Tikal: Guatemala’s Ancient Mayan Ruins

I spent literally an entire month in Guatemala seeing pictures of Tikal every. single. day. By the time it got round to it, I was feeling a bit complacent. Will I even be that impressed by these ancient Mayan ruins that everyone raves about, after seeing hundreds of the same photo day after day, plastered on tour agency windows and in frames hung on walls all over the country? I did it because everyone said it was a must-do, but I will admit, when I signed up for the Sunset Tour of Tikal National Park, I wasn’t feeling very excited. 

But I have to confess. As soon as I entered the park, and begun walking around the various sites of ruins, I was consumed entirely by the engravings, the design of the city, the actual buildings themselves. The pictures didn’t ruin it. The pictures I had seen all month didn’t even come close to the real thing. And mine don’t either! 

Apparently, the temples were only meant to be climbed by kings, who were also seen as divine. They performed ceremonies while atop the temples. 

Just look at these engravings:

This little animal, called a Pizote, which I thought looked like a cross between an anteater and a raccoon, was wandering around the park with some little babies (which looked like kittens!!). I tried taking photos of her babies but they were too fast for the camera…

I was pretty happy about seeing the massive majestic Mayan ruins in person, but I can’t deny that my actual favorite part of the day was, finally, seeing monkeys (and, more specifically these ones were Spider Monkeys)! Tikal was the first place I ever saw monkeys (outside of a zoo, anyway). These babies are living in the jungle, and don’t mind humans whatsoever. Hence the up-close-and-personal photo shoot I had with this one! 

That face! So cute. 

I also found some cool trees:

Woooooow.

And saw some more monkeys.

After a couple hours exploring the ruins, we all gathered on top of the highest pyramid, to look out over the entire jungle. 

During the gathering, in almost complete silence whilst observing the view, we heard the infamous Howler Monkeys, which we didn’t get a chance to see that day, but then we heard this loud growling screeching yelling sound, which I thought might have been like, a jaguar, or just a monster honestly. But it turns out Howler Monkeys are named as such because they, well, howl. Apparently they are the loudest land creature on the planet! (I still get a little scared whenever I hear them. They sound ferocious.) 

Just before sunset, we bribed the guards with 20 Quetzales each (the Guatemalan currency) to let us go on the other “forbidden” side of the monument so that we could see the sunset. This bribing is a daily custom that visitors must do to see the sunset and remain in the park past closing. And it was worth it.

Imagine sitting on top of the tallest ancient Mayan ruin in one of the most famous Mayan sites, hearing monkeys, birds and other jungle animals settling down for the night (or waking up), with a group of newly bonded friends all silently overlooking this jungle forest sunset scene. Just imagine…


With the last of the light, we all headed down the monument and back to the entrance of the park, wandering through the darkness, where we got in our shuttle to return to our hostels in Flores, about a two-hour car drive away. It was a quiet ride back – some fell asleep, while others contemplated the absolute magic of the day in tired solitude. 

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