If there’s one thing I’ve learnt while travelling in Mexico and Central America it’s that I love pyramids (I apologise if you were hoping for something more insightful and deep, that’s not really my style). I’m starting to wonder how I survived the first 30 years of my life without seeing one, but those pre-pyramid years are a distant memory now for my senses have been gorging on pyramids a lot of late. The jungle pyramids in Tikal are rated as some of the best Mayan ruins in the area (and therefore the world), so join me on my epic, tomb raiding, Indiana Jones rip-off adventure to these exotic pyramids deep in the jungles of Petén, Guatemala.
5.30 am: The Journey begins
We set off from El Remate, travelling in a nondescript white van. I’m aware that Indiana Jones usually travels in a bit more style but we couldn’t find any elephants or airplanes in the area. I also wasn’t dressed as revealingly as Lara Croft when she raids tombs. It looks like I’m falling well behind those adventurers who have gone before me…
6.15 am: A walk through the jungle
My lady companion and I (don’t worry, she’s not nearly as annoying as Steven Spielberg’s wife was in the second Indiana Jones movie) step out of the van and venture forth into the jungle. We are joined by a British couple and we walk together, serenaded by the sounds of the jungle. This is prime wildlife spotting time but we only see a deer and a weird mammal thing, kind of like a cat/dog/raccoon.
7 am: Discovering a pyramid
We continue to walk through the misty jungle as it slowly wakes up. Suddenly a giant grey monster rises from the trees in front of us. It is, of course, a pyramid, and what a magnificent specimen! In no time we are surrounded by pyramids and other ancient ruins. All this story needs now is a group of murderous natives for us to run away from. That’s not going to happen, in fact, there’s literally (actually, figuratively) no-one else around. Being alone with the pyramids of Tikal is a great experience; unfortunately it doesn’t make for a very exciting story, so on we push in search of more pyramids, wildlife and adventure.
8.30 am: pyramids above the trees
One of the “things to do” at Tikal is the climb to the top of pyramid 4 for a unique view over the jungle. It’s pretty awesome, and again we’re alone. We see a few pyramids popping their heads out from under the covers. It’s a great moment, but where are the booby traps, the Nazis and Shia LeBeouf?
9.30 am: a walk though ruins
We leave the big pyramids behind for a while and explore some of Tikal’s smaller ruins. We see a coati and lots of crumbling history. We catch up with the British couple from earlier who tell us tales of spider monkeys and toucans, and before long we too spot a toucan. We see plenty of birds but no monkeys; wildlife spotting in the jungle is notoriously difficult, just like that level on Tomb Raider that I got stuck on all those years ago.
10 am: pyramid 5, the Holy Grail
Pyramid 5 is definitely my favourite. It’s shrouded in jungle and also completely deserted – it feels like we are the first to discover it. Where is everyone? Did they get their hearts ripped out by a crazy chief? We never find out…
11 am: killing time
We had organised to be picked up at 1.30 pm but have already seen most of the good stuff. We decide to head out to some of Tikal’s outer reaches. They are interesting enough but they could probably be missed. We arrive back at the park entrance and eat a light meal while we wait for our ride back to civilization. Our trip to Tikal didn’t involve exciting chases or races with Nazis (and Shia LeBeouf isn’t my son, thankfully) but we had a great time exploring the jungle pyramids.
Where to stay
There’s a hotel/lodge at Tikal but more people base themselves in either Flores or El Remate. We stayed in both – Flores is a colourful little colonial town on an island in Lake Petén while El Remate is a sleepy village on the shores of the same lake. Flores has better eating, sleeping and drinking options while the lakeside area in El Remate is more scenic than the one in Flores. Go to both if you have time!
Further reading: Flores: A Relaxing Welcome to Guatemala
Getting to the jungle pyramids of Tikal
You can organise tours or transport from Flores or El Remate. The tours allow you to go at either sunrise or sunset, which gives you more chances of spotting wildlife. We just took the transport which is pretty cheap and means you don’t have to listen to a boring tour guide for 6 hours straight. Whatever way you do it, make sure you explore Tikal if you’re travelling through Central America or hop over from Mexico for a couple of days. It’s one of the best sets of ancient ruins I’ve seen and should be on your pyramid bucket list.
Note: Tikal also featured in the first Star Wars movie, but I think I made enough references to movies starring Harrison Ford for one blog post, so I left it out.
Have you seen any ancient pyramids? Which ones are you most looking forward to? Let me know!
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