Our next destination was the epic Mayan ruins of Tikal. To get from Antigua to there, we took a chicken bus to Guatemala City, a taxi to bus terminal Fuente del Norte, and took their 9pm comfortable night bus to Santa Elena for Q 200 each. Santa Elena is close to the island of Flores, our departure point to Tikal, and we took a return shuttle from the bus terminal to Tikal for Q 80 per person. (We found out later that we overpaid by at least Q 20- it would have been better to have gotten to the island of Flores and shopped around, but at 5:30am, we weren’t completely awake yet.) The drive took us about an hour and a half, and we paid Q 150 to get in the park.
On the way, we saw a bunch of tourists with professional cameras photographing what we found out later was a potoo (please Google images these creatures). Although we didn’t see it ourselves, we feel this is worth mentioning because it is really just a weird animal. It camouflages itself as a dead branch and doesn’t move all day. It is noctural, and hunts for insects by flying around with its mouth open and letting its extremely fast reflexes snap its beak close around insects that fly in. After seeing how exhausting hummingbird movements are earlier in this trip, we concluded that this is also perhaps one of the most intelligently designed birds in the world.
Anyways, we arrived at Tikal at around 8am. We walked past the immensely disappointing pile of rubble they call Grupo F, to the much more impressive Gran Plaza, climbed up on some of the rocks to see a ball court, to Temple III and Temple IV (the latter being the highest point among the ruins), to the lost world temples, and back to the Gran Plaza. Not being archaeologists ourselves, we only had a superficial interest in the piles of rocks cleverly stacked up around us, and found 3 hours just enough to explore. This meant we were on the 11am bus back to Flores and did not have to wander around in the increasingly sweltering heat. (It is also worth mentioning that it rains often in the afternoons here, so we were also lucky that our walk was a dry one in this season.)
We didn’t stay at the site too long, but it is undeniable that Tikal offers an impressive view of Mayan architecture (of which only 25% has been excavated) and is a good place to take some pretty pictures. In particular, the Gran Plaza is picture perfect, and the view from Temple IV is wonderful. The forests surround it also contain much wildlife, and make Tikal the recipient of two UNESCO designations- one for its architecture and one for its nature.