The Ruins of Tikal – Our Expedition on Yavin 4

Tikal Ruins

We finally left Mexico (temporarily) and it took a trip to another world to make it happen.

The trip from Palenque, Mexico to Flores, Guatemala resulted in a number of ‘firsts’ for us. We took our first water taxi, crossed into our first Central American country, stayed on our first lake island, and took our first guided tour.

Normally we like to explore ruins on our own, but seeing as people like to get lost in Tikal for days we figured this was an a good time for professional guidance. It also helped that the travel agency we used to cross the border gave us a discount. The guide/transportation cost $160 quetzales and entrance to the ruins was another $150 quetzales. Combined, this was about $44 USD per person.

Shaun and Erica at TikalHaving been inhabited from around 1000 B.C. to 950 A.D, Tikal is massive. There are ~4,000 structures but only about 7% of them have been excavated. This is mainly due to the costs involved. One recently excavated building cost $3 million dollars and took ten years to complete. Since so many of the buildings haven’t had the centuries of growth removed, the hills you walk past are likely buried temples. A guide is helpful here not only to point them out, but also because the jungle paths aren’t always clearly marked.

Of all the buildings in Tikal, the most impressive are the six huge pyramids (simply numbered I-VI). While all are quite amazing, you can’t say that you’ve really seen the ruins until you have climbed the tallest; pyramid IV. At 230 feet (70 metres), the view is breath-taking. This vantage point allows you to see temples I, II, III, and V surmounting the jungle below. Paired with the soundtrack of roaring howler monkeys, we could have stayed up there all day.


Getting to the top of Temple IV only requires you to climb wooden stairs for a few minutes. However, scaling the second tallest building, Temple V, involves quite a bit more. The stairs for Temple IV were standard sized and used landings to change directions as you climbed. Temple V doesn’t have stairs. Instead, you pretty much have to climb a ladder for 187 feet (57 metres). Although, once you carefully make your way to the top of Temple V you will be rewarded with another awe-inspiring view.

While ascending the steep edifice there is an occasional landing, but I’m fairly sure they were only built so people wouldn’t fall all the way to the bottom in seconds- taking out everyone below them as well. It is also possible that they were added so you have a flat area to lie down on while having a panic attack. If you are afraid of heights or unable to easily climb ladders, you may want to enjoy the view from the bottom. Erica’s fear is usually coupled with vertigo, so she opted out of this Temple. Since it seems an increasing number of ruins have had people fall to their deaths (also resulting in them getting permanently fenced off from the rest of us), make sure to pay close attention while climbing any ruins.

Now that the PSA is out of the way, we can move on to a more important topic: Star Wars.

The ruins of Tikal were used in the first Star Wars movie (1977) as the Massassi Outpost that was occupied by the Rebel Alliance. The Rebels stored their X and Y-wing fighters in the Great Temple and used the ruins as their base during the assault on the first Death Star. According to lore the ruins were built by the ancient Sith, but if this were true wouldn’t we have found the lightsabers?

Whether you go to Tikal for an ancient Mayan expedition or a Star Wars movie set pilgrimage, the ruins will take your breath away.

Now to figure out how to get to Tatooine…

Tarantula in Tikal

Tikal at sunrise

Temple IV in Tikal

View from Temple IV in Tikal

Imagine the sound of howler monkeys echoing across the jungle.

A Temple in the Lost City, Tikal

Tikal Ruins

Temple V in Tikal Ruins

View from the bottom of Temple V

Temple V in Tikal

View from the top of the stairs on Temple V

Temple V view in Tikal Ruins

View from the top of Temple V – Thank you Shaun for taking this!

Temple V at a distance

Temples I and II in Tikal, Guatemala

Temples I and II, also known as the “brochure pictures”.


26 Responses to “The Ruins of Tikal – Our Expedition on Yavin 4”

  1. Jaime June 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    Ahh good times!!! I had fun doing this with yall and I am glad I was with yall through so many 1st!!!

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

      @ Jaime – You were also our first travel companion of this trip too!

  2. Randy Bullis June 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    LOL! Shaun you need to write more. I enjoy your sense of humor.

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

      Don’t worry, Pops. Erica is making me work in slave-like conditions so she can lay on the beaches of the Caribbean. Oh, crap… she’s coming… forget I said anything. >_>

  3. Rachel June 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    That ladder up to the temple looks terrifying! The gallery is absolutely stunning though; it seems like an incredible place.

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

      @ Rachel – Don’t worry, most of the rotten steps have been replaced. You’ll barely notice it.

  4. Andrew - The Unframed World June 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    I loved looking at the Tikal Gallery. Thanks for sharing so many photos! Too bad about the fences.

    Was that a Star Wars reference or are you really going to a place called Tatooine next?

    • Erica June 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

      @Andrew: Thank you! I’m always concerned that I post too many pictures of ruins lol. I just can’t get enough. As for Tatooine – we are just thinking of Africa one day. 🙂

  5. Megan June 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    I had no idea Tikal was used in Star Wars! That’s pretty cool. I can’t decide if I should make it all the way up there when I’m in Guatemala but that puts another little tick in the ‘pros’ column 😉

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

      @ Megan – It is pretty out of the way but of all the ruins we’ve been to, Tikal is my favorite thus far.

  6. Tijmen June 16, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Never knew there where around 4,000 structures there, I can see why you can easily get lost there in the forest for days. That ladder doesnt look that stable to me, i’m not afraid of heights but I would like be sure I make it to the top without falling 🙂

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

      @ Tijmen – Going up isn’t nearly as bad as going back down. They have two sides (one for each way) but they share the middle railing so things get kinda interesting when people pass each other going opposite ways.

  7. Kelsey June 16, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Love this!

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

      @ Kelsey – Thanks!! <3

  8. Katrina June 16, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    I’m thinkin’ that lightsabers get buried with (the various bits and pieces of) the body of the one who wielded it. I mean, they’re made by the knight/sith themselves, right? Pretty personal. But maybe that’s what the other, un-excavated mounds will reveal: mummified siths + saber collections. …you’re going back in a few years to check, right?

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

      @ Katrina – I would love to come back- especially if there was a way for Erica and me to sign up to help excavate. We’re really good diggers, I just hope we can convince them of that fact. We may need references so I’ll send you some pictures of holes that I’ve dug.

  9. Bethany June 16, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Great article! I always wanted to see Tikal but when I was in Guatemala I didn’t have enough time. It looks really cool though!

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

      @ Bethany – That is no excuse. A Landspeeder or Hoverbike can make the trip in no time. Just don’t get tricked into taking the ‘budget’ AT-AT Walker as it totally lives up to its name.

  10. Angela June 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    Great experience you had there, I always find ancient ruins very fascinating.

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

      @ Angela – Indeed! The nerdy side of these ruins have a special place in my heart.

  11. Christy @ Technosyncratic June 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Star Wars!! Even if I didn’t have a mad obsession with ruins, I’d want to see this place just for its connection to Star Wars. Nerd Alert! 😛

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

      @ Christy – I know! It’s so awesome on both accounts too!!

  12. Ali June 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    That looks crazy! But really awesome too. The Star Wars comments cracked me up. I love all the great pictures of all the places you guys are seeing. Jealous! 🙂

    • Shaun June 28, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

      @ Ali – Thanks! We’re so stoked to be on this trip and even more stoked to be able to share our experiences. 😀

  13. Joe Currivan July 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    Love it!

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