Tikal, Guatemala's major Mayan site, is one of the wonders of the archeological world (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979). A trip here not only allows the traveller to wonder at the ancient temples, but immerses the visitor in the Parque Nacional Tikal, an immense, luxuriant jungle reserve spread over 575 sq. km. and home to an estimated 300 species of
The vast archaeological site is magical, and covers 16 sq. km. It is estimated that at the height of its power, Tikal was one of the largest cities on earth, the city centre housing 10,000 elite, while a population of 60,000 lived in dwellings now swallowed by the surrounding jungle. Towards the end of the 9th century, this great city was suddenly abandoned. Perhaps the power base eroded or deforestation and drought led to famine. Maybe it was a combination of factors. Whatever the reason, the jungle enjoyed the site to itself for hundreds of years until discovered in 1848. Even today, many of the temples remain cloaked in jungle tendrils. There is a vast amount of information available on the history of Tikal, from several pages in Guatemala guide books to academic tomes.
Flights to Flores, the nearest airport to Tikal, leave from Guatemala City early every morning and take about 35 minutes. Flores is 65 km from the site and guides/drivers meet groups and transport them into the park. Within the park there are a few low-key lodges with restaurants, a shabby but interesting little museum containing artifacts found at the site and an excellent tomb replica and a Visitors' Centre with a few shops and a gallery containing photographs showing the progress of excavations.
I spent two nights in the Jungle Lodge, a friendly and relaxed place, offering a thatched main building (reception, a shop, a restaurant and a comfy space to 'hang out' with other visitors). The ensuite rooms are in basic little cottages spread out in the pretty, tropical grounds where the presence of flowers and birds make up for lack of luxury. You don't want to spend much time in your room when so many pleasures await you outside!
Properties within the park turn their generators off during the night; if this is a concern, pack a flashlight. Meals are nourishing and acceptable: eggs as you like them for breakfast, tropical fruits, plenty of chicken dishes for lunch and dinner and so on. The Lodge has a nice little pool, an ideal spot to cool down and enjoy a drink after a few hours of walking and climbing. As I relaxed there late in the afternoon I was entertained by a group of spider monkeys chasing each other in nearby trees.
Groups gather in the main lodge after breakfast and lunch each day for the long walk to the archaeological site. You stay with your guide or wander at will, letting your imagination soar as you view the many temples and pyramids. Some structures may be climbed, others, out of bounds while many are so covered with vegetation that only their pinnacles can be seen floating above the jungle.
Sunrise is special at the ruins; you will find a group of hardy souls planning to leave the lodge with a guide before dawn to greet the sun from atop one of the pyramids. Another good reason for that flashlight!
Bird lovers should remember binoculars as this is a bird-watcher's paradise. There is a pretty pond area beside the Visitors' Centre which was once a Mayan reservoir. I was fascinated by a variety of water birds elegantly picking their way over the water-lilies and here I looked in vain for the bird attached to a strange clicking sound in the trees above me until a local boy pointed to a large bird some distance from the noise. I was to learn this was an oro (golden) pendulum Montezuma. Another fascinating spectacle was the columns of leaf ants surrounding a tree, not because this was the first time I had seen these creatures but on this occasion, they carried blossom fragments, thus creating quivering columns of pretty pink on the tree trunk!
Tikal and its park truly contain a world of wonders, from mysterious, soaring ancient temples to exquisite birds and industrious insects.
Ann Wallace is editor of The Travel Society Magazine
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/