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!
ChristaFebruary 8, 2020 at 11:39 am
Wow, what an incredible trip! I’d love to spend time exploring Guatemala. Such a beautiful place!
MelissaFebruary 8, 2020 at 1:00 pm
That looks amazing! I have never heard about Tikal before but it’s definitely a place I would love to go.
Shani | Sunshine & MunchkinsFebruary 8, 2020 at 1:15 pm
Sounds like a great bucket list item! Glad you got to mark it off!
KileenFebruary 11, 2020 at 12:44 am
Looks so amazing! Definitely need to book a trip out there someday!
cute & little
KomalFebruary 11, 2020 at 7:35 am
Wow! What a moment you captured. Waking up early when a hangover was worth the wait!
YemiFebruary 11, 2020 at 7:47 am
This was a great read. I like the pictures. I have only read about the Mayans, but a visit may be interesting.
Lori BosworthFebruary 11, 2020 at 8:51 am
I would love to visit Guatemala! The Mask of the Rain God Chak looks incredible!
BeckyFebruary 11, 2020 at 9:37 am
Wow, this sounds incredible! The ruins are amazing, and I love all of the animal photos you got. What a fantastic experience.
Kristine Nicole AlessandraFebruary 11, 2020 at 11:04 am
How awesome to be on top of the temple at dawn. It must have been breathtaking to see all that beauty and watch the wildlife awaken. I do have to make sure I get to visit Tikal if we have the opportunity to travel to Guatemala.
JulesFebruary 11, 2020 at 11:18 am
That’s cool that you guys did the sunrise tour! I was there a few years ago and seeing the temples was incredible.
Cherrie BautistaFebruary 11, 2020 at 7:46 pm
I haven’t been to any Mayan ruins at all but it looks like it should be on my bucket list. But I’m not sure I will be brave enough to get up and start hiking at 2:15am though, lol. It sure was worth it though as the pictures show.
LuciWestFebruary 12, 2020 at 10:57 am
The most inspiring travel blog post I’ve read in a while. Thank you for taking us through the “get up in the middle of the night” to hike up in the dark and watch the daybreak from the top of a Tikal temple. It’s great to read: no, it’s not easy to get yourself to do that – but it’s SO WORTH IT! I’ve been thinking about Guatemala and exploring ruins after being so impressed by the Maya remnants in the Yucatan. More encouraged now – and definitely inspired again to take a pre-sunrise hike to see the day begin in a stunning location. One question: was climbing the temple unsettling. Very unexpectedly, I couldn’t quite make it up the Coba pyramid with the uneven steps and height. Mind totally took over matter that day 🙁
MorganMarch 23, 2020 at 4:09 pm
I’m glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for reading! To answer your question: At Tikal they have built wooden stairs around the back of the larger structures to both help preserve the structures and keep tourists from falling off (I heard a few stories..yikes!). The only part that was a bit unsettling was once you’re at the upper part you have to climb the huge steps on the front of the temple and they’re uneven, it’s dark and the fall is preeeeeety far if you mess up – I think I just went for it because we’d already gone so far and I was still half asleep. I totally understand how you felt at Coba though, it’s pretty daunting if you have to do the entire climb!
LyoshaFebruary 12, 2020 at 11:28 am
wow! the trip looks like a dream to me! i would enjoy it so much!
Mayuri SaxenaFebruary 13, 2020 at 1:18 am
Honestly, I have never heard of Tikal before but after looking at these gorgeous pics I am going to put it in my bucket list. I love doing Sunrise tour…
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