You might think that when you’ve seen one Mayan ruin site, you’ve seen them all. Well, you’re wrong.
Introducing: Tikal National Park. Located in Peten, Guatemala, Tikal is one of the largest Mayan ruin sites in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was once a political, economic and military center for the region.
Tikal is just 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Flores and in the middle of the jungle. It’s home to an array of wildlife – jaguars, pumas, hundreds of kinds of birds, multiple species of monkeys and so much more.
Pro tip: do a sunrise tour.
How often can you trek through a dark, deep jungle in the middle of the night and listen as it awakens? Plus, you can get a head start on the sun’s heat and big crowds.
At 3:30 a.m., with cell phone flashlights in hand (hello, we are tourists!), we followed our guide as he led us through the brush. We spotted a tarantula and a toad the size of my face.
After about 45 minutes of walking, we arrived at Temple IV, the tallest structure at Tikal. We climbed too many stairs for that early in the day, found a comfy spot to sit amongst the other early risers, and waited in the dark. Everyone was instructed to be silent so you can really appreciate in the experience.
It soon felt like we were on the set of Jurassic Park. Apparently, howler monkeys were the inspiration behind the velociraptors’ screech. If you didn’t know better, you’d be terrified. Birds chirped, leaves rustled. The sun came up through a dense fog. It was magical.
At Tikal, there’s a lot of ground to cover and countless stairs to climb. You’re going to get tired, but power through it — the views are phenomenal. Plus, how often do you get to climb centuries-old structures?
We tried chicle (gum) and maya nuts off of a tree. We chewed lidocaine leaves, which were once used to numb mouths for dental procedures. We spotted howler and spider monkeys, a variety of parrots and other gorgeous birds. At 10:00 a.m., we headed back to the hotel.
Getting tickets for the sunrise tour
As of March 2018, you must purchase two separate tickets for the sunrise tour – a general admission ticket and a sunrise ticket. Tickets can only be purchased at a Banrural Bank in Guatemala. Note that the process for purchasing sunrise tickets often changes, so check ahead of time.
- Bug spray
- Comfortable sneakers
- Layered clothing
- Binoculars for wildlife watching
- A mini backpack to hold all your goodies
- A guide* if you want to truly understand Tikal’s history (and if you’re not good at reading maps)
*Click here to see the travel agency that I recommend, along with other Flores tips and tricks.