My Jungle Adventure at Tikal National Park

Ever since arriving in Guatemala, I knew I wanted to go to Tikal National Park. Temple I in the Great Plaza of the park is basically a symbol of Guatemala. My guidebook went as far to compare it to the Eiffel Tower’s iconic representation of Paris.

Temple I (“El Gran Jaguar”) in the Great Plaza

The problem was that I was living and working in the southern/southwestern part of the country, and Tikal is in the northern part, deep in the jungle. But I was determined to get there.

So, at the end of my project, I left Xela a few days early with two of my friends and we headed for Tikal. We first took a bus to Guatemala City (4 hours), and from there took an overnight bus (10 hours!) to Santa Elena, which is close to Tikal.

We arrived in Santa Elena at 6:30am and at the bus station were immediately harassed by vendors trying to sell us bus tickets to Tikal. But to avoid getting scammed or overcharged, we decided to head towards Flores, a nearby island-town and book our bus and guided tour through Los Amigos Hostel. Best decision we could have made.

Los Amigos was great. The hostel itself has a really cool vibe, and setting up the bus + guided tour with them was really easy and went incredibly smoothly. We also bought a bagged lunch from the hostel’s restaurant to take with us to the park.

We left for the park at 8am, and stayed until 3pm. Our guide, Luis, took us on a tour through the park, leading us from complex to complex and pointing out spider monkeys and tarantulas along the way. He was really knowledgeable about the flora and fauna in the park and made the whole experience really incredible for us. He showed us a plant whose flowers smell like garlic, and encouraged us to eat termites, which he said tasted like carrots (almost everyone declined but a few brave souls actually did it).

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The branches of the ceiba tree, the national tree of Guatemala
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The massive base of the ceiba tree—the Maya believe its four posts signified the four cardinal directions
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A tarantula the size of my hand!

I most enjoyed finally being able to see (and climb) Tikal’s temples and pyramids. I liked spending time in the Great Plaza, which is flanked by two large temples.

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View of the Great Plaza from the North Acropolis
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Temple II (Temple of Masks) in the Great Plaza
A pyramid with sacrificial altars lined up in front
Palacio de los murciélagos (Palace of Windows)

I also enjoyed climbing the Temple IV which is the tallest temple in the park, and actually the tallest remaining Pre-Columbian structure in the Americas. (It’s also the site where they shot a scene of Star Wars Episode IV!) From the top of Temple IV, we had a beautiful view above the jungle canopy , with the temples flanking the Great Plaza poking out between the trees. It was truly breathtaking.

View from Temple IV

After our day at Tikal, we spent a little time exploring the nearby town of Flores. I absolutely adored this town—it’s actually on its own island! I also loved that Flores has this cool Caribbean vibe to it complete with brightly painted houses.

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We ate dinner at Raices Bar & Grill, and sat out on the dock. This gave us a beautiful view of the sunset, and was the perfect ending to a long day.

View from the dock at Raices

I was scared that I would spend so much time trying to get to Tikal and then be underwhelmed by the park itself. But I can easily say that nothing about the park was underwhelming. The natural beauty of the park along with the enormous ruins were truly amazing, and worth the long journey to get there. This long excursion was the perfect end to a wonderful time in Guatemala.

-S

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