Day 31, Central America trip, Dec 2012 – Feb 2013
Day 3, Flores – Tikal, Guatemala
3 D model of the Mayan archaeological ruins in Tikal, Guatemala –
After spending over 1 month in Guatemala with the last few days spent in 2 different jungle lodges nearby Semuc Champey, I was so determined to get out of Guatemala. My attempt to exit Guatemala is NOT because I didn’t like Guatemala but on the opposite end of the spectrum. I enjoyed my stay in the entire country of Guatemala so much that I’ve put my travel in the region of Central America to a halt. If I don’t get out now, I will never make it down south to Panama and can’t fly back home to San Francisco. I was debating and thinking of skipping Tikal, the Mayan temples and archaeological ruins altogether, perhaps saving it for another trip, sometimes later, in this lifetime, lol?
Welcome sign and admission fee
Everyone I talked to at the lodges were trying to prevent me in skipping Tikal natural park. They all said: you must visit Tikal. It’s the hi-light of Central America and you should not skip it. With the general consensus on visiting Tikal is a must while in Guatemala, I hesitantly left the jungle lodges of the Semuc Champey park and headed for Flores, an artificial island town that most tourists use as a base city to get to Tikal, about an hour drive away.
A temple at the main plaza in Tikal national park
For those of you that never heard of Tikal, I’m sure you’ll be curious about it by now. What is it? The short description (credit here): In the heart of the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, lies one of the major sites of Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. The ceremonial centre contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps. Remains of dwellings are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside.
Per the tour-guide, only 20% of Tikal ruins is excavated and visible to the naked eyes. The remaining 80% are still hidden in the lush green vegetation of the jungles and archaeologist refused to further continue the work due to lack of funding but primarily, the hidden 80% is actually preserving the entire ruins.
Since discovery, climate, weather and exposure to the environment had quickly erode and damaged the Mayan ruins at Tikal quicker than anticipated. By estimation, a few years from now, tourist might not be able to visit these temples due to erosion and damaged caused by tourism and everything else under the sun.
Aerial view/map of Tikal park
Very old and big Ceiba (sacred tree to the Mayan culture) at the park
If you paid attention to the tree branches, then you should have see spider like organism that are clinging to the tree. Contra to the normal understanding, the Ceiba tree is living off of those spider like branches, not the other way around.
Tikal park itself is very big and filled with many natural wild life such as the howling monkeys, beautiful, national birds of Guatemala, the Quetzale. The country money unit is also named after the national iconic birds. Nature lovers can spend an entire day and beyond in the park to hike, trekking, or catch the sunrise or sunset (both required taking up accommodation at one of the lodging option inside the park) or purchase additional set of tickets for those off hour admission.
Just to give you an idea the elevation or height of the stair steps/climb from the base of the temple
And the stairs climbing is the easiest part of the Tikal’s visit
Star War FANS:
I believed the movie was filmed here. I’m not a big fan and it was too long ago but it’s just another temple at Tikal. Temple IV above is the most significant in size and height. Access to all temples are restricted so besides the height and mirador above the green jungle, I don’t find Tikal equally impressive in comparison to Angkor Wat, Cambodia. And please don’t slam me if I don’t find Tikal as interesting as you. First and foremost, I’m just not as crazy about the Mayan culture comparing to others that visited Tikal. Secondly, each to his own. There is one attraction/site during your travel that you would feel connected with, spiritually. I found it in Angkor Wat, Cambodia and unfortunately, I didn’t have the same spiritual connection in Tikal, Guatemala. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the ruins visually and acknowledge the cultural insight as much as you. I personally think that I might appreciated it equally as you, or even more if I didn’t visit Angkor Wat first. After Angkor Wat, other temples or ruins are sort of pale in comparison.
Tikal national park, Guatemala
Tikal Park Website
Location: Tikal national park in Penten region, Guatemala
Hours: 6 am -6 pm. Sunrise or sunset tour extras.
Fee: 150 Quetzales/$23 USD (as of Jan 2, 2013)
Shuttle to Tikal: 70 Quetzales, purchased from Los Amigos hostel. Others charged 80 Q.
***Tikal park is in the middle of jungle with no modern conveniences or services (ATM, bank, etc..). Take care of your banking needs in Flores before heading to Tikal. Cash is KING here or anywhere in Central America.
* The park has 1 coffee cart (expensive, 2 x more expensive when comparing to price in Flores) and 1 restaurant.
* I purchased an ice chilled fresh coconut from a stall (also inside the park, by the shuttle pick up area) for 5 Q/under $1 USD. Other typico food stalls available for a bargain price comparing to the coffee cart/restaurant option.
* Gift shops sold everything found else where in Guatemala. If you haven’t done your gift giving shopping yet, you can shop here. Prices are similar else where, with the addition focus on Tikal related souvenirs.