Guatemala is arguably the best country in Central America to backpack through. It has something amazing to see within a 5 hour journey for each stop, so it’s perfect to plan a 10 day trip through. The most famous site of all, Tikal, is found just outside Flores, a cute little town in the north of Guatemala.
Tikal is a set of old Mayan pyramids and ruins from around 200 years ago, and it’s one of the most impressive ruins in the world. Getting there from Flores isn’t too tricky, especially if you organize one of the many day tours available – I went with the superstars from Guatemalan Adventures. For me, they’re always the best option – for a few extra dollars you get a luxury bus (instead of whacked into some run down option like the rest of the operators).
When you choose to go to Tikal, you have 3 options – sunrise, day trip and sunset. I’m not exactly a morning person so I opted for the daytrip, although I heard good reports of the sunrise trip.
The bus picks you up from your hostel in Flores and drives the 90 minute journey to the actual site. The guides you get with Guatemalan Adventure are always the coolest people I see on tours, fun, upbeat and not the sort of guides who bore you to death with endless dates and redundant stories (I’ve had my fair share of those over the years!).
The whole Tikal area is pretty big so make sure you ready for a day’s hiking, although I was still sort of ok in shorts and flipflops (I never learn). You spend the first ¾ of the day wondering around some of the minor pyramids, which still blow your mind at the thought of slaves been decapitated, sacrificed by the hundred as people are running up and down the steps taking pics.
After 4 or 5 temples you reach the 2 main events. The first is the largest temple in the complex, Temple 4, and although 90% of it hasn’t been excavated you can still climb to the top from where you’re greeted with one of those epic backpacking moments. You see a lush expanse of rainforest, where you can see 3 beautiful, millennia old, temples breaking through the canopy – one of the points that I talk about quite often where you think, “wow – I’m really seeing the world here”. Epic.
After coming down from Temple 4 (spiritually and literally) you make your way to the Grand Plaza which is home to the Jaguar temple, the iconic image you see if you google Tikal, the temple form every postcard in Guatemala and the sort of place you expect to see Indiana Jones burst out of with a huge boulder chasing him.
A perfectly excavated temple/mausoleum sitting opposite an almost identical, although slightly smaller temple. This is what you came to Tikal for, and suddenly it’s worth the trek. I got caught in hardest tropical rainstorm imaginable 2 hours previously, and had to hide in one of the old Mayan ruins – I was soaking wet, uncomfortable, and no way to change my clothes for hours but as soon as I saw the Grand Plaza and Jaguar temple, the last thing I was thinking about were my damp threads.
The place is breathtaking, I stayed there for about 20 minutes, wandering around and getting lost. Before too long though we were whisked away for a lunch as part of the day trip (I love that!), ate some local Guatemalan fare in 2 second flat and I was back in Flores less than 2 hours later – very tired, still pretty wet but having seen one of the coolest sights in all of Central America. Success.