Tikal National Park ~ Climbing temples, dodging pigs, and potholes

Monday December 8th ~ Tikal National Park

Grand Plaza, Tikal National Park. We had the place all to ourselves. Temple I is on the right, also known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar

Great Plaza, Tikal National Park. We had the place all to ourselves.
Temple I is on the right, also known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar

TIKAL NATIONAL PARK (click to read a more in-depth report of Tikal)

Once again Hugo (our private guide who owns/operates Expeditions Guatemala) managed to sweet talk us into getting an early start, and one more time we were on the road at 5:30 in the morning. He had hired another guide to join us for the morning that was an expert on the history and ruins of Tikal. The park opened at 6:00 and we got to be the first vehicle through the gate.

Located in the rainforest jungle of northern Guatemala, this massive site was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. It has been estimated that the area was settled as far back as 900 BC. For the Mayan people, this place is the equivalent to the Great Pyramids of Egypt. 

They reached their peak during the Classic period, ca. 200 to 900 AD, and disappeared shortly thereafter.

“During this time, the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily, while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica” ~ Wikipedia

Lost to the jungle for close to 1000 years, it was re-discovered by Ambrosio Tut, a gum collector, and information and drawings about his findings were published by the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1853.

In 1979, Tikal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and preservation measures were put in place. Much of the excavation has been done by, or in conjunction with, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. They took 13 years to uncover about 10 square miles of structures, but that is just a drop in the bucket. Only a small portion of the total site has been unearthed.

Since it is a preserve, the animals are protected. We saw a variety of birds including a toucan, several different parrots, leaf cutter ants, an agouti, wild turkeys, spider monkeys, pheasants, and a coati (coatimundi) with his tail straight up in the air.

Walking deep into the jungle on a dirt/rock pathway we made our way to the tallest structure, Temple IV. Climbing to the top we got a breathtaking view of the tree canopy with only the very tops of several other temples visible.

Click here for an interactive map of the Tikal ruins.

From the top of Temple IV

From the top of Temple IV

Here are a few more pictures we took over several hours of exploration:



Tim and Joanne at Tikal

Tim and Joanne at Tikal


Structure 5D-43





The second temple that we climbed to the top of was Temple II, located at the Great Plaza.

Gus got to go with us to see the Grand Plaza

Gus got to go with us to see the Great Plaza. Picture taken from on top of Temple II.

**For anyone that is new to our blog, Gus has traveled all over the world with us. He was one of the first “gifts” Tim got for me, liberating him out of an arcade machine on the Santa Monica Pier back in 1990.

By midday it was time to start our long drive toward our next stop. Hugo had hoped to arrive before dark, but we knew that it would take at least 5+ hours. And that was if all went smoothly.  Our chances grew slimmer as the day progressed…


Brightly painted burial plots

Brightly painted burial plots

We crossed the river here by a small ferry

We crossed the river here via a small ferry

The kids were watching TV through the window

The kids were watching TV through the window

local church

Local church



I fell in love with these peeled oranges. They were cut in half, then spread with roasted/crushed pumpkin seeds and topped with a squeeze of lime

I fell in love with these peeled oranges. They were cut in half, then spread with roasted/crushed pumpkin seeds and topped with a squeeze of lime

Watching us pass by

Watching us pass by. This lightweight lacy blouse is the style worn by the Mayan women in this area.

Some of the way was paved, but several times we drove for long patches over rough dirt and rocky roads. It was bumpy with deep potholes and/or huge puddles of water to be dodged or carefully driven through. Mix in frequent speed bumps, waiting on numerous stray dogs to get out of the way, people walking along the side of the road, the occasional horse, chicken or pig, slippery wet roads from the heavy rains, rock and mud slides, and our travels became painfully slow.

And then to add further insult, as it became darker and darker, a very heavy fog set in. At one point Hugo opened the window and stuck his head out trying to see a line to follow. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, we had a steep cliff drop-off on one side.

By the time we finally reached the El Retiro Hotel in Lanquin (near Semuc Champey) we were all ready for a stiff drink or two!

Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful for seeing another UNESCO site, viewing stunning scenery and watching everyday life in action as we passed by and through small towns and villages. I am also extremely thankful that Hugo is a skilled, patient and safe driver. I am further appreciative that El Retiro makes a good Margarita…

About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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7 Responses to Tikal National Park ~ Climbing temples, dodging pigs, and potholes

  1. mike alesko says:

    Wow, what a day Joanne. And Tikal is such a magical, mystical place that photos can’t capture that essence of it, right? I found I had to be there to feel it. I think my most memorable temple was one that was mostly still covered except for the top, which we reached by a crude trail. Once there we conducted a ceremony to give thanks for our son, who’d we’d just adopted in Guatemala.


    • Mike, you are so right about needing to experience it in person. What an emotional and special moment that had to have been for you to have had your own ceremony of thanks for your son. We only spent 1/2 of a day and really could have easily spent a couple of full days there. We are grateful though for the time we had. Magical indeed!


  2. Sandi says:

    Your photos are beautiful — and interesting. I enjoyed the photo with Gus, too: glad he got out of that arcade machine.


  3. Nice photos! Though…when I went to the top of Temple IV, someone yelled at me to get down!


    • I have to ask how long ago you were there. I understand that years ago several people died falling off of the temples so they stopped allowing them to be climbed. Today there is a sturdy wooden staircase with railing up the side that allows for a safe climb.


      • Thanks for your reply.

        So that’s the reason. The wooden staircase (if you’re facing the temple from the plaza, it’s on the left IIRC) wasn’t terribly sturdy in mid-2013, but a few other folks and I went up anyway



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