The complex of Tikal is one of the largest archeological sites of the Mayan era. Situated in the Petén Basin of Guatemala, it takes you back to a time when sacrifices were commons, people lived off the land, and the fear of attacking tribes constantly was in the back of your mind. Covering more than 6 square miles, the complex is vast and full of animals, history, and natural beauty to discover.
Just a few days ago, a few friends and I set out to experience Tikal as intimately as possible. Being at Tikal means a few things. For one, you are going to hear the sounds of nature. Along with birds of all kinds, turkeys, and monkeys, Tikal is home to jaguars that lurk in the dense trees around the area. Although we did not see one in the wild, we were able to stand just a few feet from the beautiful cat in a remote enclosure on an island in Lake Petén Itzá.
As soon as we arrived at Tikal, we ventured into the lush rain forest of Guatemala. We saw monkeys swinging from the tree tops, wild animals scurrying along the ground, and in the distance we could hear loud roars that came from an unknown creature that struck fear in each one of us.
We followed the trails that seemed to be abandoned by civilization towards the tallest pyramid of the complex, Temple IV. It stands at a magnificent 230 feet tall. While standing at the top of the structure, we witnessed the sun set over the rain forest below. In between the trees, you can see the tips of different pyramids that are scattered throughout the complex.
The sunset still fresh on our minds, we pushed forward to make it back to our camp before the darkness enveloped us. We trekked through the ancient ruins more confident after finding out that the unknown creature was just a howler monkey and not a jaguar. The sound suddenly had a different internalization now that I no longer had to fear for my life.
In addition to the animals of Tikal, you can expect to give up some creature comforts that most people enjoy in exchange for the once in a lifetime experience of hearing the rain forest come alive in the morning. Instead of sleeping in a warm bed, we choose to camp in a tent outside partly in the hope of having an encounter with a jaguar or howler monkey. Nevertheless, waking up to sounds of the rain forest is something that every person needs to experience.
Some people visit Tikal to see the pyramids, take a few pictures, and hop back on the bus. That's not the way we decided to approach it. Yes we did get our pictures of the ancient Mayan site, but more than that we experienced what it means to be in Tikal by venturing off the beaten path and exploring a place where nature, history, and adventure meet.