Every adventure abroad comes with a handful of must-do’s on the beaten travel path, and Tikal in Guatemala is definitely one of them. Located a 1.5 hour bus ride away from the island town of Flores, the largest site of Mayan ruins is preserved in the Peten jungle – dating back to 800 BC! From howler monkeys to tarantulas, there’s a host of jungle species that add to the wild ambiance surrounding the ruins. We decided to sign up for the sunset tour as it was a foggy forecast for the 3:00 am sunrise departure, and it definitely paid off.
After a few hours of exploring the primary ruins and residential structures, we hiked to the top of the highest temple for a stunning sunset view of the ruins. Fun fact: this same view can also be seen in one of the Star Wars movies (sorry I couldn’t tell you which one).
It’s hard to imagine trekking to such a remote site with heavy duty film equipment, but it truly is an epic shot. There’s a spiritual kind of vibe when you’re in the presence of ancient sacred remnants, and the experience conjured up images of how these people must have lived. Especially seeing the ceremonial blocks where human sacrifices were performed. Yikes! Unlike the extreme religious sacrifices, some elements of the ruins still endure such as the numeric carvings now printed on Guatemalan currency.
Between the tranquil moments of the tour, there were a few points of high intensity. Tackling the rickety staircase up to the top of the highest temple took some definite stamina as well as a warm juice box for blood sugars. The stairs up to the smaller temples also took quite a wide stepping motion, which seemed odd considering the Mayan people aren’t characterized by a tall stature. Our English-speaking Guatemalan guide gave a lively tour in Spanglish, and he kept things light-hearted on the creepy walk back through the jungle in the dark.
We spent another night in Flores (with authentic corn tacos and guacamole) and then departed for Lanquin on a leisurely 8 hour bus ride. The rolling hillsides and untamed landscape through Guatemala are wildly stunning, and Lanquin is a small town smack dab in the thick of it. A 9 km dirt road trek away from the Zephyr Lodge, we discovered the gem of Semuc Champey. This secluded spot is renowned for cave touring and swimming or tubing through natural pools down the river. The cave portion is not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart. I’d recommend wearing comfortable closed-toed footwear, which will get completely drenched as you swim through caves with one hand holding a candle in thin air. Our two local guides were masters in the field of cave climbing. It literally felt like a match of snakes and ladders en route to the last cave (thankfully no actual snakes), but the paranoia starts to set in after spending 2 hours in a darkly confined space. Luckily I didn’t need to climb up a cave wall to use my diabetic or low blood sugar supplies, which were wrapped tightly in a waterproof money belt.
Next we hiked up the sidelining mountain for a bird’s eye view of the river below, and then back down for a dip in the 10 cascading pools. Somehow we lucked out with a few professional cliff divers in our group, and the day was topped off with a jaw dropping dive show. There were also a couple of traveling doctors on the tour which made the situation slightly less nerve wracking.
With panoramic jungle views, Lanquin is a sweet spot even in monsoon weather!
Adios for now 🙂