At 7 am our Belizean tour guide took us to the Guatemala border. This border was a bit more crowded than the Mexico / Belize border. This border was congested, there were trucks, locals and tourists everywhere we turned. It was quite busy, after getting our passports stamped, and exchanging our USD to Guatemalan Quetzal we met our Guatemalan tour guide.
After 20 minutes or so in customs, we were back on the road and headed to Tikal. Our guides were amazing and extremely knowledgeable. The two hour drive felt more like 40 minutes as we joked around and listened old Guatemalan folk tales. Our Journey took us through many small villages where most of the inhabitants are descendants from Tikal. We stopped at Laguna Sal Peten Macanche, where the wash huts lined the shores. Elliot, our tour guide explained how the village women must carry water from the lake in buckets to their homes on a daily basis.
It was truly amazing to see these people live such a simple life. As we traveled towards Tikal, we also stopped by El Remate, a small tourist town located on the lake-shore of Lake Petén Itzá in Guatemala. From the highway, we took some great pictures of Lake Petén Itzá and the biggest crocodile in Guatemala.
We eventually arrived at a local museum, where we watched a local Mayan hand make souvenirs from wood, we also ate an authentic Guatemalan breakfast which consisted of ham-n-eggs, plantains, black bean paste and white cheese. While we were there, we got a chance to learn how gum is made. As we walked around we came to a room that held a real tomb, inside the tomb was a skeleton, Our tour guides informed us that the skeleton was found when Tikal was unearthed. We were able to get a little video footage before we were told to turn off the camera.
Tikal was a Mayan City that was settled in 900 B.C. and had about 150,000 Mayan inhabitants at it’s peak. Tikal was the greatest city in the Mayan empire before it was abandoned in 900 A.D. There hasn’t been any evidence as to why the city was abandoned, some speculate the demise was due to overpopulation or several factors like wars, famine and even droughts, nevertheless Tikal just ceased to exist and eventually the jungle grew over the city where it laid hidden for centuries. It has been historically noted that Tikal was very lucky to survive this long, the Spanish Conquistadors never found the city and weren’t able to destroy it as they did so many other Mayan cities.
Tikal remained a lost world until it was founded by a Chiclero, looking for tree sap to make gum. Once word got out about an ancient lost city in the Guatemalan Jungle, archaeologist from all over the world came to conduct research in 1853. Research eventually stopped and the archaeologist had to leave Tikal in 1960 when a civil war broke out, anyone left behind would have been killed and til this day you can see the abandoned equipment such as homes and cars. As of today only 20 percent of Tikal has been unearthed, and visitors are only allowed to visit 10 percent of what has been dug up. The remaining buildings and structures are still buried underground and behind the thick rain-forest jungle.
There was so much to learn as we hiked thru Tikal, so many temples, structures and different rulers, it was truly an extraordinary experience that words could not fully describe. We learned that the higher altitude temples were built for rulers, priest and astronomers. Temple IV is the highest one, it towers over the jungle at 220 feet from the ground. The walk up was tiring but well worth the climb, from the top we saw two other temples in the distance. Being up there felt exhilarating, overlooking the Guatemalan jungle at peace with nature.
There was a surreal feeling walking thru the jungles of Tikal, to know that thousands of years ago this city was crowded with people walking the same paths we were taking to their temples, watering holes and sacrificial sites. A very humbling experience to say the least.
Our last stop brought us to Tikal Temple I and II located on the Main Plaza. Across from the Temple I, is Temple II known as Temple of the Masks, which one ruler built in honor of his wife. The main plaza was breathtaking. After having lunch on the lawn of the main plaza it was time to leave.
After leaving Tikal our guides took us to Melchor de Menchos, a small Guatemalan town on the border of Guatemala and Belize. After walking thru Melchor de Menchos and snagging some fresh fruit we headed to the Belize border, our epic trip to Tikal, Guatemala had come to an end. The border crossing back into Belize was crowded but quick, once on the other side Elliot dropped us off at our room, then we decided to catch the sunset on the Mopan River in Benque.
Later that night, we drove to San Ignacio to enjoy a little night life and some street food from the local food vendors. Our day was truly eventful and long, we had to call it a night early as we needed to rest up for the road in the morning.