Guatemala’s border crossing from Belize at Melchor de Mencos has to be one of the easiest least painful in our experience. Yeah there were vehicles parked without any order, kids wanting to help for the obligatory tip and the greasy over weight bloke, complete with gold rimmed glasses, giving out a very debatable exchange rate.
For the most part the roads into Guatemala are paved and in good condition, bar a 10 minute section which was being resurfaced. With enough time on the clock to make it there, we’d heard that you can camp for the night within Tikal’s National Park. Turning left at El Ramate (this place has free camp possibilities) and stopping for some street side tacos (dirt cheap after Belize at only $1 for 3!), we just made the close off time of 6pm at the parks entrance gates.
Paying our entrance fee we cruised down the road past the varying wildlife signs depicting everything from snakes to monkeys to pumas (they do exist here and we met people later in our travels who actually run into a huge puma on a jungle path here!!). Arriving at the park we had two options; one a basic campsite with a toilet and the other camping at the Jaguar Inn, complete with nice toilets, WiFi and passable shower, complete with it’s own resident spider, a huge nasty looking mofo (quickest shower Sarah’s ever had).
Falling asleep to the soundtrack of the howler monkeys, daylight soon came and we wasted no time in getting into the thick of it. The advantage to staying in the park is that you can beat them photo wrecking types and enter the ruins early at six in the morning.
Set amongst thick jungle, Tikal is Guatemala’s most famous Mayan ruin and was one of the largest cities in the Americas at the time. Estimates suggest anywhere between 10,000 to 90,000 people inhabited the city, which was a trading partner and ally of neighbouring Mexico’s grand old city of Teotihuacan (another lots of ruins we’d highly recommend visiting). The first stop on the big loop around was the photogenic Jaguar temple, the one that most people will recognise.
You’re not able to climb this however the temple opposite has a full wooden gangway and steps all the way to it’s 38m high summit. Climbing the Templo De Las Mascaras you get a commanding view over the Great Plaza and back onto the Templo Del Gran Jaguar, along with several other temples tall enough to pierce the jungle canopy. It’s here we spotted our first toucan, and it’s a great vantage point to watch the birdlife in the canopies.
Looming to the rear of here is the biggest of the structures, Templo IV. This temple was made famous as the location from Star Wars Episode Four: A New Hope, the setting for the planet Yavin 4. Reaching the top we take a moment to sit in awe of the view (and let the sweat dry), three massive structures above the jungle’s roof. It’s easy to get burnt out by ruins in the this part of the world but Tikal really does stand out from the crowd as one site that needs to be seen, hence the fact this became our favourite (and last) Mayan ruins of the trip.
Moving around the rest of the Tikal, it’s apparent that this early hour has worked to advantage. Not only do we miss the bus loads of other tourists, we also get to see a varied arrange of wildlife, including birds (no idea of names) and some cute little mammals, which have not yet been scared off.
One thing we recommend you do is take the hike over to Complex P. Yeah a little out of the way though it’s not as polished and buffed so you have trees growing out of the ruins, reminiscent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.