Billed as THE Mayan ruins to visit, we'd heard anecdotes like "if you're going to Tikal, you won't need to visit [insert any other ruins site here]". Quite often with these things, the most hyped attractions are a let down and so we had set our expectations. Tikal is not like this and is worth every bit of hype!
Wikipedia bit: Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilisation, built and inhabited between 400BC - 800AD, then "rediscovered" in the 1800s, although the locals never really forgot about it. From 1956 through 1970, major archaeological excavations were carried out by the University of Pennsylvania Tikal Project. In 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As it's a UNESCO World Heritage site, the locals aren't allowed to uncover anymore than 50% of any one structure - some were of course completely uncovered before it was declared a UNESCO protected site. NASA have got involved at the beginning of the nineties, and used fancy satellite imagery to accurately map the still covered ruins, allowing archaeologists to sensibly uncover the "best" half of a temple.
The dense greenery on the ground, and the jungle canopy, serve a dual purpose of supporting an incredibly diverse ecosystem, but also preserving the hidden buildings better than we ever could. Not only that, but Tikal is so vast (thousands of structures remain covered) that it would take hundreds of years to uncover every structure within the national park (500+ sq km), not that Guatemala has the economic resources to do this anyway. It became a game to us to pick what sort of Mayan site we were walking on depending on how exposed the tree roots were that we were walking on. It was literally epic to think of the city now covered in rainforest that we were walking on top of... kind like Pompeii but better in a way because we could use our imaginations!
Our guide Nathaniel is only about 20 but speaks perfect English. He tells us that when he started doing tours 4 years ago, he could only speak "un poco", the essentials like hello, thank you, etc - those early tours must have been pretty awkward.
For 3 hours we walk round the national park, climbing the temples - some have wooden steps to climb, others you clamber over the original stone, others are strictly off limits. Cp had to be specifically directed to obey the signs....
The tallest is Temple IV, at 70metres high. The view is stunning with the tops of other tempes poking out thru the jungle canopy. The view is so good that George Lucas visited in 1979 to shoot a 15 second panoramic view which was used a shot in Star Wars, m.youtube.com/watch?v=5n3hb__gmAg
The film references don't stop there - the howler monkeys which are native to Tikal, scream for any number of reasons (marking territory, attracting a mate, because it's about to rain...), and are the 2nd loudest animal but more importantly the sound used for the T-Rex roars in Jurassic Park. Oh and apparently they shit on humans if they happen to be directly underneath them as A way of.marking their territory... we did not have the pleasure thankfully...
Fun times were had at the top of Temple IV - one of the park guides had found a baby boa constrictor, and we were invited to play... we both bounded over with massive grins on our facesr, very much the opposite reaction of all the Israelis who promptly stopped doing their makeup and photos of each other in 18 different poses (all of them lame) and ran around the corner squealing!
After the tour, we finally split from the Israelis (I think they're following us...) as they return to Flores and we settle in for a night in tents at the Jaguar Inn, within Tikal National Park. We really did feel like we were in the jungle sleeping under the stars with the howler monkeys and managed to get up just after sunrise and spent another 4 hours exploring Tikal again, but this time we managed to see every part of Tikal... favourite bit has to be the Grand Plaza - if you clap your hands while stood in the middle the sound echos around as a bird call - that can't be deliberate... can it?!
We managed to catch the 11am bus back to Flores without too much ado, grabbing some street food on the way, the usual rice, refried beans, fried plantain and and undetermined variety of fried fruit. We returned back to Flores for the night, did some more exploring and got caught in a massive storm in a funky little bar where we had nothing to do but take advantage of the happy hours until the rain stopped!
It was then a 5am bus to Belize.... we hate early starts!
Favourite pic (but can you see why?):