A Pedacito of Guatemala's Tikal Mayan Ruins
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Now, this is what I came to Guatemala to see! I originally planned a trip to Guatemala to see one of my cousins. He was staying in Antigua Guatemala and it was a good opportunity to visit a part of the world that I had never seen. When I went to Manila for work in December of 2018, I had a moment where I realized that I needed to be traveling more.
When I was in SEA (Southeast Asia) I met lots of people that were visiting from relatively close countries like Australia or India. For example, one person would say "oh yeah, I went to Singapore a few weeks ago" just like if it were me saying "yea, I went to Miami a few weeks ago...". It hit me at that moment: there is so much of the world near me that I haven't seen!
I had to change that. My cousin being in Guatemala was a great excuse to go somewhere I likely would not have visited otherwise. I booked my flight, with much enthusiasm, but my cousin ended up leaving for Mexico just before I was to arrive... What was I to do now!?
I still went to Guatemala City but with literally no itinerary. I booked a room at a Hilton Garden Inn because there was so much about Central America that was foreign to me and being at a Hilton felt more secure. Guatemala or Central America has always been portrayed as this super dangerous place run by drug lords so I had my guard up when I arrived.
I know in other posts I have said that you shouldn't restrict yourself to major hotel chains in other countries, well this is the place that gave me that change of heart. I will definitely share more about my experience in Guatemala City but want to keep this focused on highlighting my journey Tikal.
I boarded a flight early in the morning in Guatemala City on a small commuter jet that fit 3 passengers per row. The closest airport to Tikal is in Flores, Guatemala which is about an 8-hour drive from the capital and only about a 1-hour flight. The flight was quick and peaceful, giving the flight attendant just enough time to give us some juice and a small snack.
The landscape of Guatemala is beautiful. It is slightly mountainous, but mostly flat, with small hills throughout. As you approach Flores you can see some interesting geological formations like small lumps in the earth that were apparently formed when the entire area used to be under the sea. I arrived at the airport about an hour before a van was going to pick up a small group of us. I had a small and simple breakfast at the airport's cafe while I waited.
Tikal is about an hour's drive from the airport in Flores. Along the way, we stopped at a small crafts store where we got a sneak peek to what we were about to experience by showing a large model of the ruin's compound.
Our guide showed us some of the indigenous trees and fruits that grow in the area as well as described how the Mayans used the natural resources in the area. If you come over to my house I will show you two beautiful pieces that I bought from this shop.
We reached Tikal around late morning and the heat of the sun had set up the day to be a steamy one. The entire grounds were very well maintained even though the paths were not paved. While it was steamy and hot, the lush jungle kept my sunburn-prone forehead sheltered.
It was amazing to see structures undergoing restoration which requires workers to literally dig the jungle off of them so they are visible. You can see in the photos below a comparison between a "dug out" ruin and one that is still underneath the jungle. Also, the wildlife is not shy here.
This might sound self-conscious and maybe a bit weird to understand, and it pretty much is, but I have a much better vocabulary in English than Spanish. I am fluent in Spanish but my brain thinks in English; does that sound weird? Because of this, I tend to join tour groups where they speak in English, knowing that I can always talk to the guide in Spanish if I need to.
My small group consisted of both an English-speaking guide and a Spanish-speaking one. I originally opted to be in the English group because of the reasons I just described. However, on the ride to Tikal, I noticed that the English guide missed a lot of the information that was being relayed in Spanish.
I stayed in my English group when we arrived but decided to join the Spanish-speaking group instead because I really wanted to learn about the culture and not miss any of the details. I'm glad I did this. Since this experience, I always book Spanish tours in Latin America.
We walked through many trails as our guide navigated the jungle until we reached the next site which was very impressive from the ground. He invited us to walk up to the top where we could get a really good view of the true expansiveness of the jungle, which really reiterated how hard it must have been to rediscover this ancient place.
The guide stayed at the base of the temple as many of us eagerly walked up the wooden stairs built so visitors can get up top. The view was truly breathtaking and I was reminded how much cover the trees provided once we rose above the tree canopy.
I started to get more excited after getting a glimpse of the tallest temples in the distance above the treetops - that was our next stop: Great Plaza! It was further to get there than it appeared from atop the previous temple.
Walking through the jungle was getting more difficult now that the temperature hit the high of the day. The dense vegetation still offered protection from the sun but the heat still penetrated. Fortunately, I brought a few 1.5-liter bottles of water, which by now I was left with just half of one.
After walking for about 20 minutes, the jungle began to clear in the distance and the base of the structures started to become visible. My anticipation peaked! We took a seat on a couple of benches just before the plaza and I tried to contain myself and remain patient, but I was so excited to go see the temples that always appear when you see images of Tikal. I was kept entertained by a curious creature that didn't pay us any mind as he scavenged for some fallen fruits.
We resumed walking after our short break and my jaw dropped as the temples fully revealed themselves! Moments like this usually get me pretty emotional. I first feel humbled and thankful that I have the opportunity to be here in person. Next comes a feeling of being so small and putting perspective more into context.
Almost always after these feelings come and go, I get a sense of needing to do more in my life... Take a look at the small collection of photos I've shared below and I think you can see how you can become overwhelmed by those emotions.
My time in Tikal wrapped up with a nice lunch in an open-air restaurant that was essentially just a pavilion with a kitchen. I had a local beer, a simple vegetable soup, and some beef with rice and vegetables. It was a simple lunch but it was tasty and hearing the sounds of the jungle while enjoying a meal was really beautiful.
On the way back to the airport in Flores, we passed by a large lake which we were told is likely the reason the Mayans were able to prosper in this area. There were some small boutique hotels along the lake, some residences, but mostly it was left pretty natural and there were kids taking a swim from one of the docks.
Getting back to my hotel room in Guatemala City was just as easy and relaxed as in the morning. We flew back on the exact same plane with the exact same flight attendant handing out juice and snacks (I would guess even the pilots were the same).
All in all, this was a great day, but definitely an exhausting one as well. I found this day trip to Tikal on Trip Advisor and it wasn't cheap (it cost more than my flight to Guatemala from Orlando). I can imagine that some people take a bus to Flores from Guatemala City and stay at one of the quaint hotels around the lake, which actually sounds like a great alternative.
However, if you are crazy like me and like to pack a ton of stuff into one trip, do what I did. Spending the money for the roundtrip flight, the lunch, tour guide, and ground transportation was totally worth it.
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