No, this isn’t a tribute to the most incredible food thing to have ever been created/discovered. Even though that is, indeed, most worthy of an entire blog on its own.
During a friend’s recent visit to Guatemala, he was planning on going to Tikal. I was going to send him a link to my tips on visiting the ancient Mayan ruins, which we did on my birthday last year, only to discover that I had, in fact, never written about our visit there! I decided that needed to be rectified post haste!
Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest pre-Columbian Mayan sites to have been studied thus far. That’s saying something since they continue to find other Mayan sites throughout the jungles of Guatemala and the Yucatan. Ah Cacao (aka Lord Chocolate) was its longest ruler and brought it to the heights of its prosperity. One of the many amazing things about this site is how much is still uncovered. When walking throughout the park you will see small hills that look out of place. Beneath the greenery are buildings that have yet to be reclaimed from the surrounding jungle. Apparently the entire area had been clear-cut by its inhabitants in order to build the vast city. Interestingly this is also the basis of one of the many theories as to what led to its eventual abandonment. But over the centuries the jungle has crept back in, and with it wildlife meaning that one has to watch out for monkey poop when walking around the site, one of Tigger’s fondest memories. That’s okay since it also means you’ll probably get to enjoy sightings of howler monkeys up in the trees above you. And thankfully they aren’t the type of primate that seems to enjoy flinging their feces at humans.
I’m going to be writing about Flores, the island town that Tikal visitors use as their jumping off point, in a separate post so will leave those tips for that article. To get to Tikal ask your hotel to set up a shuttle. This usually costs $8 per person and is cheaper than using the many tour vendors found throughout the island. The shuttle includes a tour guide for the most important parts of the site. You can always hire him or a different one if you want a guide for the longer term, but we didn’t really find it necessary. The price of admission will set you back a bit, though, at about $20 USD per person (discount for kids and senior citizens), but I’d say it’s worth it.
There are several temples worth a visit, and most of them are pretty close to each other. However, if you tend to get tired easily or like me have uncooperative joints, I would suggest you get to Temple IV as quickly as possible. Why? Because there are a set of wooden steps leading up the side of the temple that will take you to the top. This is the tallest structure in the park, and the view is so worth the climb. Especially when you consider that during Tikal’s time only the ruler and the priests were allowed to get to this point.
Many of the other structures are easy to explore as well. I really liked that you can climb most of the buildings there. Makes it more fun for the kids, which makes it more fun for the parents. Especially the shutterbug ones. I hear much less groaning and “You’re taking ANOTHER picture?” when he can keep himself busy climbing the buildings and chasing iguanas.
There are some food and drinks vendors in the park. You can also bring your own food, but it’s worth getting drinks there since they’re cold, and, well, you’re in the jungle. And because of that make sure you do whatever you normally do for mosquito bite protection. It’s quite easy to spend an entire day there. Or longer.
Another cool thing about this park is that you can camp there, which means a visit during the full moon or watching the sunrise from the ruins is completely doable. There are also 3 hotels located at Tikal, going from about mid range to fairly luxurious in prices and amenities.
Next up I’ll post some tips about visiting Flores. It has a lot of hidden charm. In fact we ended up staying there for a week and actually started looking at places to rent for a longer stay.