The Tikal Ruins In Guatemala: Sunrise Hike
If you’re not familiar with the Tikal ruins in Guatemala then you should definitely continue reading.
This is an ancient Mayan civilization located in northern Guatemala which has since been made into a massive national park and is an explorer’s paradise. It covers 222 square miles (576 km) and is home to some of the world’s most stunning ancient architecture, not to mention an array of wildlife.
There are over 3000 buildings in the national park itself and some of the principal palaces and temples measure as high as an astonishing 70 metres.
This civilization really thrived between 400 and 900 AD and had a population estimated to be as high as 90,000 inhabitants.
It’s worth mentioning that the majority of the Mayan history belongs to Guatemala, even though it’s often confused with Mexico. A lot of the Mayan land does spread into current Mexico and Belize but the geographical situation was a lot more complicated in the era of the Mayan civilization.
I’m no historian but this is the general gist I got from my time in the country. Mexico was home to the Aztecs which was a completely different civilization establishing itself hundreds of years after the Maya.
If you’re interested in learning more about the ancient Latin American civilizations then check this out.
The most popular starting point for exploring the Tikal ruins is the most northerly city in Guatemala, Flores. The city itself is worth spending a day or two in and can be used as a base for various other tours, or as a stopping point between Guatemala and Belize. It’s in a beautiful setting with the old town on a small island surrounded by the massive Lake Peten Itza.
The Tikal National Park is 40 miles (65km) from the city of Flores, this is about an hour and a half on the shuttle.
If you’re coming from Antigua or Lake Atitlan then there are several companies that offer shuttles around the country, Flores being one of the top destinations. The same applies if you’re coming from Belize or Mexico. Tikal is such a massive attraction that every nearby country has direct transport to Flores.
If you’re feeling brave then you can take public transport to Flores but this isn’t for the faint-hearted. Do your research and prepare yourself for delays, heat, lots of shouting, and maybe having to share your seat with a goat. I’m not even going to try to describe the route or buses to take because it changes all the time.
Where To Stay
As already mentioned: Flores.
Flores has an array of attractive hotels and hostels. It’s literally a case of ‘take your pick’.
I stayed at Hostel Yaxha which I would highly recommend. It was clean, the staff were very helpful, and had an array of options on the menu.
There are also several hotels in the national park itself which are obviously more expensive than most options in Flores but mean you will have the ruins on your doorstep.
The Sunrise Hike
This is something that you’ll definitely have to sort out in advance at your hostel or hotel. It’s something that they should definitely offer because it’s one of Tikal’s most popular tour options.
COST: When I did it in 2016 it cost Q350 ($48) for the sunrise tour. These prices may have gone up a fraction since then so it’s worth checking in your hostel.
From our hostel we organised and paid for the sunrise tour the night before. It is more expensive than doing a tour during the day but was absolutely worth the extra money. I would have in fact paid up to double for this experience.
The morning of the tour we were up at the crack of dawn waiting for the minibus to pick us up at 3 am. Yes, this is an early tour.
From here you’ll get the chance for some extra sleep on the bus – the journey is a bit more than an hour from Flores to the entrance of the Tikal national park.
Upon entry, you’ll be given a quick debrief and a coffee (depending on your guide) before starting the hike.
From here you’ll walk through the lush jungle until you reach the first significant ruins. Here the guide will give you a historical overview of the area and buildings that you’re looking at.
These massive, ancient buildings looming overhead and being surrounded by swathes of green jungle made me feel like I was in the movie Tomb Raider or something similar.
Sunrise From Temple IV
The highlight and main part of the sunrise hike is climbing the 212 steps up the massive Temple IV. With a summit of over 70 metres it is the largest ancient building in Central America.
One of the ruins’ main temples, temple IV is where you’ll spend the transition from night to day. It’s an incredibly surreal experience which is probably relatable to something very different for every person.
For me, being up there made me think of that scene out of Jurassic Park where the guy and 2 kids are up in the tree waiting for the sun to rise. All you can hear are dinosaurs in the surrounding jungle.
Here it’s similar because as the sun rises you’ll be immersed in the roaring of howler monkeys*, shrieking of other creatures and (according to our guide) the occasional deeper roar is the sound of a jaguar.
I was unfortunate in that the clouds semi-obscured the view of the sun as it rose up from below but this didn’t take much away from the experience for me. Sitting there it felt as though somebody was slowly turning the knob on one of those dimming lights verrrrry slowly lighting up the jungle.
*Even though they’re called ‘howler’ monkeys, the sound they make definitely sounds a lot more like a roar to me.
Exploring Tikal Ruins
After the spectacular night – day transition on the top of Temple IV, the tour is over and you’ll get the chance to explore at your own pace.
Bear in mind that when the sun comes up it gets very hot. You’re in a seriously hot and humid part of the country where temperatures are regularly well above 30C (86F).
The ruins offer something slightly different now that it’s light and the crowds start to filter in. For me, it was well worth walking around again just to get a different take on the epicness of where you are.
The Gran Plaza (great square) alone is worth spending a good couple of hours climbing up the various temples and analysing the artifacts on display.
The Tikal Ruins in Guatemala is a must visit if you find yourself in Flores. The chances are that one of the main reasons for your visit to the country is to come and see the ruins.
If that wasn’t on your list then, well……you now know to change that!
It’s not really a mountain or a trek like most of the stuff on my website (there are plenty of mountains worth hiking in Guatemala), but I felt it deserved a mention because you are climbing some pretty high structures, and it’s a fair trek through the jungle just to find some of these incredible buildings.
The sunrise hike is often bypassed, with the early rise and slightly elevated costs putting many people off. I urge you not to be deterred by this, it’s 100% worth it and gives you so much more from your visit.
It’s also a fantastic option if you’re the type of person (like me) who likes to avoid the tourist crowds and get the majority of the place to yourself.
As always, thanks a lot for reading and if you have anything to add or any questions then write in the comments box below. 🙂