Saturday, March 21, 2009


We've been looking forward to Tikal since before we arrived in Central America; it's such a famous Mayan site and we always hoped it would live up to its hype. I'm glad to say that I was even more impressed with Tikal than I expected to be. It's an awesome place and definitely one of the most memorable experiences of our trip so far.

According to historians, the first occupants arrived in Tikal around 900 BC, with the first evidence of buildings from 500 BC. At its height, Tikal was the most powerful city in the Peten area and was inhabited by between 50,000 and 100,000 people. It was finally abandoned around 900 AD, at the same time as the unexplained collapse of the Mayan civilisation.

We had heard that, if you enter the park after 4pm, your ticket is good for the next day too, so we decided that an over-night stay in the park would provide a different perspective, allowing us to see Tikal in the evening and early morning. So we rented a couple of hammocks slung under thatched huts right near the entrance (unfortunately the incomparable location meant we paid more than we usually do for a double room with private bathroom!) and headed in for sunset.

We climbed up Temple IV, the highest temple in the city (64m) for an amazing view across the jungle. Tikal retains its original setting buried in thick forest and you can see trees stretching all the way to the horizon.

Do any Star Wars fans recognise this view? George Lucas and team came to Tikal to film a short scene from episode IV, A New Hope. It provided the setting for the rebel base on Yavin 4 and, apparently, it also appeared in the James Bond movie, Moonraker.

And, of course, the sunset was amazingly beautiful.

It was incredible to see the ancient structures in the twilight. We were amongst the very last to leave the park and as we walked through the darkness back to the campsite we could hear the jungle coming to life as all the nocturnal creatures were waking up.

As soon as the park opened at 6am, we headed straight for the Grand Plaza before the tour buses arrived. Tikal is the number one tourist attraction in Guatemala but, that morning as we ate breakfast at the foot of a 1300 year old temple in the dawn mist, it felt as if we had discovered it. There were only 8 people in the whole plaza and it felt truly powerful and magical.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the park with our Kiwi friend, Kandace. Here I am with her climbing one of the small temples. As you can see, she enjoyed herself a lot too!

Because it's in the middle of the jungle, the wildlife is abundant in Tikal. We saw countless monkeys swinging from the trees and clambering over the ruins, seemingly oblivious both to the people photographing them or the significance of the structures they were playing on! Hundreds of colourful birds were flying above us, coatimundis (furry creatures like racoons) foraged in the undergrowth and the shimmering Peten turkeys strutted around the plaza. For me, though, by far the best spot was not just one but two types of toucans; Aracari (black beak with white stripes) and the famous Keel-billed (the one from the Guinness ads!).

A truly atmospheric place soaked in history and an unforgettable experience.

Rachel x

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