My fist visit to Tikal, Guatemala was brief due to an unfortunate bus incident and I was left wanting more time with this Grande Dame of Mayan ruins. This time I stayed two nights and managed to really enjoy this lovely site. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes also enjoyed a pint of my blood during my stay!
I took a decidedly rough tourist shuttle from Flores to Tikal on the Tuesday… the driver, never having graduated from tourist school, decided to drive off with my bag while I ran into my hotel for something. I was a tad grumpy after chasing the troll down the cobblestone streets while yelling my head off. Just guess how much of a tip he got? HA!
I did meet a guide, Samuel, on the bus who was a local and had some great tips, one being how to avoid paying the early entry fee to see the sun rise. He agreed to meet a young Italian couple and I the next morning at 5:45 to show us around. And for the price of that tour we could join the sunset tour that his brother would give later that day. Since the brother would be telling us nothing new from the morning tour it was so we could get in after dark since we were required to be with a tour guide. Sounded good to us.
I stayed at Jungle Lodge Tikal Hostel which is located just outside the gate of the park. Perfect. It was an excellent choice, super clean and you can’t get a better location. I opted for the cheap room which was bare basics with shared bathrooms. In spite of that, the accommodations managed to be elegant, including the bathrooms… not your typical hostel at all!
The drawback was their food and beverage prices were 4 star but it was easy to get around by going to the Guatemalan restaurants outside the Tikal gates. Plus the entertainment was outstanding… on a bike that is. LOL
The power was shut off from about 10pm to 8am so I wasn’t able to make coffee but Samuel was kind enough to share his with me as we marched up the long road to the ruins of Tikal in the pre-dawn light.
He proved to be an entertaining and enlightened guide and the Italian couple and I hit it off well so we had an enjoyable 3 hours tramp around the main plaza and a few of the other buildings. He grew up near Tikal and his grandfather was a Shaman, these grounds were his playground and his religion. It sounded like many indigenous people have not entirely given up on the old ways but live with a foot in each world. Samuel eventually admitted he would like to be a Shaman some day. Rituals are still regularly performed on the grounds.
His trick to avoid paying the extra entry fee in the morning was this: at this time of year the place is coated in a thick mist in the early morning so the people who go in early to hike to the tallest (and furtherest) temple, #4 will see the sun come up but none of Tikal will be visible. Since we only hiked to the main plaza and climbed up the 2nd tallest building, temple 2, we got to see the sun rise through the mist behind the Jaguar Temple. It was glorious! Like Samuel said, you can see the sun come up anywhere in the world but only here can you see Tikal temples at dawn.
We were taking a short cut to see a temple when we caught sight of a herd of coati, there had to be close to 50! While the rest of the tourists followed, there by only getting ass photos, Samuel got us to skirt around a hill and cut ahead of them. Everyone but me got awesome pictures of babies and all sorts of cuteness. My iPhone decided it was full and wanted to take a nap. 😦 Trust me, they were cute.
Three hours in without breakfast or a good cup of coffee had both Samuel and I heading for the gate for both. We caught a ride in the back of a pickup truck and left the Italian couple to continue their explorations. After breakfast I abandoned Samuel and went for a nap.
After I woke I wandered back into Tikal and explored some more off the beaten paths and hardly saw anyone. That is the way to do Tikal! The heat finally drove me back to have a drink by the pool and wait till I met up with the Italian couple at 6:45pm at the gate.
Experiencing Tikal going to dark was so different from watching it come to light. For one thing the night mosquitoes are waaaaay more voracious and deadly. They mowed right through the dousing of OFF I had sprayed on.
We sat on top of the temple, chattering away, excited about the pair of toucans hanging around. The howler and the spider monkeys were already absent, they know better than to roam too close to the ground after dark…. unlike us. The day sounds faded as the night sounds rose. Lots and lots of insect noises.
We fell silent as the sun slipped below the horizon. I have witnessed an almost primal need for people all over the world to watch the sun set. There are many studies that claim the more we connect with nature the healthier psychologically we become and maybe because sunsets can be so visually spectacular it helps jolt us from our ‘regular’ world and for a short time be more in tune with nature. And there’s a nice sense of community when you watch it with others, even strangers.
The show over for another day, we tramp down the stairs into real darkness. It is no wonder the park insists no tourists after dark without a guide… there’s no way most of us would have found our way out before the insects inhaled all our blood! Forget about the jaguars, I fear the mighty mosquito!
So I think I am finally sated for Tikal, time to move on. If you haven’t been, I hope you have the chance to experience it in all its glory… there is something special about this ancient ruin that has been abandoned twice and is enjoying having people tramping around again and even doing rituals! I have heard that they aren’t as crowded as many of the other main Mayan ruins and there certainly wasn’t ever a mob when I was there.
I do recommend you spend the money on a tour and if you are there in the spring and there’s been a lot of fog then go in at 6am and just climb the temple at the Grand Plaza and take a tour for the sunset experience. If you stay at Jungle Lodge Tikal Hostel, which I recommend, they offer tours but it would be way cheaper to book elsewhere, either on-line or in Flores, if you are there beforehand.