Dates visited: March 31, 2015 – April 1, 2015
Very rarely do we find ourselves in a situation where we have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, and under the not-so-convenient brightness of a flashlight, brush our teeth, change into outdoors clothes, wear shoes and head out to climb a Mayan pyramid! But we did that in Tikal!
Tikal is the ruins of an ancient Maya city that flourished from 400 BC up until 900 AD, reaching a population of up to 90,000 inhabitants. Since we stayed right inside Tikal National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for being one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization), the hotel had limited resources and provided electricity and hot water for just about six to seven hours per day. So we found ourselves waking up at 3:30 am to join a sunrise tour, but that involved getting ready in the dark and clumsily finding our way out of the room. The plan was to leave the hotel at 4:00 am and hike through the rainforest and climb the 65 m (212 ft) tall Mayan pyramid (Temple IV) by 5:00 am to see the sunrise over the lush green canopy. Just walking through the rainforest was an adventure by itself, but climbing a Mayan pyramid built in 741 AD just gave me the chills.
As we positioned ourselves at the top, Rohan was fighting a massive sleep attack, and he had to make sure, he wouldn’t roll off his seat… …otherwise it was a straight drop down! For the first half hour, there was just darkness all around and the whispers of the people around us. And then suddenly a howl was heard in the distance. And then pin drop silence. But the sound of silence lasted for less than a minute as the jungle immediately came alive with more howls and shrieks. Yes, the howler monkeys had decided to awaken the dawn, and that set the entire jungle into a tizzy. Giving the howler monkeys a run for their money, was a cacophonous flock of parrots and oropendulas. As the first sliver of light cut through the darkness, we were, for the first time, able to grasp the height at which we were… …so high above the canopy looking down on the mist that delicately touched the treetops. The ambiance was mesmerizing and the sight was breathtaking! The wildlife of Tikal was active and their sounds reached a crescendo as the howler monkeys and spider monkeys, and birds such as toucans, parrots and woodpeckers hit higher and louder notes. Despite my best effort with words here, it is really difficult to capture the thrill of sitting atop the tallest Mayan pyramid and experiencing the sights and sounds of jungle in their fullest glory with its natural inhabitants. We never saw the sun break through the heavy mist but that’s an adventure we will leave for another day.
We spent the rest of the morning walking through Tikal National Park. Historical records put the growth of Tikal starting as far back as 2000 BC. What makes Tikal different from any of the earlier Maya ruins such as Chichen Itza, Uxmal or Tulum that I have visited, is that Tikal is raw and unexplored. Only about 15% has been excavated so when you see triangular mounds with a dense growth of plants and grass, just knowing that there is a very very ancient temple or pyramid under it is an eerie but an exhilarating feeling. Tikal should be on your list if you love Maya ruins without the crowds because there’s so much that you can explore on your own that you can pretty much find your own personal temple, pyramid, platform or a monument to absorb the Mayan magnificence.