A Trip to Tikal
It was dark out when the alarm went off but I wasn’t sure it was real. When I put my glasses on and looked at the time, 2:15am, however, I began to question my choices. Who on earth would do this? See also: wine with dinner.
Pretty sure Mr. BGB was having the same set of thoughts as he silently tugged his sneakers on, sending me accusatory looks in between yawns. Why would we even be up at this time, you may ask? Tikal. The mammoth Mayan ruins were one of the main reasons I chose to travel into Guatemala. Tikal is why I agreed to a 2:30am departure time from La Lancha, while the surrounding forests slept and the darkness hung like fog. We were going to hike to Tikal and wait for dawn there because it was on my B list.
We drove for an hour (or so? I was a shell of a person at this point) and hit the first checkpoint heading into the park. From there we stopped and got out, grabbing some coffee that the lodge was kind enough to put into a thermos for us (and left with security for our early departure) and promptly forgot our water bottles in the truck. We then went to the check in for the actual hike into the park and got our bracelets. Flashlights in hand we began, the only other people in sight being the guards at the front of the park entrance. The surreal nature of the situation really hit when Antonio, our guide, stopped us and told us to kill the flashlights. The full moon was hanging above, illuminating the tops of trees and showcasing a Ceiba as we made our way.
After climbing the stairs (yes, there were stairs and I am so thankful for that!) and catching my breath I grabbed a seat next to Mr. BGB at the top of Temple IV. The stone of the stairs we perched on felt as though it might be a bit slippery but I’m not sure if that was my body’s way of reminding me to pay attention or not. Side note: I’m particularly accident prone so taking a tumble off the temple wouldn’t be too out of character for me. I sat back and kept an eye on the edge as several other folks started to appear, winded as we had been, at the top. Everyone was quiet, due in part to the early hour and the stern warning from the required park guides: QUIET AT THE TOP. Everyone except one small group who were, in my opinion, getting ready to be heaved off the top by their neighbors when a collective hiss of “SSSSSHHHHHHHhhhhhhhh” got let out by every other person there who had grown tired of their chatter.
Then silence. And we wait.
We waited for a bit, not sure how long, as the jungle began to wake up. Nothing for as far as the eye could see except tree tops and the tops of several other structures peeking out. Then the howler monkeys started to rise and the birds began to greet the dawn. Gradually, and slowly, the pitch black faded to a deep grey and then to a cloudy morning haze. While there’s no sun on this morning it’s still spectacular.
Deciding to get a jump on the rest of the tourists we scrambled down the stairs to meet back up with our guide. The next couple hours are spent wandering the grounds of Tikal, getting to explore each structure and getting massive amounts of history to accompany them. I also take in all the wildlife, from an oscillated turkey to a family of spider monkeys and, finally, my coatimundi moment. I have been waiting every single year since first traveling to Central America to see one of these little homies and finally got my chance. It was magical.
Ending at Acropolis Central we broke into the fruit that we brought (hey, something had to give me moisture because I was thirsty – left the water bottles in the truck, remember?). Finally we grabbed one last look at the mask of the rain god Chak, which is currently under excavation, before hiking the 20 minutes back to the park entrance. On the way out we passed large groups entering the park, those who were not badass enough to get up at 2:15am I tell myself
I highly, highly recommend touring Tikal if you’re in Guatemala. You can also do a quick border crossing from Belize (trust me – it’s pretty easy!) and visit, however staying in Guatemala allowed us to do the sunrise tour which got us the jump on crowds and was really a once in a lifetime experience. Want to stay closer to Tikal? I’d recommend staying at La Lancha Village – check out my review here.
If you’re interested in Mayan ruins other than Tikal make sure to check out Belize! There’s a high concentration of Mayan ruins and I’d recommend adding a night or two onto your trip. Staying at Blancaneaux Lodge will put you in close proximity to quite a few. Have you been to any Mayan ruins? Let me know in the comments below!