Under the Mayan sun – Tikal the magnificent, the magical, the splendorous

With the border crossing adventure behind us, we were hungry for more excitement. On arrival at our party hostel in Flores, we booked a day trip to Tikal for the following morning. We could’ve chosen the sunrise tour for a few extra $$ but looking at the weather forecast in the morning (and on the tour guys advice), it looked like getting up at ridiculous o’clock to see the sun behind the clouds would be a bad idea. Tikal is a jungle site with ruins of one of the largest and most important Mayan cities of its time. Now that our culture was planned out, we hit the bar. The clientele at Los Amigos in Flores were mostly quite a few years younger than us so it was a perfect opportunity for us to prove how cool we were. BUT… After our shower, we got curry, a beer and by 9pm we hit the sack. We decided to wait until tomorrow night to prove that we’re still young! It was the first time in a while we could hear English in the background at the bar and we felt quite at home.

As Tikal is basically in the middle of a rainforest, about 1.5 hours from Flores. Our hostel made us a packed lunch (at an extra cost of course) and sent us on our way. We were joined by Anna from the UK and Victor from Spain. Victor had just arrived and was doing a fly by tour of Guatemala and Belize whereas Anna was one of us, taking in the sights at a slower and cheaper pace. We loved spending the day with them and with Lloyd our tour guide. He was truly in love with his job and his country. You could see it in his eyes as he guided us around this amazing site, giving descriptions of each ruin and helping us spot so much wildlife.

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Magical is another word to describe Tikal. How these Mayans built their sites, all in line to the sun & the moon, casting shadows to pay homage to their king and queen is truly astonishing. The site is still a work in progress. They’ve just uncovered 15 percent of its 3,000 structures covering around 16 square kilometres.

Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites in the world. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now modern-day northern Guatemala. Situated in the department of El Petén, the site is part of Guatemala’s Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are 6 pyramid temples with Temple IV being the tallest standing at an massive 70 meters (230 feet) from the ground. They’ve recently started to excavate it, but you can climb to the top. Here’s the view which some of you may remember from Star Wars: Episode IV.

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Try to imagine Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto movie and you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to wander around this site. We climbed a small temple with extremely steep steps to get an idea of how each area were laid out. Each one having a pyramid representing the Sun, Moon with two side buildings for the Shaman representing the doorways to heaven and the underworld. Lloyd explained the the rituals of human sacrifice in great detail.. sometimes in too much detail!

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We’d been on the Mayan trail for about a week now, seeing some amazing structures, but being on top of Temple IV looking out over the jungle seeing some great temples peaking above the trees and being in the middle of the main plaza, between Temple I (Temple of the Great Jaguar) and Temple II (Temple of the Mask) really completed our journey. Tikal is a must visit. It’s not the easiest place in the world to get to but it’s worth it. And oh how we sweated. The heat was a real struggle there.

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Back in Flores that evening, we took in the the sights and sounds of the little island. Locals packed the lake side where little stalls were set up selling tasty salads on tostadas. These would become our favorite Guatemalan vegetarian fast food. Mixed salad piled onto a crispy taco type bread.

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The island is tiny and unfortunately in places it’s flooding. A local told us that this happens every twenty years. They don’t know why it happens but they’re confident that it’ll subside again. The following day we took a boat ride out to a nearby Mirador (high view point), which gave is a very impressive view of the island and it’s surroundings. We came across more unexcavated Mayan ruins on this short little trip. This areas must have been an amazing site back in those days. I felt so lucky to have this opportunity to meet some new great people in an extremely historically rich place.

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We shared some beers and food with our new travelling friends. By now we had met Jasmine, David & Carrie in a few cities, spent a couple of days with Victor & Anna so there was a good crowd of us. We made it past 9.30 tonight. We made it to the upstairs after party even. We were still young.. enough!

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Joined to the island of Flores is the main town of Santa Elena. It’s quite a rough place to hang out but the sole island ATM had already eaten $300 of my money so we went in search of a proper bank. On the way we picked up ingredients for Guacamole for a huge total of $1 in a market shop. He even threw in a cucumber for good luck, happy to see foreigners and show off his little english. With the temperature soaring and a distinct lack of AC in sight, we hit the local coconut bar on the side of the road. A young girl with a sharp sword sliced one open for us to savor. With that and the TukTuks roaming past, it felt like home to Neem.

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The bus station isn’t the prettiest, the people hanging out there are even less pretty, so we decided to go with the crowd and book the bus to our next destination with our hostel. Another overnight bus ahead of us with a stop in the notoriously dodgy Guatemala city on our way to Antigua. And miles to go while we sleep. We hoped.

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