Beeeeeep. Beeeeeep. Beeeeep. Ah, the shrill and annoying beeping of Logan’s watch aggressively demanding that we get our sleeping behinds out of bed. It was 4 am and after a night filled with constant fireworks and barking dogs responding to those fireworks the last thing we wanted was yet another loud, irritating noise interrupting the slumber we had viciously fought to obtain the entire night. But it was time to get dressed and ready to head off for our tour of the famous and fabulous ruins of Tikal.
As we pulled on the clothes we had laid out the night before, and stumbled our way out of our room, we reminded each other that the early bird tour was necessary if we wanted to avoid crowds. And man do we hate crowds.
We were first to the group meeting point, but within a few minutes the rest of our group had groggily congregated near the van. Surrounded by backpackers dressed warmly in pants and hiking boots I was momentarily stressed about my decision to wear shorts and sandals (my trusty Chacos of course!), but the driver was ready to go, so properly dressed or not I needed to load up with the rest of the group.
Being the “hang back and see what’s happening” travelers we were at this point, we ended up getting in the van last, sticking ourselves with the lame fold-down seats nearest to the door. We glued on our very best “oh no, it’s fine that we got here first but are now sitting in the most uncomfortable seats in the van” faces and settled in for the hour-long journey to Tikal. While our fellow early-bird comrades got in a few extra minutes of shut-eye we sat silently on our unpadded, creaking, narrow pullout seats cursing our bad luck. Avoid the bitch seat AT ALL COSTS.
All whining and complaining and worrying aside, we were really excited to be visiting Tikal and when the shuttle arrived at the ruins we eagerly hopped out of our torture seats, pulled the sticks from our bums and went forth into the day with a positive attitude. Our guide for the morning was Luis, a Mayan local with the strangest, most amazing accent we had ever heard. Luis spoke Spanish, English and Hebrew fluently, but all three mixed together with an Australian accent (??) into a totally unique dialect, which was simultaneously difficult to understand and really fun to listen to.
The tour of Tikal lasted about 3.5 hours during which we saw a good portion of the ruins and learned more than we ever needed to know about the history and culture of the people who had built and lived in the ancient city. Our group visited Temples 1-4, the Gran Plaza and El Mundo Perdido.
I loved the Gran Plaza, where Temples 1 and 2 are located. The photo opportunities are amazing, with the best view being the one from the top of Temple 2 (note that you can not climb Temple 1). Our early arrival meant that the sun was not out yet, and for most of our tour the temples were shrouded in mysterious, almost fake-looking mist. Nowhere was the mood more eerie and other-worldly than in the Gran Plaza.
As amazing as the rest of our tour was, Temple 4 ended up easily being my favorite. The view from the top is astonishing, and since it is the tallest of the structures at Tikal you can see all of all the other temples peaking out from the surrounding rainforest. The view is reason enough for this to have been my favorite, but the fact that 1) a scene from Star Wars was filmed here, and 2) the sun came out for the first time in DAYS as we sat at the top eating a snack only added to what was already an amazing travel moment for me.
Our time with Luis ended at Temple 4 so after sufficiently oohing and aahing over the view we climbed down and began our solo (well technically duo) exploration of the site. Having seen most of the main temples already, we focused on the lesser-visited Temple’s (5 and 6) and wandered around the North and Central Acropolis.
It wasn’t until we were headed back to the entrance that we truly began to appreciate how much better our early bird tour was than the “I want to sleep in” tour. For every one person leaving during the mid-morning there were 10 or 20 tourists to take their place. No people-free pictures for the well-rested.
At 12:30, after 5.5 hours of basically uninterrupted walking and climbing we got back into our shuttle (no bitch seat this time), drove back to the hostel, and crashed.
P.S. If you were wondering about how my clothing decision worked out (which I’m sure you were), it was GREAT. I was a tad cold when we first got there (making me glad I had a long sleeve) but by 10 am it was freakin’ hot and all the pant-wearers in our group (everyone but us, haha suckers!) were uncomfortable.
Dollars and Sense
“Early Bird” Tikal Tour and Transport from Hostel Los Amigos- Q90Q + Q150 entrance fee (per person)
Lunch pre-prepared by the hostel- Q45 (per person)
TIP: If you want to see the sunrise you need to take the sunrise specific tour. We opted to not do the sunrise tour (which ARRIVES at Tikal at 4 am), which was a good decision since it would have been too cloudy to see anything anyway. Check the weather before you book.
TIP: There are tours that do not require you to wake up before daybreak, but it will be more crowded. Here’s why we were glad we sucked it up and woke up early.
TIP: At almost $6 US the lunch prepared by Los Amigos is pretty overpriced for what you get, but the food we saw at Tikal was not any cheaper and if you are on an early morning tour your WILL want food before you get back to your hostel. You could pack a lunch ahead of time, but we don’t regret forking over our money for a pre-prepared, no-thought-required meal.