In May 2012, I was lucky enough to go on a trip with a friend to Central America - my first time. The focus of our trip was going to be in Belize, but being the nature lovers that we are, we wanted to take full advantage of everything around us and planned a day to go into Guatemala, to spend the whole day at Tikal National Park
, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After 2 days in Belize, walking along the red clay roads and sitting among the giant boulders at the base of an amazing waterfall, I didn't think it could get better than that.
We left early on a day arranged by the resort we were staying at with another couple, trekked into Guatemala, and switched vehicles to a van to take us to the park. Our guide was great and explained the scenery on the drive, We finally arrived at the entrance to the park and met our park guide. Most times I would rather venture into a park by myself (or with our group), so that we can fully explore everything ourselves and take our time, not feeling rushed to move onto the next thing to see. For Tikal, I'm glad we had a park guide to take us through the rich history of not only the park, but the people who built it, and of surrounding Guatemalans.
He told us that Tikal is one of the largest archaeological centers of pre-Columbian Maya civilizations. Some of the architecture dates all the way back to the 4th century BC! He told us about the rich Mayan history while we walked between the monuments, temples and old palaces. Since we were there during the rainy season, it was still extremely warm and humid, and there was always the chance of showers (warm rain showers are my favorite!) while walking through the rainforest.
One of the things I was most excited to see while there, though, were the animals! Animals that we donít get to see in California, but was hoping to get a peek while walking through the park ñ spider monkeys (so cute!), howler monkeys, toucans and green parrots (though Iím terrified of birds!) and jaguars. I was fine with seeing these up close, but was hoping the jaguar would be on a far-off rock or something, close enough for a picture, but not close enough to where Iíd pee my pants. While we saw pretty much all the animals on my list, the jaguars were off in the distance somewhere and never made an appearance. While looking for monkeys, I was waiting for my friend near one of the restrooms and felt something fall on my shoulder. I thought it was just something falling from the trees, no big deal, and then BAM! Something hard hit my shoulder bone again. I stepped back to look up and it was a howler monkey! That sucker was throwing big, hard berries right at me! What a punk. He thought it was hilarious though, and followed us through the trees for a little bit of our walk. Better berries than poop, right?
The architecture of the ancient city is just simply breathtaking. Something that Americans just canít possibly appreciate with the short history of our own country. Some of the temples are over 230 feet high, have palaces, residences and inscribed stone monuments. As a sports lover, I definitely appreciated the courts that the guide explained were for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame. He explained what some of the hieroglyphic texts carves into the monuments meant. There was a larger pyramid that we were able to partially climb and it was breathtaking when you got to the top ñ literally. We climbed up semi-steep stairs with wooden handrails that didnít make me feel 100% steady, and then once on the pyramid, you could climb higher on the actually limestone. Once you got to the top, you could see across the entire park, above the top of the rainforest, with occasional other pyramids and temples peeking up from the tops of the trees.
The day at the park completely drained us and we fell asleep in the van on the way back to our hotel in Belize. It was completely worth the long drive into Guatemala, and if you every find yourself in need of a Latin American historical adventure, I highly recommend getting yourselves to Tikal National Park. The history alone is enough to blow your mind, but the architecture will completely take your breath away!