• Laura Bachmann

Welcome to the Jungle

A picture cannot describe the sound of the jungle when you’ve headed out for the sunrise tour in the Department of Petén’s Tikal National Park. Starting your trek from your quaint hotel, you begin your walk in the dark with a flashlight in hand and your guide by your side. Tree frogs, toads, and insects begin the jungle’s song, chirping, buzzing, and whirring. The jungle comes alive as your excursion leads you closer to the largest temple in the park, Temple IV.

About 5 a.m. the howler monkeys begin their growls, warning others that they’ve made their claim on the vegetation in the area. These monkeys, although sounding ferocious, follow a folivorous diet, consisting of mostly leaves, which provide them with little energy. The howlers stay in the trees and are much heavier and slower than the spider monkey. The roars become louder and louder from all directions as the sun begins to peak up through the misty leaves. The birds begin to chatter and clamor about, alerting the jungle that the sunrise is soon to follow.

Climbing the steps up Temple IV provides an amazing view of the tree canopy leading to the sight of numerous other visible temples at the site of Tikal, such as Temple I, the Temple of the Masks, and the Temple of the Jaguar Priests. Here in the National Park of Tikal, only about 17% of the Mayan Civilization’s ruins have been unearthed and excavated. This huge expanse of tropical rainforest collects Maya cities from late pre-classic and the classic period (400b.c. to 900a.d). The ancient Mayan city, Tikal (Tik’al), was likely called Yax Mutal by its inhabitants and is one of the largest urban centers and archeological sites of the Maya Civilization. Although you could visit the city of Tikal in one day, by way of flight from Flores, I highly recommend staying a night or two.

After visiting Tikal, the sites of Yaxhá and Topoxté, as well as Uaxactún, are excellent additions to your travels. Yaxhá is located over a hill surrounded by the Sacnab and Yaxhá lagoons. It is inside a zone of two square kilometers, where more than 1700 structures have been identified (Hermes, et al., 1999). I definitely suggest the sunrise tour to enjoy breakfast next to the lagoon of Yaxhá. For the more adventurous traveler, or those looking for wonderful cultural experiences, Columbus Luxury Travel offers home stays with Mayan families residing in Uaxactún, where the only inhabitants within the Tikal National Park have resided for centuries.

Before departing the Department of Petén make sure to enjoy the view in Flores, take a short tour of the island and lunch on Lake Petén Itzá, Guatemala’s second largest lake. The lake offers indigenous fauna and flora, also hosting a natural reserve on the northeast shore, which is home to many rain forest species of butterflies, toucans, and monkeys.

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