After only a few days of cycling through Belize, our first highlight of Guatemala should be the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Nestled into some dense green jungle these ruins were according to my partner Brad “some of the best I’ve seen”.
Leaving Belize we had a rather unspectacular border crossing and only a banner across the road showed in small writing “Welcome to Guatemala”!
Welcome to Guatemala!
Guatemala instantly appeared to me very different from Belize. The scenery, the villages, the people – everything seems to be more like Mexico again but still different. There are lots of animals running around free in the villages. Not only the usual dogs. Horses are standing on the side of the roads usually on a long leash, chicken run around everywhere (even in the small shops along the road) and even pigs! I really like that all these animals are integrated into normal life and it seems to work perfectly well! When a dog is sleeping in the middle of the road the cardrivers take care and just drive around it. What else?
Cycling into a roadblock
I just started to feel comfortable with the small ups and downs on our way to El Ramate when a guy on a moped waved me down. A short look over my shoulder and I knew that Brad wasn’t far away. I stopped my bicycle. The guy started to talk and gesture a lot. What I understood was that the road was blocked for some reason and we couldn’t get through. Just moments before I had been thinking about the heavy rain lately and that there must be many landslides in the hills and mountains. So I thought it was a landslide and also Brad didn’t understand anything else. But we wanted to see the reason with our own ees (and we didn’t really have another way to go) and therefore we kept cycling on the road.
After a while we could see cars lining up in front of us. We cycled past until we reached something like a tent with lots of people right in the middle of the road. I still thought that something had happened and the police provided a tent for the waiting people.
We cycled closer and the people started talking to us. It turned out that they were all locals who blocked the road. It was a demonstration because the sideroad to one of their villages was very bad. They wanted a better road from the local government. (As I am writing this I have cycled across Guatemala and I perfectly understand their concern about road conditions.) We were waiting under the tent for about 40 minutes until the leader said we could cycle on. It turned out that we were the only ones who were allowed to pass the roadblock.
The Mayan ruins of Tikal
Cycling from El Ramate to Tikal
After our initial adventure we spent our first night in Guatemala in a small town called El Ramate. Luckily we found the very nice and clean hotel Amura (or something like that). Unfortunately I don’t remeber the exact name but if you cycle or drive into El Ramate, you will see lots of signs of this hotel. It has nice and tidy rooms and also a very nice restaurant with incredibly good food! Therefore we ended up eating there three or four times!
The next day we had to cover about 30 kilometers of cycling to reach the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The entrance to the National Park would be half way. The road was in a good shape but unfortunately it was a bit more of up and down. At this time I didn’t know how hard it would get later on, so I found these small hills very challenging!
Halfway we paid 150 Quetzals each entry fee for Tikal plus 50 Quetzals each for one night of camping. And then we cycled through the jungle of the National Park towards the ruins of Tikal.
Camping at the Mayan ruins of Tikal
We camped at the ruins at a very nice campsite with basic bathrooms. The campsite was nice because it provided a Palapa for each tent which is basically a little roof made of palm leaves. As we were in the middle of the National Park jungle we had also some cute animals around like agoutis and coatimundi.
If you ever decide to camp at Tikal ruins make sure you book the right number of nights at the entrance. We only paid for one night and wanted to stay another. It was impossible to book and pay another night directly at the ruins. It is all done at the National Park entrance wich is 15 kilometers before the ruins. Therefore we couldn’t stay a second night (unless we wanted to cycle 15 kilometers back and forth) which was a little bit disappointing.
Exploring the ruins of Tikal
We woke up before 6 am in the morning to be the first ones inside the ruins. It worked out pretty well and we were basically alone for the first hour or so. The Tikal ruins are nestled into lush green jungle and every walking trail looks very adventurous! I was expecting a jaguar around every corner… 😉 When the first pyramid showed up I was impressed! We walked on and over one of the main plazas with lots of ruins and two main pyramids facing each other. It was possible to reach the top of one of these pyramids by wooden stairs buildt on one side of the pyramid.
Not a good day for views!
The view on the first pyramid was quite good and we could overlook the main plaza and get a good shot of the pyramid on the opposite side (titelphoto). Brad told me that there is another tall pyramid in the back of the area from where we would have the best view over the jungle and the view was also used in one of the star wars movies. (Really?! I have no idea. I know Ja Ja Binks, that’s it.)
Anyway, we made our way back and I climbed countless wooden stairs to see….. nothing! The sky was hanging low, full of humidity and making every little bit of view impossible. Well….
A tropical rainstorm
Soon after we reached the ground again the downpour started. A tropical rainstorm broke down and I have seen more water than ever falling from the sky. Together with other tourists we found shelter under the palapa on a smaller pyramid. It’s initial purpose was to protect some stone carvings but on this day it also protected some tourists from getting completely soaked. The trails running through the ruins turned into mud but in most places the water couldn’t sink in as fast as it was falling and therefore little streams and rivers appeared. I spent some time watching these little streams grow and the water not only tripping but shooting from the palm leaves to the ground. There was nothing else we could do except waiting.
The jungle around Tikal
Eventually the rain stopped and we could wander around the ruins we hadn’t seen so far. At 10 am all the tour buses arrived and just in time the sun came out. We were done and planned on coming back again in the afternoon to have another go on the pyramid. But the impossibility to book another night of camping destroyed our plans and we left a little disappointed to cycle to our next destination the town of Flores.
The ruins of Tikal are definitely worth a visit. Even a rainstorm can’t take away the magic of this place: the half overgrown ruins, the mystic mist early in the morning, the dense green jungle with lots of different plants and wildlife, the lost culture of the Mayan civilization that has once been so powerful….
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