After a four-hour shuttle ride from Panajachel to Antigua, followed immediately by a short shuttle ride from Antigua to the Guatemala City bus station, followed by some sitting around and finally an overnight bus from Guatemala City to Flores, all I wanted to do was stay in the air conditioning. After the moderate climates in the southern parts of Guatemala, the heat and humidity of Flores was particularly rough on me, someone who hates heat and humidity anyway. Throw in some personal discomforts I’d picked up during our vacation thus far, and the siren song of the bed under the air conditioning was strong. But, there was one reason we’d made the trek to Flores, and one reason only: Tikal.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as one of the largest Mayan archeological sites in the world, any trip to Guatemala would be lacking without a visit. As is the case with basically all transport in Guatemala, we scheduled a shuttle to pick us up in the morning and take us out to the ruins. It was about an hour drive to the front gate, where we were dropped off so we could buy our tickets. No one had told us, but we needed ID to get the tickets. Luckily, we had our driver’s licenses on us, which they accepted, as we had decided to leave our passports at our hotel.
Once we’d gotten our tickets, we had the option of procuring a guide if we so chose (we didn’t), and then our driver took us into the actual park, which is about a 20-minute drive from the gates. We arranged where we’d be picked up about six hours later, got our ticket stamped, and entered the park.
There are plenty of signs written in English along the way, so learning about the various structures, animals, and plants wasn’t a problem. A guide probably would have come in handy trying to get around the massive park, but we managed just fine –even if we did miss some temples in the way back, we hit all the highlights. A lot of the paths we took were pretty empty, and many of the sites (minus the main courtyard) seemed deserted, so it was easy to feel like explorers ourselves, walking on paths and happening upon random ruins as we went.
We also ran into plenty of local wildlife, starting with a group of at least a dozen cute little pizote (aka white-noted coati or coatimundi), which seemed curious of us but also a bit skittish when we finally went to walk past them. We also saw a line of leaf-cutter ants, which Kaitie was particularly excited for, as well as a few monkeys and some local turkeys.
All in all, it was a great day, albeit long and hot. And while I wasn’t as excited about Tikal as I have been about some of the other archaeological sites I’ve read about since I was a kid (Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, anything in Rome), it’s always impressive to see what people accomplished back in the day (even if they did accomplish it with incredible amounts of slave labor).
Any trip to Guatemala should include a stop at Tikal. A guide would give you a little more insight into the place than we got, but it’s not required. If you do some reading ahead of time, or just stick to the signs, you’ll get as much as you want out of the trip. I would also suggest camping at the site, which you can do in either rented tents or hammocks for a small fee. Unfortunately, we had to opt out of camping there, but from what I’ve read, it can be an incredible experience. As can the sunrise tour.
Just be sure to bring some extra deodorant.