At the famed Jaguar Pyramid, Grand Plaza, Tikal

I took the bus from Rio Dulce to Flores and opted to make it my base for a visit to the famous Tikal ruins, about an hour and a half away by bus.  I had considered camping at Tikal itself, but felt that Flores offered more in terms of setting for activities before and after Tikal.

Overlooking The Grand Plaza

I am glad I made this choice.  Flores is a delightful little town on an island facing Lake Petén Itza, with cobbled streets and colorful houses that reminded me of a mini-Antigua.  Granted, it is very touristy, but the requisite swim and cool down by the lake in the hot afternoon sun was as memorable as it was needed.

Steep staircases make climbing the Pyramids a little safer

For Tikal itself, I recommend arriving there as early as possible, for a number of reasons:

1-      Seeing the majority of the site before the brutal heat of the afternoon

2-      Escaping the crowds that inevitably arrive on tour buses later in the morning

3-      Getting the chance to see the wildlife that makes the visit to Tikal that much more special. Our guide even “woke  up” the Howler monkeys by imitating their call, and it was amazing to listen to their cacophony in the canopy overhead.

I left Flores at the crack of dawn, after having only slept a few hours due to the noise in my hostel.  Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of Tikal, which was truly made special by a wonderful tour guide named Luis who appeared on Survivor Guatemala.  He had quite the character and really painted a picture when it came to giving us the history of Tikal, “The City of Voices”.

Nearing the top of the ladder

Here are some of the fascinating things I learned about Tikal that stood out and will stay with me:

  • Tikal has no natural water source, such that the Mayans created an elaborate drainage system to collect rainwater amazing when you consider this was once a city of over 100,000 people.
  • Each block of limestone used in Pyramid construction weighed over a hundred pounds, and was carried on the back and foreheads of the lower classes for several days after the river veered away from their destination.  Overland, in the intense heat.
  • The acoustics of Tikal are very impressive.  Standing in precise points before the pyramids, you realize that each structure is designed in such a way that a person’s voice and any music being played are naturally amplified across the complex in such a way that the need for microphones would be obsolete.  In this way, Mayan festivities and celebrations could be enjoyed by all.

Sunset at beautiful Lago Peten Itza

  • The Jaguar complex and each of the pyramids are aligned with the stars in such a way that the sunlight at noon on the spring equinox casts a shadow that points directly to the exact center of the Grand Plaza.  Being there only a few days afterwards, you could see the shadow was already a few degrees off.
  • Tikal is on a precise trajectory with all of the other Mayan sites to the north, south, east, and west, in such a way that you could draw a straight line, once again, through the sun’s path and its shadow from, for example, the top of El Mirador, directly, once again to the center of the Grand Plaza.  The scientific, and astronomical precision that this requires is mind-boggling even in light of today’s technology.

Where: Tikal & Flores: Hostal Las Amigos

When: 25-27 March

How: Local bus from Rio Dulce to Flores/Santa Elena, Tuk tuk to Flores. Private shuttle to Tikal.