I happily climbed the first temple we passed. I scampered up and gingerly made my way back down. OK – out of my system. Those stairs were narrow and sometimes I just don’t trust myself!
After a 45 minute trek through the jungle, we arrived at Temple IV. It soared above the jungle at 65 metres high – so impressive. I climbed those 200+ steps to the ledge to marvel at the magnificent view. It had been raining solidly on our walk but at the top of the temple, the rain slowed to a mere sprinkle and the howler monkeys started calling through the misty clouds.
View from Temple IV. Temple 1 and II facing each other and Temple III to the right.
Star Wars fans…this was the film location for the Massassi Outpost on the 4th moon of Yavin. Recognize it?
Exploring the Mayan ruins of Tikal revealed treasures which barely scraped the surface of its wonders – an astrological observatory, coatis munching grass, more than one acropolis, spider monkeys swinging, evidence of the water system, howler monkeys, the Seven Temples and massive, ancient trees. A feast for the senses. Sparks to fuel the imagination.
And then…the majesty of the Great Plaza took my breath away. Temple I and Temple II, in all their monumental grandeur, face each other across a field that was once the centre of sociopolitical life. All 47 metres of Temple I (the Temple of the Grand Jaguar) loomed at one end. Apparently, Lord Chocolate (Ah Cacao) is buried here. No wonder it held a particular fascination for me!
Temple II (Temple of the Masks), facing east, rises 38 metres high. When I arrived at the top of Temple II, I was the only one there. The ambience exemplified tranquillity with only the soothing sound of the Montezuma Oropendolas interrupting the silence. I soaked up the otherworldly vibe.
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I left the Mayan ruins of Tikal just vibrating. It left me overflowing with pieces of stories, threads to the past. Unanswered questions were resonating within. Tikal – is it possible that only 30% of your temples are unearthed? One day will a definitive answer exist regarding your decline? How much has been lost? Is it true that the only reason those temples remain is that they were too immense to carry away?
Tikal – mysticism intertwined with history and beauty. Show up! You can’t go wrong.
When You Go:
Tikal is an easy day trip from Flores, Guatemala. If you want to see the sunrise or sunset, it is probably better to stay at the park. You can also visit Tikal from Belize. Despite the fact that I had heard Tikal can be overrun with tourists, I was there on a weekend and felt as though I had the place to myself.
Zapote Tree Inn: 250 GTQ ($46.00 Canadian)
Return Boat Trip to Zapote Tree Inn: 9 GTQ ($1.65 Canadian)
Bus to Tikal from Flores: 75 GTQ ($14.00 Canadian)
Entrance: 150 GTQ ($27.50 Canadian)
Guide: 300 GTQ ($55.16 Canadian)