It was quite a trek through the jungle – amid the howls of spider monkeys – and a steep climb up several steps, but once at the top of Temple IV, all I wanted was to savor the breathtaking view.
In the heart of the northern Guatemala jungle lies Tikal, the once sprawling capital of one of the greatest empires of the ancient Maya. At its height, 700-800 AD, Tikal grew to a population of 90,000.
The ruins are the central attraction of Tikal National Park, which was established in the 1950s and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Most of Tikal’s structures remain covered with jungle growth and have been left untouched for over a thousand years.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” ~Maya Angelou
Tall trees provide shade from one ruin to the next. Stay at one of the hotels in the park so you can go for early morning hikes (the park’s main gate opens at 6AM). At that hour, it’s possible to see and hear the cacophony of spider monkeys, coatimundi, toucans and parrots. Jaguars are rare, but have been spotted on the more remote trails (would have been amazing to see one!).
For more information on getting there, when to go, where to stay, and where to eat:
NY Times | In Tikal, Temples in the Mist
A bit of entertainment trivia: Filmmaker George Lucas used Tikal as a filming location for his first Star Wars movie, “Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977). Look for scene 41: Arrival on the Planet Yavin 4. Reuters | ‘Maya apocalypse and Star Wars collide in Guatemalan temple’