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.
Having 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…