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Sunday, 11 February 2007

Surviving the Mayan Ruins of Tikal - Page 4

Written by Thomas Lera and Sandy Fitzgerald
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We had our first glimpse of Tikal on the TV reality show, Survivor – Guatemala. Seeing it in real life is so much more amazing! It is Guatemala’s most famous cultural and nature preserve. Many call it one of the most spiritually powerful spots on earth. Its towering temples loom out of the thick jungle canopy and are reminiscent of stoic sentinels. Like all unexplained mysteries, it is fascinating and so irresistible

Temple IV

Farther away from the complex of the Great Plaza and Temples I and II, is Temple IV, built by Ah Cacau's son around 741 AD. It was the tallest structure in North and Central America before the construction of skyscrapers in the late 1800's, looming 212 feet above the jungle floor. While we hadn’t ventured up the first two temples, we couldn’t let this one go by unexplored. It’s an exciting climb to its top on primitive, yet solid, wooden ladders and well-established protruding roots.

In less time than we thought it would take us, we arrived at the top in a grand sweat, downed a bottle of water, wiped our faces and prepared to observe the view we’d climbed up to see. Looking out over the dense canopy from the top of Temple IV was awe-inspiring. viewIt was possible to see the Great Plaza from here, and the jungle seemed to stretch in every direction, as far as the eye could see. The view is ethereal; no doubt the intention of the builder. It was easy to imagine the majestic sight of all of the temples lit by torches at night in this ancient city. The daytime views are still mystical and worth more than a cursory visit, and we sat on the top ledge for a good half hour, enthralled by Louis’s tales and legends of the Mayan.

Tikal is a fabulous spot for adventure. We spent another couple of hours following the meandering paths, sometimes re-crossing ground already covered, but never minding. We came across an active dig by the University of Pennsylvania, where they were carefully excavating the bones of what they believed was a Mayan woman. That story had yet to become part of Louis’ repertoire - we can’t wait until our next visit.


As our day was ending and we approached the parking lot, the coatimundi came wandering out of the bush to bid us goodbye. No doubt they will be there to greet new visitors the next morning.

Having information in hand to help decipher what you see can make a world of difference. If you aren’t lucky enough to have Louis or Abel along, guidebooks can be purchased at the local hotels and restaurants, as well as at the park entrance. William R. Coe’s Tikal, A Handbook of the Ancient Maya Ruins is popular, as it is concise and includes a map.

There is no real town in Tikal and no stores other than the colorful souvenir market at the Visitor’s Center. The park entrance is located 16 kilometers before the Visitors Center and parking lot. The entrance fee is Q50.00 (quetzals) and, if you arrive after 3 PM, tell the ticket salesman you are going to the park mañana and your ticket will be stamped for the next day. You need more than a couple of hours, or even a day to fully enjoy the ruins. Take plenty of water, mosquito repellent and a good pair of hiking boots, and don’t try to see all of Tikal in one day, even if you are in excellent shape!

The Visitors Center itself is sometimes referred to as “Tikal Village”, as there are three hotels, a post office, campground, the Park Administration Offices, souvenir handcraft shops, and three local restaurants. The Morley Museum, a small building close to the parking area, houses some of Tikal’s most valuable ceramics and objects. Within the Visitor's Center, another museum showcases the ancient Stele of Tikal.  A third smaller but good museum is located 300 meters away near the Jaguar Inn Hotel.

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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