Jenn writes on 2014-01-12:

We arrived at Tikal National Park on January 9th under overcast skies.  It had been raining for roughly two weeks at Tikal so we were happy that there weren’t any raindrops falling from the sky.

The ride from Coban took roughly 6 hours and took us from city to windy, curvy mountain roads, through small towns and rural farmland, across a river via ferry (no road crossed said river) and finally into the jungle.  We only had one mishap on the way in when Adam was bit on the back of his neck by an unseen insect while riding.  Riding through the jungle and feeling a sharp stinging-biting sensation on the back of your neck is never really a good thing especially when you flick said stinging-biter away before investigating.  After pulling over to check out his now red-enflamed neck with rapidly swelling bite-sting site, we decided to carry on, checking in with each other frequently to ensure that Adam wasn’t hallucinating or losing feeling in his extremities.  No symptoms were present (although at one point he did say that he saw a unicorn by the side of the road which turned out to be just a horse…), so we can only assume that whatever it was that attacked him was non-lethal.  I digress…

A little bit of history…Tikal National Park is located in the northern part of Guatemala in the Peten district.  The ruins were discovered in 1848 and opened to the public in 1955.  In Mayan, Tikal (Ti ak’al) means “in the lagoon” but it is also known as “the place of the spirit voices”.  The Mayan civilization dates from the year 800 BC until 900 AD.  At the height of the city’s glory days, the city’s nucleus occupied 65 square kilometers.

We decided to stay at the Jaguar Inn, which was located at the interior park entrance, and offered camping for the same price at Tikal National Park, only with flush toilets and hot water in their showers.  It had been raining for the past two weeks at Tikal and the small grassy area that was reserved for tents inside the inn’s courtyard was very soft, wet, and mushy.  The idea of setting up the tent on the grass wasn’t terrible appealing since 1) we would get wet and muddy crawling in and out of the tent, 2) the tent itself would be near impossible to pack up when we left due to previously mentioned wet and mud, and 3) I questioned the waterproofedness of the floor of the tent since we opted not to bring the footprint in an effort to reduce weight and increase space.  Luckily the desk clerk also gave us the “penthouse” as another option (basically the roof of a permanent shelter in the courtyard, which housed the inn’s rentable tents).  I was skeptical, but once we climbed the spiral staircase to the top, it was a tiled patio-esque surface, a little wet, but no mud.  We decided it was the better option.

I was still feeling some hesitancy about sleeping in the jungle despite the romantic idea of it all.  As some of you many know, I’m not the biggest fan of bugs and the idea of sharing my bathroom and bed with them sends me screaming out into the night.  Part of the reason why we opted to camp was so that we could have the most control over our sleeping environment (that and the $80 price tag on a double room at the inn).  Despite the fact that it’s a hotel, it’s still in the jungle, which means that creepy-crawlies of every size and variety can wander in through cracks, gaps, and drain pipes.  People have reported large spiders, cockroaches, ants, and termites in their rooms which is completely understandable since it’s the JUNGLE.  We were easily able to exercise pest control by simply keeping the tent zipped up, which worked remarkably well, and we slept bug free and super cozy until the alarm went off at 5 a.m.

The key to seeing Tikal is to beat the crowds.  Did I mention that Adam set the alarm for 5 a.m.??  The park opens a 6 a.m. (if you don’t opt for the 4 a.m. sunrise tour), and we were through the gates shortly thereafter.  Now some of you might be thinking, “wow, isn’t that really early??”  Well, as some of you may know, I’m not really a morning person either, but the early start was well worth it.

We had the park largely to ourselves and the thick layer of early morning fog created an eerie, mystical feel.  For almost three hours we explored ruins and scaled temples that were thousands of years old without barely running into a single soul.  The sounds of howler monkeys screaming out rang across the jungle landscape and mixed with the calls of exotic birds.  We saw different varieties of parrots, lineated woodpecker with their radiant red heads, and packs of colourful occellated turkey.

I was particularly fond of the golden oriole, who also frequented our campsite, and whose call was complex and captivating.  We also saw howler monkeys (including a juvenile who fell almost 50 feet from the top of a tree and survived) and spider monkeys, coatimundi, and Central American agouti (a large jungle rodent resembling capybara).  And the insects??  Well, we are covered in a number of new mosquito bites (thankfully we are taking our anti-malarials), and aside from a large spider who had a lovely web in a plant outside of the bathroom at the inn (he was about the size of dock spider, as Adam says, only more exotic looking), we didn’t see any.

We managed to see the entire ruins area (yay, us!), and it only took 8 hours of slogging through mud, sliding on slippery rocks, traversing over tree roots, and climbing up and down countless rustic staircases.  The tour groups started showing up around 9 a.m. but because of the vast size of the park, we weren’t really too bothered by them since we had already visited the most popular sites earlier in the morning.  The good thing about Tikal is that you can come and go as you wish throughout the day, which allowed us to take a lunch break outside of the ruins area while foot traffic was at it highest and then go back later to see the lesser travelled sites, which turned out to be my favourites anyway.

It seems though, that common sense escapes some people who visit Tikal, and even though we were quite amused at some of the footwear choices we saw (flip flops, high heels, and fashion sneakers), we couldn’t help but wonder why people would consider those particular choices in footwear as being appropriate for a jungle trek.   Also, and quite disappointingly, many of the ruins had been vandalized by persons scratching their names, initials, and professing their undying love for each other on the ruin walls.   Perhaps through desecrating sacred ruins they could harness the power of the Mayan people and their love would be everlasting or it would bring them good luck (sarcasm).  Whatever the reason, it was ugly, disrespectful, and senseless.

That evening, after we had had a hot shower in the outdoors showers and cleaned the mud off of ourselves, and were enjoying a well-deserved beer on the patio, we were entertained by spider monkeys playing in the trees, while parrots and other exotic birds maintained the soundtrack.

After another night in the jungle, pack up was relatively easy, and after a breakfast of ham and eggs (huevos revueltos con jamon), frijoles and tortillas, it was back to Coban (and Hotel La Paz) to dry out, do some laundry, and rest.   There are lots more photos in our gallery (almost 500 photos of Tikal – yowzers!), so feel free to check them out here.