Series – Belize Family Adventures 2015
Buried deep within the steamy jungle, surrounded by dense, lush vegetation, is an ancient civilization long ago left behind. It’s name is Tikal, and it’s importance to the Mayan world was tremendous. Today, one can walk among these ruins of towering temples, meander through ancient squares, imagining life as it might have been in this once immense city.
For most Belize vacationers, Tikal is day trip. But oh what a day trip it is! So much to see, so much to explore in this awe-inspiring archeological site tucked deep within the Guatemalan rainforest. Come see for yourself!
Welcome to Tikal National Park!
Let’s get going on a day trip to Tikal National Park. This adventure begins with the border crossing from Belize into Guatemala. That’s because this impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site is not actually in Belize, but in neighboring Guatemala.
If your Tikal day trip originates in Belize, don’t forget your passport. You’ll need it to continue past the border and on to Tikal. Plan for at least 30 minutes to complete paperwork and pay the crossing fees. Arrive early, or you might spend a lot longer standing in lines!
Border crossed, and we are off! Tikal is about a two hours’s drive from the border so sit back and enjoy the pastoral scenery along the way. Maybe stop and enjoy a little snack at a road-side shop, and before you know it, you’ve arrived. Welcome to Tikal National Park!
Exploring The Ancient Mayan World of Tikal
Tikal was inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. In it’s prime, Tikal was a ceremonial center complete with towering temples and palaces, ball courts, and large public squares. Oh the stories this place could tell, though much still remains secreted beneath the jungle’s dense canopy.
Tikal was once a Mayan city of immense power, influence and size. Now it’s shattered and broken infrastructure is all that remains to testify to the magnitude of it’s former grandeur, of a glorious period in the ancient Mayan civilization.
Over the centuries, Tikal would rise above the jungle canopy to become a supreme power of the land, only to once again recede back into the rainforest. As the Mayan civilization began to decline in the 900’s A.D, so did Tikal. Eventually it was completely abandoned, left to the rainforest and it’s more wild inhabitants to take over.
Though “lost” to the outside world, the indigenous people of Guatemala regaled legends of a lost city buried deep in the jungle where their ancestors once lived. These stories resurfaced in the mid-1800’s, leading to the eventual “rediscovery” of Tikal and it’s excavation.
Climb to the top of a temple. Stand high above, the ruined buildings of Tikal down below. Soak in the 360 degree views to truly comprehend the vastness that is Tikal. Breathtaking views await those who climb the intimidatingly narrow stairs to the temple’s platforms. It’s worth the effort though! Enjoy the moment, peering out across the expansive jungle, where temples in the distance poke up through the canopy.
Explore past moss covered structures. Was this one a temple? Is that one the palace of prominent Mayan family? Immerse yourself into this ancient Mayan world that once dominated this jungle landscape.
Up Close With A Lost Mayan City
Everywhere one wanders, around every corner one steps, through each passage explored, is evidence of the grand civilization that once dominated these lands. Slow it down and explore these intimate corners that the Mayans once called home.
Step inside a moss-covered chamber, it’s wood supports amazingly still intact above you. What was this room used for? Was it a storage room? A chamber within a prominent family’s stone home? Perhaps their bedroom? Imagine yourself spending evenings, sleeping on a stone slab such as this one.
Look closely upon the many temple and building walls where intricately carved stone frieze have stood the test of time and rainforest ravages. Imagine the stories they can tell of this ancient city. What do they mean?
Stop and ponder what appears to be the face of an ancient Mayan carved into the side of a temple. Who was this person? A figurehead? A famous warrior? Why was this image carved at this spot? So many questions to ask, so many remain unanswered.
Look up, down, and all around for stories of this Mayan world. Let them transport you into the mysteries and magic that surround these historic grounds. Gaze upon frieze depicting life as an ancient culture once envisioned it. Decipher in your own mind the possible meanings of the many faces. Is that a jaguar? Or a mythical creature?
Continue walking past the temples and buildings, and into the nearby rainforest, where even more remnants of this long-lost civilization are scattered about. Forgotten to time, yet still standing today. Peer closely at the intricately carved panels left as if just yesterday they were placed by an unknown Mayan.
Meander past more remnants not so fortunate to withstand the ravages of time and the impeding rainforest, moss and jungle growth nearly consuming them. Imagine just how much more of this ancient civilization remains yet to be discovered. How much is still buried beneath the soil, consumed by jungle growth, with their own stories to tell.
Planning a Day Trip From Belize To Tikal
Like many people who visit Tikal National Park, we day-tripped from Belize’s Cayo District. Our excursion was booked through our resort, with one of their recommended guides. It was money well spent! Here are more tips for planning a day trip to Tikal when staying in Belize.
- Spend the prior evening in the San Ignacio area to minimize the day trip’s length.
- Hire a tour guide with Tikal experience. Not only will you learn more about this fascinating site, your guide can also facilitate the sometimes lengthy border crossings.
- Plan extra time for the border crossing into Guatemala, and the return back to Belize.
- Arrive as early as possible at the border crossing. Lines can get quite long and cumbersome, eating into the time you could be spending at Tikal.
- Don’t forget your passport!
- Bring water and snacks, maybe lunch too. There aren’t many food options at Tikal.
Traveling with the Kids? Consider your children’s ages before contemplating this adventure. It is a long day that includes lots of walking. If your children are old enough, it is well worth the time. Our boys were 11 and 16, a perfect age to get the most out of our Tikal excursion. Even the cumbersome border crossing became an adventure and a learning experience!
What Would We Do Different? Spend the night at a nearby lodge so we could arrive at Tikal for it’s 6:00 am opening. It would have added a whole new dimension to see Tikal as the sun rises across the jungle canopy. And it would have made our day at the site much less rushed.
Have You Been To Tikal National Park?
Exploring Tikal National Park was the culmination of years of wishful thinking, and careful planning. It is one adventure both boys rank very high, and is one they will long remember. Watching the excitement upon their faces when we first stepped into Tikal, their imaginations soar as we explored its many buildings, their appreciation for ancient cultures and modern times, was priceless!
How about you? Have you been to Tikal National Park? How did you accomplish your adventure? Day trip from a distant resort or lodge, or spend the evening in a nearby lodge? If you haven’t been, are you now interested in adding Tikal into a future vacation? Do share.
Check out the rest of our adventures during our Belize 2015 Family Vacation:
- Belize – 7 Adventures in 8 Days
- Caracol – A Photo Journey Through Mayan Ruins Not Ruined By Mass Tourism
- Actun Tunichil Muknal – A Journey Into An Ancient Mayan Underworld
- 7 Reasons You Will Love the Mystic River Resort, Belize
All images by C.Biederman