Welcome to El Petén and its dense jungle, at the heart of the Maya world. Years and years ago, the Maya held a powerful civilization and controlled large cities built in the middle of the rainforest—Tikal, for instance.
Tikal is probably the most famous Mayan archeological site, both because of the number of temples and because of its location. Indeed, the structures are still hidden deep into the rainforest and while a few peak above the canopy, most are buried under moth and trees.
Basically, if you want to feel like Indiana Jones looking for the mundo perdido, here is your chance.
You’ll need good walking shoes though. The rain—as in rainforest—can turn the paths into a muddy slippery exercise, even now during the dry season. Mosquitoes don’t discriminate and love local and foreign blood. And no matter how fit you are, chances are it will take you a few minutes to catch your breath once you reach the top of Templo IV.
Tikal is a lot of walking: the site is huge, almost 600 km² in total and 16 km² for the archeological site. We first stumbled upon the grand plaza and the classic temples I and II. The core of the former Maya city witnessed all the major religious ceremonies. While it’s no longer possible to climb the Great Jaguar Temple (people did tumble to their death…), the 38-meter high temple II offers a great view on the plaza.
Temple IV is the highest and the most impressive of all. At 65-meter high, it hovers above the canopy and let you admire the top of three other temples. If the visual scenery isn’t enough, you can be startle by howler monkeys, which sound exactly like tigers—just keep reminding yourself they are just little monkeys. We didn’t spot any jaguars, jaw snakes or tarantula both they are also apparently around, which isn’t surprising considering how dense the forest is.
I fell in love with the Templo V, the first built in Tikal. It’s hard to see how steep it is but trust me, I was glad there was a “no climbing” sign at the bottom of the steps!
And this is how we spent Christmas… lost in the jungle!