As much as we loved Antigua and were still sore from climbing volcanoes, it was time to head to one of the major sites for Mayan ruins in Central America—Tikal National Park. We had heard that is was the spot to really experience the ancient Mayan culture and to see some intact temples. Loading onto a bus, we tried to sleep on the eight-hour ride overnight and get enough rest that we could really enjoy the area.
Turns out, getting to Tikal was a bit more of a challenge than we had planned. After disembarking from one bus, we were loaded onto another, and finally loaded onto another before reaching the outskirts of the park. Altogether, it took about a day to arrive there and check into our hotel inside.
However, it didn’t take us long to realize we had made a smart choice by staying there two nights. Although you can see the park in one, there is plenty to keep you occupied if you want to stay longer. There are hiking trails, various complexes, and excellent guides to hire who will be happy to give you a run down on the history.
Formerly the ancient Mayan capital, it was easy to see why Tikal has become such a hot spot among adventure travelers lately. The massive pyramids (and there are so many!) are still climbable, unlike Chichen Itza where they have banned touching the monuments. We followed some of the wet and muddy paths that led to each temple, each more impressive than the last. Although we were tired from the long bus ride, we had fun exploring the nooks and crannies that they still leave open to tourists.
There was also a variety of wildlife that could be spotted as we walked through one end of the park to the other. Dozens upon dozens of coatis descended onto the main area of the temples where ancient Mayans used to bargain and sell their wares. We chased them, trying to snap good photos before they scurried away. Turkeys strutted, unfazed by the tourists who stopped to look.
Since Daniel and I were there in the offseason, there were very few other people to contend with. Most the time we were alone, exploring the jungle and allowed to play among the ruins without anyone judging. We received plenty of bug bites and a little sprinkling of rain, but it was a relief to have the place to ourselves and to listen to the sounds of the howler monkeys in the trees.
We also ended up hiring a guide to take us around in the early morning. We set our alarms for four am (a very difficult thing for Daniel and me) and took to the park in an entirely new light. Our guide, Caesar, was a character. He showed us how the ancient Mayan people carried all the blocks for the temples on their backs and had some interesting theories about the types of stones used—limestone—and how it eventually led to mass poisoning and the end of the Mayan civilization.
Finally, we climbed Temple IV, the largest in the complex. We watched as the sun peeked over the horizon and through the heavy fog.
“The ancient kings believed they could see the creation of the world from up here,” Caesar said. “Just like the gods.”
I didn’t feel like a god, but I absolutely felt something primal and spiritual as I sat there. Tikal still remains one of my favorite locations and I would go back in a heartbeat. For me, it wasn’t about living like a king, but feeling the presence of those long ago.
Have you ever been to a spot that has particularly stuck with you?
Like this trip? Guess what? You can go on it!