Archive for the ‘Guatemala’ Tag

Travel Theme: Sweet   16 comments

Wow, look at me posting one a day – sort of.  Since I normally don’t post on Monday, I thought I’d participate in one of Ailsa’s Travel Themes, this time Sweet.  Check out her blog post on the subject for interpretations from many more folks.

Guatemalan Sweets

These images were taken in a little town up in the Guatemalan Highlands.  Even in today’s modern world, some of these towns really seem to have been frozen in time (at least partly).  Since my little room was just a block away, I strolled the main square at night, coming upon these unusual-looking sweets.  They stuff limes with sweet rice?  Wow!  I love limes, I love sweet rice!

IxilArea-39

Next day I came upon this little sweetie playing with her friends just outside a village I walked to (no road access).   There were no adults in sight.  They were wild and free!  It’s sad that in this country nowadays the kids are kept under supervision all the time, the parents being scared of dangers exaggerated by the media. Why in my day…nevermind.

Cahabon-11

Happy Vernal Equinox   3 comments

Bring on the light!  The first day of spring, or vernal equinox, is a time for celebration in the northern hemisphere.

Bring on the light! The first day of spring, or vernal equinox, is a time for celebration in the northern hemisphere.

This is the day that makes everybody in the northern hemisphere happy.  It is spring (vernal) equinox.  That means the first day of spring, the day when daytime and nighttime are equal in length (thus “equi” and “nox” – night).  It’s been happening in recent years on the 21st in North America, so some think that it always occurs on this day.

The fact is, the 20th is just as likely as the 21st.  After all, the event is not tied to a date.  It happens when the sun lines up with the equator.  Since the earth is tilted as it goes around the sun, there are only two times during the year that this happens:  once in spring and once in fall (the autumnal equinox).

This annular eclipse, though different from an equinox, reminds us of the different movements of Sun, Earth and Moon.

This annular eclipse, though different from an equinox, reminds us of the different movements of Sun, Earth and Moon.

The other astronomically-significant days on the calendar, the solstices, are when the earth is tilted at its maximum angle with respect to the sun, and so represent the longest (winter) and shortest (summer) days of the year.  On solstices, I have had the habit of trying to do something awesome.  As with my birthday, if I’m not working I try to get out and hike, ski or otherwise enjoy the outdoors.  Climbing a mountain is a favorite.

I have never really thought of equinoxes in the same way.  Maybe it’s time to change this.  I thought I would look through my picture catalog over the last few years, searching by date taken, to find out if I had accidentally done something awesome on the vernal equinox.

The sun rises over the Guatemalan highlands, as viewed from the summit of the highest mountain in Central America, Tajamulco.

The sun rises over the Guatemalan highlands, as viewed from the summit of the highest mountain in Central America, Volcan Tajamulco.

It turns out I had, on the 21st of March in 2010.  In western Guatemala, I climbed to the summit of Tajamulco, the highest mountain in Central America.  We had camped not far below the summit the night before, and before sunrise we climbed the final 800 feet or so.  The sunrise was spectacular.  Hope you enjoy the photos.  Remember to click on any you are interested in purchasing.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.   Happy Equinox wherever you may be!

Offerings at the summit of Tajamulco, Guatemala.  A lone climber stands in the shadow of the mountain.

Offerings at the summit of Tajamulco, Guatemala. A lone climber stands in the shadow of the mountain.

The Land of the Maya IV   Leave a comment

Guatemala

A misty view of some of the major temples at Tikal, the huge ancient Mayan city in Guatemala.

This is the last of my posts on the land of the Maya.  I may continue to post on my swing through Central America, but once you have traveled southward into the highlands straddling the Honduras – Nicaragua border, you’ve left the Maya behind.

A bird of paradise flower blooms in a Central American cloud forest

I visited Tikal in the Peten of northern Guatemala.  This is without a doubt the most impressive Mayan ruins I’ve been to.  I already posted on the birds of Tikal and they are, along with the other wildlife, one of the best things about the ancient city.  Tikal lies in thick jungle, with plenty of room between the temples and pyramids to get lost in nature.

I stayed in El Remate, the nearest village to the ruins.  Many people stay in Flores, a much bigger, busier place that involves a longer drive to Tikal.  In El Remate, you can visit near the end of the day or very early in the morning, thus beating the crowds.  Simply take a taxi or hop in one of the many vans that ply the route to Tikal.  It’s a quiet village sitting on the huge Peten Itza lake, and lacks resorts & nightlife.  But that’s the way I like it.  By the way, there is also a hotel near the gate of Tikal, but then you’re not staying in a village, not soaking up much culture.  And Remate is cheaper.  My humble little room, but with it’s own private bathroom, cost $7/night.  A huge steak dinner one night cost $5.

On my first day, fresh from the Belize border, it was cloudy with showers.  I almost decided to wait until morning but then on a whim caught a ride up to the ruins, arriving less than two hours before they closed.  It was a great move, as I got some nice moody shots of the temples in misty, foggy conditions.  Also the weather had scared off most of the tourists.  Tikal gets plenty of tourist traffic, but the ruins are large and spread out, so you can always get away from people if you need to.  I’m not going to detail much about Tikal, since it is an easy thing to look up.  I’ll just say that this place has some fun (and steep!) temple climbs.

I thought about doing a trek in this area of Guatemala, to the relatively newly discovered ruins of El Mirador, deep in the jungle.  But I didn’t, thinking of all those countries left to explore.  You can trek or ride horses to El Mirador.  Check around Flores for guides.  It’s pretty exciting to think about exploring the remote Peten, which is prime hunting ground for uncovering new Mayan ruins, and as a bonus hosts abundant wildlife.  It’s also a drug-smuggling corridor, but I still want to return some day for an adventure.

So I headed south, stopping on the way at a wonderful farm-stay called Finca Ixobel.  It’s written up in Lonely Planet (of course), and has good, healthy food and truly excellent coffee. It’s situated in lovely partly forested country that just begs to be explored on horseback.  And so I did!  They have some horses and a good guy to take you out.  My mount, Frojo, looked lazy and a bit too small to me, but boy did he ever prove me wrong.  He was a real pistol, wanting to run more than I could handle!  You can also hike at Ixobel; I did the trek up a small mountain covered in beautiful subtropical forest.  I love this part of Guatemala.

A carved stela at the Mayan ruins of Quirigua in Guatemala suggests extra-terrestrial influences.

Tropical flower

A tropical flower blooms in the forest of central Guatemala.

I stopped at a fairly small Mayan site called Quirigua, in the far south of Guatemala just off the main highway.  While the temples are small, it contains some of the nicest carvings I’ve seen.  There are tall stelae (sculpted towers) and squat zoomorphic sculptures (see images).  There are also carved calenders, and together with Copan just across the border, it represents an excellent original source for the Mayan calender.  I don’t believe the Mayans thought the world would end in 2012, but there is so much we don’t know that they might have known.  So who knows?  We’ll find out in December.

I went on to El Salvador, but concentrated on other things (nature, surfing) while I was there.  So I won’t detail it here.  It is certainly a tough country in which to travel, and the most poverty-stricken in Central America.  The surfing set mostly is unaware of the reality there, since they plop down on the coast and don’t travel around.

Looping back into the blessedly cool hill country of western Honduras, I visited Copan.  My last Mayan ruin, I wanted some great pictures.  Unfortunately the light did not cooperate.  But I did get very close to one of the many scarlet macaws roosting in the trees near the entrance.

The little town of Copan Ruinas near the Mayan city of the same name is quite charming, with a nice cool highland climate and attractive architecture.  I met an American guy there who moved there from Texas and bought a coffee finca (farm).  It was interesting talking to him, finding out how he made it work.  His relatively high elevation means he has to find just the right genetic mix to grow coffee that survives, let alone tastes good.

Copan has some very impressive carvings.  There is a ball court flanked with carvings of macaws.  One of the more unique structures is the Hieroglyphic Stairway, which is the longest hieroglyph in the Mayan world.  The story told is still being deciphered.  Much of the artifacts and structures have been damaged or taken away by the Copan River. Copan was occupied for about 2000 years, and for much of that time was subject to flooding.  I always find it funny when some people remark that the new world is very poor in culture and history compared with the old world.  I guess they just don’t know.

A zoomorphic sculpture at Quirigua, a Mayan site in Guatemala. It is about 7 feet tall and 10 feet across.

Mayan Ruins

The highlands around the Mayan ruins of Copan in Honduras are made up of rolling hills and coffee farms.

Copan

The famous Hieroglyphic Stairway at the Mayan ruins of Copan in Honduras represent the longest untold story in ancient Mayan history.

Well that does it for the Maya.  I will always have deep admiration and respect for their stunning achievements, especially in astronomy and mathematics.  But this trip really opened my eyes to the Maya as they exist today.  The Maya who are living a simple agricultural lifestyle in Guatemala are not very different than their ancestors.  The ancient Mayan civilization after all, consisted of a few priests and elite while the bulk of the population were farmers and laborers.

This makes me wonder how many of these simple folk living in poor villages have, lying dormant within them, the ability to conceive of and accomplish great things, just as their ancestors did.  How often is a life lived, however fulfilling it is, where this latent potential is unrealized?  And how could I tell by just meeting them on my travels?  It’s interesting to think about.

A macaw perches near the entrance to Copan, the Mayan ruins in Honduras. Appearing in carvings in the ancient city, they remain to this day, roosting in the trees above the crumbling temples.

Copan

Large carvings of scarlet macaw heads adorn the side of the ball court in the ancient Mayan city of Copan. They would have been painted brightly.

The Maya III   Leave a comment

Dugout canoes are a common sight alonf the Rio Dulce in southeast Guatemala.

A continuation of my journey into the land of the Maya, where I visited every country in Central America.  After the highlands of Guatemala, I traveled through southeastern Guatemala, then into Belize, looping back through Guatemala and down into El Salvador.  I then went on to Honduras, finally leaving the land of the Maya when I continued into Nicaragua.

Guatemala

A boy who would not leave me alone until I befriended him on the western shore of Lago Izabel, Guatemala.

Lake Izabel in Guatemala is not as beautiful as Lake Atitlan, but it doesn’t have the tourist traffic either.  The town of El Estor, on the steamy lakeshore at the west end of the lake, is a haven for wildlife, including dugongs (like manatees).  You can simply ask around down at the lake to find someone who will take you out on their boat.  Just make sure he takes you well up the Rio Polochic.  You will certainly get close to howler monkeys, and you might see spider monkeys (which are probably my favorite monkey) as well.

The Rio Dulce connects Izabel with the Caribbean at Livingston (where you can either head into Belize or Honduras).  Here you are back on the “gringo trail”, which doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful, but make sure you check out Izabel’s western end too.  You take a small tour boat/ferry from the busy town of Rio Dulce to the coast.  There are several jungle lodges to stay in about halfway along, so if you have a couple days I would not go all the way to Livingston in one go.

Instead, enjoy the slow pace of life along these quiet tropical waterways, watching local fishermen in dugout canoes, doing a little hiking & birdwatching, and swimming.  I stayed at Finca Tatin, & my little jungle chalet (complete with outdoor rock shower) was named Tucano.  I can definitely recommend this place.  It’s popular with backpackers, but I don’t hold that against it – too much!

I’ll skip over my diving adventures in Belize.  I love diving in the Caribe, but Belize, along its coast at least, is not my favorite part of Central America.  The wilderness and Mayan ruins of western Belize however, are a different story.  The people are quite friendly in Belize, but I can’t say I’m impressed.  The poor Belizean women, they have to put up with men who don’t do much, just drinking beer most of the day and hanging out.

When leaving Belize the cabbie warned me to be careful in Guatemala.  I told him I’d already spent about a month there and felt safer than on the streets of larger towns in Belize.  It’s true.  At night the drunk guys hanging about are rather unsavory.  Of course Guatemala City & Antigua can present dangers too.

I rented a little motorbike of questionable quality in the town of San Ignacio (also called Cayo), which is the tourist basecamp for western Belize.  Central America, unlike most of Asia, is not a place where one can easily rent scooters & motorbikes.  Too bad, because it is perfect for that.  I had to resort to finding a repair shop and talked them into renting me one of their supposedly finished “projects”.

So I set off on the bike into the stupendous Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, a huge plateau covered in pine forest, and graced by beautiful waterfalls and caves.  What a day of exploring!  I only saw a few jeeps.  The roads are rough but passable.  The sun was rapidly setting as I was racing back, when the front wheel turned without the handlebars doing so.  Not good!  I wiped out big time, but luckily got only a few scratches and scrapes.  I had to straighten the wheel with brute force, and take it very easy the rest of the way.  Lucky it was so late when I returned it nobody was around.  The bike had a fender hanging off, plus assorted other dings.

Guatemala

Tropical jungle surrounds my cabin at Finca Tatin, along the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.

Belize

My transport while diving on the coast of Belize.

Just before reaching Guatemala, near the town of San Jose Succotz, overlooking a beautiful river (the Mopan), lie the ruins of Xunantunich (pronounce CHEW-nahn-too-neech).  These Mayan ruins are relatively small, especially when compared to massive Tikal just across the border in Guatemala.  But they are beautiful, with a fantastic temple (El Castillo) that you can climb for outstanding views extending into Guatemala.  You have to cross the river on a hand-cranked ferry, then it’s a shortish walk up to the ruins.  I went towards day’s end, & ended up alone at the top of El Castillo as the sun was setting.  What a feeling!

Belize

Thousand Foot Falls in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve of western Belize is actually 1600 feet high and is the highest waterfall in Central America.

I stayed nearby in a quirky place I sadly forget the name of.  But if you’re there be observant at the east end of San Jose Succotz, you’ll see it up on the hill, or its sign claiming it’s an eco-“resort”.  I don’t care if they exaggerate about their status as a resort, it is an extremely relaxing and low-key place.  Very cheap too.

Belize

El Castillo is a temple at the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich in western Belize.

Well I crossed into Guatemala on my way to Tikal, but this is getting lengthy, so I’ll save that for next time.

Belize

The temple of El Castillo in western Belize basks in lonely late-day light.

 

The Maya II: Guatemalan Highlands   4 comments

This is a continuation of my series on travel to the land of the Maya in Central America.  I flew into Cancun, and then worked my way down through the peninsula (see last post), traveling through Chiapas and entering Guatemala from the west.  Hope you enjoy the photos!  But please be aware that not only are they small files, but that it’s not okay to download them without contacting me for permission.  Clicking the photos will take you to my website where purchase of much larger files is easy as pie.

There is no way to travel through this area without being impressed not only with the Maya, but also towns with well-preserved colonial architecture.  I visited Campeche in the Yucatan, and San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas.  Both are the home of incredible Spanish colonial architecture and each have their own character.

Campeche is, despite its spectacular architecture, relatively free of heavy tourist influence, while San Cristobal, maybe because it is smaller, has more of a tourist feel to it.  Also, Campeche is on the sea and Cristobal is not.  Both towns, however, are places where you can stroll the streets with plenty of photo opportunities, plenty of places to eat and drink, plenty of people-watching.  As a bonus, the two towns sit in an area of perfectly balmy climate.

A couple gets close near the cathedral in Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The colonial architecture of Campeche, on the Gulf of Mexico, is one of the highlights of a visit to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

I After San Cristobal, I headed for Palenque in Chiapas, and toured that site amongst plenty of other tourists.  Aside from Chichen Itza, this is the most crowded Mayan site I visited, but it was a gorgeous day and I did not really bother getting there too early.  The occasional crowd never bothers me, since I make a point to get well off the beaten track on more than enough occasions.

The carvings at Palenque are very well preserved.  In general, you must go to museums to see well-preserved Mayan carved panels and stelae (stone pillars).  This is because the weather has really done a number on the artwork left at the actual sites.  But Palenque and a few other cities have plenty of artwork that is stunning in its detail.  Also, Palenque is set in gorgeous wooded hills, with a stream flowing right through it.  Go to the edge of the ruins and check out the jungle; you might see some wildlife.

The Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque, an ancient Mayan city in Chiapas, Mexico.

Leaving Palenque, I entered Guatemala.  The transition was definitely noticeable.  No more air conditioned buses and vans, no more leaving when scheduled.  Guatemala is a fairly chaotic country, full of people and energy, more traditional & not nearly as rich as Mexico.  North Americans who only travel to Mexico think that country is third world.  They have no idea.  If they were to continue south to Guatemala and beyond, then they would understand what third world actually means.

I don’t say this to denigrate these places.  It’s just a simple fact.  Mexico is more modern, easier to travel through than most Central American countries, much easier.  These days Mexico might be more dangerous in places, because of the drug war.  But it is most certainly more kind to travelers of all types than Guatemala (and let’s not even talk about El Salvador!).

A tricked out chicken bus in Guatemala.

So there I was in the highlands, waiting for the “chicken bus”  I had chosen at random to attract enough passengers for us to set out.  After a time, we were heading towards Xela (Quetzaltenango), the main city in the highlands.  By the way, to pronounce “X “in Spanish, you simply say “Sh”.  So Xela is “Shela”.  That chicken bus was taking me into another world, a parade of busy mountain villages with  hordes of people and energy.  There is nowhere on the planet quite like this, though parts of South Asia’s mountain terrain are closest.  The markets alone are enough to set this place apart, and the Maya culture is as dominant as it is anywhere in Latin America.

These Maya are different than those in the Yucatan.  It seems that each village brings a different dress, a different set of customs.  They all speak different languages, have a different look.  They do all share many similarities, but they’re not nearly as monocultural as the Yucatan Maya.  And another thing I noticed: in these highlands where you find so many traditional Mayan villages, you will be hard pressed to find any ancient Mayan ruins.  They’re all in the bordering lowlands and in Chiapas.  It seems that the big ancient Mayan cities were all built in the lowlands or hill country, whereas the modern Maya have been pushed into the highlands, where it is harder to make a living.  A simplistic observation with some exceptions I will admit, but the pattern is there.

A cool evening in a small town in the Guatemalan Highlands, with its white-washed church, is graced by a bright moon.

View from inside one of the colonial buildings surrounding the square in the town of Quetzaltenango (“Xela”) in the Guatemalan highlands.

The heart of Quetzaltenango (Xela) in the Guatemalan Highlands is its Parque Central.

Xela is a city surrounded by volcanoes, home to markets and many Spanish language schools.  Here the Maya are mixed in with other Guatemalans.  I enjoyed Xela’s central square (Parque Central), taking many photos.  I also was befriended by a few Mayan women in the market; they worried over me and made sure I was safely on a bus with my spendy camera gear.  I wanted to climb a volcano.  It was a tossup between the very active volcano Pacaya, and the highest mountain in Central America, Tajumulco.  I went with the highest one!

The sun rises over the Guatemalan highlands, as viewed from the summit of the highest mountain in Central America, Tajamulco.

We camped only 500 or so feet from the summit, so close that we reached the top just before sunrise next morning.  I managed to catch a pretty nice photo, the haze of the lower country setting a counterpoint to the intensely clear rising sun.  I visited the little village of Todos Santos Cuchumatan afterwards, managing to get my MP3 player stolen on the bus along the way.  But this was to be the only theft I’d suffer on the 3-month trip through Central America.

Todos Santos is fairly popular with travelers.  But it still feels way off the beaten track and the Maya there hold tight to their traditions.  The road is rough and the bus ride bouncy and long from Xela.  The town sits in steep terrain and by virtue of its elevation (8200 ft., 2500m.) is quite cool, especially at night (think wool blankets).  On the day I got there I walked uphill and soon ran into three Mayan girls who were chatty and friendly.  I spent some time with them, taking pictures, laughing, and sort of flirting.

A young and happy Mayan woman in Todos Santos, heart of the Mayan culture in the Guatemalan highlands.

A young Mayan lady high up in the Guatemalan highlands, in the village of Todos Santos.

Young men in Todos Santos Cuchumatan, in the Guatemalan Highlands, wear the tradtional colorful pants favored by the Maya in this region.

Colorful is a good way to describe the dress of most Mayan women, and these two were no exceptions.  What is different about this town, however, is the dress of the men.  Mayan men normally don’t bother with colorful dress, but here they tend to wear bright red & white striped pants, topped by a jaunty hat.  Even small boys wear this getup, and man are they ever cute!

After a few days relaxing along the shores of Lago Atitlan, I visited another remote town in the Ixil triangle, Nebaj.  From this town I hiked up a dirt track, following locals weighed down with incredible loads (from market) as they trekked across a pass and down into a beautiful valley.  There was a small village here, accessible only by foot.  As you might imagine, an agrarian, simple way of life prevails here, in utterly beautiful surroundings.

It was very warm during the day, cooling off a lot at night, just the way I like it.  (It takes a great amount of heat to get to me; same with cold.)  The night market at Nebaj was fantastic, with a whitewashed church, the bright moon, and some tasty and exotic (for me) treats all creating a magical atmosphere that just seemed to define the highlands.

Street food in a village square high up in the Guatemalan highlands includes unusual sweets.

The Ixil area drops off spectacularly to the east into central Guatemala.  I took a jam-packed van to an amazing place called Semuc Champey, passing one of the largest landslide scars I’ve ever seen.  The rainy season can see spectacular landslides on the rough roads that traverse the Guatemalan Highlands.  Once at Semuc Champey, I realized why it was listed in my guidebook.

A huge volume of re-deposited limestone (travertine) fills the river valley here.  It’s similar to what you find at places like Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs, but grey not white.  The river flows over, under and through all this limestone, forming a series of green, paradisical pools and waterfalls.  It is probably the most atmospheric swimming hole I’ve ever been to.

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

I was not done with the Maya.  From Semuc Champey I kept going east, heading for Lake Izabal.  But the roads turn into dirt through this area, and public transport just stops. So I hitched, something I did quite a bit of in my (much) younger days.  I was dropped off at a lonely junction where two dirt roads come together, and patiently waited under bluebird skies for any 4×4 to come by.  But it was Sunday and my wait was a long one.  No problem: the Mayan children from a village nearby kept me entertained.

Mayan children near the village of Cahabon in remote central Guatemala can’t stop laughing about having a stranger in their midst.

This is probably the most remote area I visited in Central America.  The people were nearly all Mayan, and were dirt poor.  I had stumbled upon it, and was leaving in the back of a pickup all too soon.  A definite negative was the state of their land.  Guatemala had seen fit to allow loggers to flatten the whole forest in this region some 15 or 20 years ago.  The trees are growing back, but so far are still quite small.  A mature tropical rainforest used to grow here, and it’s obvious the land and wildlife misses it.

My trip continued into eastern Guatemala, which was well on its way to becoming my favorite of Central America.  I continued my off-the-beaten track travels, staying on the shore of Lago Izabal where I took a small boat past dugongs and growler monkeys.  I also stayed at a jungle lodge along the Rio Dulce (my cabin was named Tucan).  But I was no longer in the land of the Maya.  I would return to Maya country in western Belize and northernmost Guatemala.  That’s the subject of the next post in this series.

Bird Photography Follow-Up: Birds of Tikal   Leave a comment

A large male great curassow (Crax rubra) prowls the jungle floor at the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala.

A quick follow-up to my previous post on bird watching.  I never posted the picture of a great currasow I got in Guatemala, at Tikal.  That error is rectified above.  Tikal is one of the largest Mayan City you can visit, and certainly one of the most spectacular.  It lies in northern Guatemala, and is very easy to access from Belize.  The Peten is an amazing swath of jungle that lies along the southern Yucatan – Guatemala border.  It is incredibly rich in wildlife, and also has many Mayan ruins.  It is definitely the richest hunting ground for archaeologists searching for undiscovered Mayan cities.  Because of its remoteness, it is also a favorite among drug smugglers, who cross into Mexico here on their way to the U.S.

A misty view of some of the major temples at Tikal, the huge ancient Mayan city in Guatemala.

A scarlet macaw likes Mayan ruins.

The dramatic Temple 5 in the Mayan city of Tikal rises steeply out of the jungle.

I visited the Peten, including Tikal, in 2010.  I went to Calakmul, a remote Mayan site in far south Yucatan, and we were alone at thoseruins, with their enormous pyramids standing far above the jungle.  I also visited Palenque in Chiapas, where I most certainly was not alone.  Later in the trip, I crossed from western Belize into Guatemala & headed to Tikal.  When I arrived at the nearest town, Peten Itza, I decided to go right up to the ruins.  It’s very easy to catch a van or taxi to Tikal.  Most of the hotels are in Flores, but I think that’s too far from the ruins.  Clouds and rain showers were hanging about, but this turned out to be a blessing.  Not only were the crowds nonexistent, but the atmosphere added much to my photos from that day.

The first thing you notice about Tikal is its size.  You can walk from temple to temple, but unlike most Mayan sites, these walks are actually superb nature walks.  The jungle that separates the major temple complexes is rich in birds, monkeys and even jaguar.  I saw many beautiful birds, a crocodile, and a spider monkey.  As anyone who has been to Tikal knows, the constant calls of oropendula accompany your tour.  What a beautiful forest.  The next day I had much more time to tour the ruins, but it was a beautiful day, so the photos were not as good.  Still, I saw many birds and another monkey.

Tikal is hands-down my favorite Mayan ruin, and I’ve been to all the major ones.  It combines spectacular temples and massive scale with relative remoteness and beautiful surroundings.  It does receive many visitors, but its size means you can get away from the crowds easily.  Still, I would try to go either early in the morning or late, especially if the weather is unsettled.  You will see more wildlife this way, plus your pictures will likely be better than with the bright sunshine (which tends to wash out the subtle colors).

Go see Tikal, and don’t forget your binoculars!

A basilisk lizard hunts his territory in the jungles of Tikal, Guatemala.

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