Our final Guatemalan adventure was exploring the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal. We spent two days
exploring this extensive site.
Tickets to the park were Q25 (US$3.50) for locals and Q150 (US$20) for foreign tourists.
When the ruins of Tikal were first rediscovered, the pyramids had reverted into little more than steep rocky hills covered in trees. Only the very tops of some of the taller pyramids still poked out above the vegetation. Today, Tikal is shown in various states of restoration and reconstruction. Deciding how to reconstruct the pyramids is a difficult question because the pyramids themselves were extended and rebuilt by the Mayans over hundreds of years — with each newer pyramid built atop the older ones.
Temple of Talud Tablero
This pyramid shows evidence of historical rebuilding, with slightly newer-looking extensions built on the left and right. The restorers left what appears to be rubble on the staircase. This rubble is all that remains of a newer staircase that was at some point was built atop the currently-visible (older) staircase.
Plaza Group H
Central Acropolis, Temples I & II
We watched the sunset from Temple V our first night, and returned the next day. This temple is now accessed by a 100-ft. wooden ladder.
Photos of the restoration of Temple V were posted nearby. In these photos it's easy to see what is original, and what has been reconstructed. When the temple was rediscovered, only the very top was peeking out from the jungle. The middle photo shows Temple V just after restoration (note the lighter colored reconstructed areas), and the final photo is ours from 2009.
The reconstruction process purposely left examples of the three layers of staircase showing: (1) the unrestored rubble, (2) the workers' staircase, and (3) the fancy royalty staircase that would have been built atop the workers' staircase when the temple was completed.
Ancient graffiti in the plaster inside the temples has been overwritten by modern graffiti.
Plaza of the Seven Temples
On our second day, we took a guided tour.
There are various archeologist's tunnels, dug into the sides of pyramids for investigation. Most of these tunnels are covered by plastic tarps, but Geoff did find one uncovered tunnel. Exploring this 50-foot tunnel revealed a huge spider with correspondingly huge fangs at the end! This guy was bigger than Geoff's hand. Geoff would have taken a photo with his hand next to it for comparison, but — did we mention it had huge fangs!!? [Turns out this isn't a spider, but a "Tailless Whip Scorpion" — which isn't even a true scorpion.]
We didn't bring a fancy camera suitable for photographing wildlife way off in the trees, but we saw (and heard!) lots of birds, as well as spider monkeys and howler monkeys.
The ants were especially fun to watch — in their long lines carrying leaves much bigger than themselves back to the nest.
Staying in Tikal
Many visitors to Tikal stay in the nearby town of Flores, about 2 hours away by
shuttle bus. Flores is a little island town on Lake Petén very much geared
towards tourists. We spent only our first and last nights in Flores.
In order to have extra time exploring the ruins, we stayed in one of the few
hotels located right at Tikal — at the Jaguar Inn, which had nice private
The museum & visitor center has a huge model of the Tikal site.
To save time, we flew from Flores to Guatemala City, where we caught our flight home to the United States. Two airlines provide service from Flores: TAG and TACA. We chose TACA because their flights were cheaper and more frequent. Also their website was more modern (including online check-in).
We had a fantastic time in Guatemala. We know we'll be back someday!