Backpack the Tikal ruins in Guatemala


  • Flores
  • Tikal Ruins
  • Temple IV Sunrise
  • Underground Bats
  • Facts of Tikal

Flores to Tikal

I visited Tikal in Guatemala in late 2004 on a backpacking adventure with a school friend of mine, Matt. We had been travelling all over Central America and heard that the Mayan ruins of Tikal were a must see. We had had spent a couple of weeks chilling out in the amazing city of Antigua and headed north where we stayed a couple of nights in Flores.

Flores was a peaceful and pretty town with a big basketball court smack bang in the middle of town. We have fond memories of this place except for a small incident where Matt was asked to kindly hand over all the money he had in his wallet by some young teenager late at night down a dark alley way. The teenage local appeared to have something under his shirt which may have been a weapon but Matt certainly wasnt going to find out so he just handed over approximately $10USD to the kid. The young kid then shook Matts hand and thanked him very much, possibly the most appreciative robber in history. However, this small incident didn’t take the shine off this amazing place – Matt should of known from all the travelling that he has done not to walk down dark alleyways in foreign countries especially a country like Guatemala.

The next day we caught a local van from Flores out to Tikal, it was a drive deep into the jungle which took a couple of hours however once we reached the destination I was quite surprised to find there was not much there. It looked like a dead end in the jungle surrounded by a couple of small hotels, a visitors centre, a restaurant/café and a bus shelter. I guess we deep in the middle of nowhere so I am not too sure what I was thinking I would expect, a bustling shopping mall – I think not.

We had a guide with us who was a part of the van company that we paid to transport us out to Tikal, he gave us a briefing about the whole Tikal ruins and the amazing wildlife in which to look out for, especially swinging monkeys from the treetops and also the amazing and rare toucan birds (the ones with the huge bright green beaks and beautiful colours). The guide said he would be happy to take us for an afternoon venture through the grounds to check out some parts of the ancient region.

Matt and I decided to stay at one of the Hotels there for the night so that we could get up before dawn and climb some of the highest Mayan Temples to watch an enigmatic sunrise, we were told like no other sunrise we had ever experienced before. I believe the Hotel we stayed at was the Hotel Jungle Lodge that contained clean rooms, which were a bit better than some of the slums we have previously been staying in. It was quite expensive at approximately $20USD a night but since there was only 2 or 3 places to stay there weren’t that many options to choose from.

After organising a bed for the night we met the Tikal guide and a few other backpackers back at the café where we took off to check out the amazing Tikal ruins deep into the rain forest. We had to pay a small fee for being able to enter the ruin grounds but once we were inside we were unrestricted as to where we could go. We wandered for about 20 minutes through the jungle along foot trails that came to a clearing within the dense jungle and there before us stood tall a giant Mayan ruin surrounded by beautiful green grass and foliage. We continued to discover these amazing rock structures, which seemingly appear out of nowhere, and we often wondered and posed the question to each other of how the hell humans some thousands of years ago were able to construct such incredible monuments especially with the lack of technology. We were both stumped but came to the conclusion that ‘many hands must make light work’ – oh how so cliché.

We got back to the lodge and decided to have an early dinner and retire to bed since we had to be up before dawn.

Temple IV Sunrise

We reluctantly awoke at 4:45am threw some clothes on grabbed our torches and bolted out the door to meet up with the guide a couple of the other backpackers who were coming along by 5:00am. We had been told on a number of different occasions how magnificent the Tikal sunrise is hence the excitement at such a ridiculous hour for both of us.

We all trekked through the jungle in the pitch black with only a few torches to help guide us the way – obviously we had an experienced local guide with us who knew the way so we were fine. It was a different experience being deep in the jungle in the dark of night – nothing but the odd quirk from some nocturnal or early waking wildlife and the rustle of our footsteps. We were told that the area was known to be Jaguar territory however humans tend never to view them since they can hear our movements from over a kilometre away so then tend to steer clear from us.

We approached a huge temple within the grounds, Temple IV apparently, which is one of the tallest structures within the whole Mayan compound. We climbed this monumental structure until we reached the top which was quite an effort considering the steep angle at which the structures are built. We found a little spot on the side of the temple and sat and waited for the sunrise. Before we found sight of any sun rays we could hear a vast array of sounds from the waking wildlife in particular the howling monkeys which sounds like angry tigers roaming through the jungle.

The backdrop to the mass of jungle which sat before us started becoming lighter and it was at this point which we could see all the fog and mist covering the tops of all the trees like a big blanket. There was another 2 temple in the distance which were also rearing there heads through the jungle rooftop.

It was at about 6:05am when the first sign of the sun appeared – still to this day it is probably the most incredible sunrise I have experienced. The most amazing thing was that as we looked over towards the other temples in the distance the sun was creeping up directly behind one of these temples which provided for a visually spectacular eclipse like view, this couple with the howling monkeys I could have mistaken myself for being on the set of an Indiana Jones movie. Truly amazing!!

We stayed up there until almost 7:00am and then we made our way down and trekked through the rest of the grounds. There seemed to be a central compound that was quite large which was called Acropolis Central surrounded by smaller ruins and the large structures of Temple I and II.

Our local guide took us down into an underground shelter that had been hollowed out hundreds if not thousands of years ago for the purpose of storing valuables or burying human remains. These underground tunnels were extremely dark and when we started our torches up we were able to see a huge nest of baby bats. We weren’t that keen to disturb them so we moved on plus their bat craps is not the most pleasant of scents.

After exploring much of the other ruins we returned back to the lodge at around 11:00am and we were pretty dam exhausted. We arranged for a trip back to Flores where we spent another night before trekking over the border into Mexico destination Palanque to spend Christmas 2004 there.

Factual Information on Tikal

Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites in the world. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now modern-day northern Guatemala. Situated in the department of El Petén, the site is part of Guatemala’s Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are 6 pyramid temples with Temple IV being the tallest standing at an enormous 70 meters (230 feet) from the ground.

Tikal is a mysterious ancient wonderland which will not fail to disappoint the adventure traveller. If you are sitting at home and would like to imagine what Tikal would have been like in its bustling hey day around 1700 years ago then perhaps Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” may give you some insight, however today you do not have to worry about dodging the odd wayward spear or avoiding a human sacrifice instead you can simply enjoy the incredible monuments and structures nestled away  deep into the jungle where the wildlife is now the ruler of this once Mayan civilisation.

Josh Boorman


Backpacking Addictz

Twitter: @backpackaddictz

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Joshua Boorman

Joshua Boorman

Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
Joshua Boorman
About The Author

Joshua Boorman

Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.


  • Kirstie Glad

    April 9, 2010

    Good blog, many fascinating information. I believe four of days ago, I have visited a similar blog. Does anyone know how to track future posts?

  • Josh


    April 9, 2010

    Cheers for the comments Kirstie – If you would like to keep up to date with all our latest post you can sign on for our FREE newsletter which you can find located down the right hand side our our homepage.


  • Aldo Belangia

    April 12, 2010

    Sweet post.

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