I’m pretty certain the world isn’t going to end on December 21, 2012. A Mayan guy told me so. Or at least a guy whose ancestors were somehow related to the Mayans way back when. Or something. We were on top of a cliff above Lake Atitlan, attending a full moon ceremony, so it seemed at least a little official (even if the ceremony was kinda lame and really only for the hippie tourists – the view was quite nice.)
So while apparently there are lots of people flocking to Tikal for the end of the world in just a few weeks, that wasn’t why we visited. We visited because its a crazy cool Mayan ruin in the middle of the jungle in Guatemala. That should really be reason enough. You don’t need a whole End of the World scenario to make it a worthwhile trip.
Tikal is completely surrounded by jungle, and you have to walk through much of it to see any of the pyramids. In the early morning, when the park has just opened and there are few people there, the jungle has this eerie vibe to it. Add a thick layer of fog, and it feels kind of ominous. Kinda like the end of the world…but not. More like foggy and dark and a little sleepy.The fog makes it super hard to take good photos. Unlike Machu Picchu, where you could practically drop your camera and get a good image, Tikal is tricky to photograph.You can only climb to the top of one of the big pyramids, and not up the front steps like the Mayans did. Instead, there is a wooden staircase along the side for the tourists, since the base of the pyramid is still buried in jungle. I was a little disappointed in that, since at Chichen Itza its pretty cool to climb the face of the pyramids, but at least I didn’t have to worry about tripping on the way down.
Once you climb the stairs to the top you can see how much jungle surrounds the six pyramids they have uncovered. I’m willing to bet there are more ruins in the park they haven’t even found yet.There are a lot of animals living in the jungle at Tikal – supposedly you can see jaguars if you get there early enough. We didn’t see any jaguars, but we did encounter monkeys, toucans, lots of cool birds I couldn’t name, and coati. My sister and I became somewhat obsessed with the adorable coati when we first saw them at Iguazu Falls in Argentina a few years ago. They are a super adorable relative of the raccoon. (They should make a Pixar movie staring coati. I would definitely see it.)Once the sun comes up, the fog lifts and the crowds start to show up. We essentially had the place to ourselves until about 11am (after arriving at 6am), but the full light of day made it easier to photograph the area. Here are the same pyramids as above, photographed 5 hours later (with people this time.)What a difference the sun makes.Just for good measure, here is a self portrait of us with Pyramid I. Still alive. Still looking like dirty backpackers.I was a smidge underwhelmed by Tikal, possibly because Machu Picchu is still fresh in my mind. John thought I was nuts to be underwhelmed, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Either way, I’m glad we made it there before the End of the World revelers show up (they might break something.) We’ll be safely in Australia by then, far far away from any Mayan calendar nonsense.