Tikal National Park – Guatemala

If want to come to Central America for culture, history, archaeology, or all of the above, you have to put Tikal on your list. Tikal is a UNESCO listed park that used to be a Mayan city that had 50-100 thousand inhabitants.

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The smaller temples are older than the three largest ones

I was on the fence about coming here at first. We were staying in San Ignacio, Belize, which is about two-three hours away depending on how quickly you can get through customs. This meant that we would be spending equal, if not more, time traveling as in the park itself. In the end though, we decided to go for it since who knows when the next time we could make it back to this area would be.

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Stone Altars

We were not disappointed! We booked our tour through Pacz Tours, a company that we also used for our ATM caves tour and which I highly recommend. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable. I was a little apprehensive about giving him my passport so he could expedite the border crossing, fearing some kind of Taken scenario, but I was just being paranoid.

Getting to Tikal was also a wonderful drive. You will pass through brightly painted towns and Lake Peten. Guatemala was not at all what I expected and it inspired me to want to explore it more.

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Mayan community practicing a ceremony in the shadow of what their ancestors built

The park is surrounding by lush jungle, which is why the ruins weren’t “discovered” until the 1800s. While I was there we spotted toucans, a coatimundi, and a few monkeys.

There are a lot of ruins, but the stars of the show are Temples I, II, and IV.

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Temple I and the courtyard

There was a Mayan community performing a ritual at the ruins. It was really cool to see them practicing these rituals in the same place their ancestors practiced.

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You can explore the corridors

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Back of some of the ruins

The tour broke off so we could explore the temples on our own. Temple II had just built a railing and Temple I was off limits due to tourists falling off. Apparently people fall off of these ruins all the time and die, so be careful.

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Temple II

One of the best parts about this park is that it’s not crowded. At the more popular ruins in Central America, like Tulum in Mexico, the place is packed by 11am. All of these pictures were taken in the middle of the day, and as you can see, there are only a few people.

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Temple I

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Tarantula

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View of the main temples and the surrounding jungle 

The finale is climbing Temple IV and looking out at the tips of the other temples poking out above the jungle. The pictures just can’t do it justice – the landscape is stunning. Fun nerdy fact – this is also where they shot the scene of the Millennium Falcon landing on Yavin during A New Hope.

If you’re not a huge history buff, then a few hours at Tikal is enough. There are many tours offering multiple day trips, and the sunrise is supposed to be spectacular. If you can afford them, or are planning to be in Guatemala longer, than it seems worthwhile. However, if you are in Belize, Tikal is well worth the day trip.

Have any of you been to Tikal? How does it compare to other ruins you’ve been too?

 

 

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