Our watch alarms go off at 4:15am. The plan is to watch sunrise over the jungle from atop Temple IV. Tikal is exceptional for the height of the temples, rising above the jungle canopy. At 70 meters (230 ft) tall, Temple IV is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas.
Even with the moon near full, the light doesn’t reach the jungle floor. It was eerie, hiking in the darkness, our headlamps illuminating only a small area in front of us, the howler monkeys growling nearby.
View from Temple IV when the fog cleared later in the day. The roof combs of Temples I, II and III are visible.
We spent the day exploring Tikal. It’s massive, one of the largest Mayan cities. Tikal reached its peak around 200-900 AD, but was abandoned by the end of the 10th century.
The different sections of Tikal are linked together by trails through the jungle. It’s easy to understand how a city could be lost here. It’s impossible to see anything through the thick overgrowth, even these huge pyramids are obscured until you walk out into the clearing. As we hike, we pass many cone shaped hills on an otherwise flat landscape. One can only imagine what lies beneath these unexcavated parts. Sometimes we could make out an outline of stairs or a wall.
Howler Monkeys & baby:
Tikal is one of Guatemala’s most popular tourist attractions. Understandably, due to the heavy foot traffic and safety concerns, there are tighter restrictions on what we could climb as compared to the other ruins we’ve visited. We still got a good stairclimber work-out with the pyramids we could climb. They’re steep, definitely not to code. And with increased visitation comes other problems like graffiti, which is seen throughout Tikal’s structures. The interior walls of the ruins are covered in a dark sticky growth. Like a scratchboard, people draw and write messages into the limestone beneath.
The rain held off until afternoon, when it came in fits and starts. We were able to explore the ruins between rain showers until later when it started to pour and we decided to call it a day. The rocks are covered in moss, making them really slippery and treacherous to climb in the rain. Also, the trails were turning into mud pits. We’re bummed about the weather, but at least it discouraged a lot of people from visiting today, so we had some parts all to ourselves.
Tikal is my favorite ruins so far, spectacular in its size and temple architecture. It really is quite captivating to be among such grand structures, to stand above the jungle canopy, look out over the tops of the trees, and imagine life here over 1000 years ago.