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Our Journey In: Tikal | Peten, Guatemala

When we were first planning our trip to Belize for the babymoon, we really had no intention of hopping to any of the nearby countries.  However, when it came time to look at the different things to do in Belize, seeing the Mayan ruins was definitely on our to-do list.  There were two tours that Caves Branch offered – one to Xunantunich and one to Tikal.  We knew we would only have time to see one, so I took some time to learn a bit about the sites.  Eventually, I just googled “Xunantunich or Tikal” and found myself on TripAdvisor with most visitors saying Tikal is beyond compare.

Well, then.  I guess we’re going to Tikal!  This turned out to be an entire day trip, and although it wasn’t a completely separate trip on it’s own, I felt the adventure warranted a Journey post.
The day started bright and early at 5:30am since it was a 3 hour drive to the site.  We grabbed a few of our snacks then hopped in the van with some fellow adventurers, and off we went.  About halfway through the drive, we stopped at the Guatemalan border for entry into the country.  For some reason, there was free wi-fi in the building.  I remember that because it was the only time we had wi-fi during the whole first leg of the trip in Belize. Haha.
Once we got our passports stamped, we got in the van and headed to a local restaurant for some breakfast.

Definitely a cute little place that served some great breakfast.  Eggs, beans, and plantains — oh, and the freshly made tortillas that were amazing.  Tristan enjoyed a cup of local coffee, and I had to take a picture.  I mean, how cute is that mug??

A photo stop across the street where we could see the water and the mountains in the distance that looked like an alligator…

We got to linger in the area for a little bit, and I just spent time watching the people go about their daily lives and admiring the trinkets in the store.  Simple, fun, and oh-so-colorful.

 

Once we got back in the van, it was about another 30-40 minutes to our destination.  Needless to say, we all took a few naps on the bus whenever it got silent.

Our tour guide took us on different paths to really learn about the surroundings.  It was really enriching to learn more about Guatemala as well as Mayan history and beliefs.  He pointed out different animals to us too — of which we saw some spider monkeys, the “Jesus lizard” and some leaf-cutter ants.  If you’re wondering about the Jesus lizard, he’s able to run on water which is where he gets his nickname.

As for the spider monkeys, luckily none of us got pooped on.  I like how the place has a warning sign about this.

After a little hike, we made it to our first set of ruins.  I say “first” because Tikal is an entire community of ruins clustered in the national park.  It’s massive.  I was originally planning on not climbing any of the ruins, but considering this was the smallest one, I decided just to go for it.  If baby boy comes out being a serious climber… I’ll know why.

The view from the top was just endless jungle, and the tip of another site of ruins that we would eventually head towards.  See it on the bottom right?

 

 

Going down was a little more rough than going up.  By the time I got to the bottom, my knees were hurting a little bit.  Glad I successfully got to see and climb at least one of the ruins!
One of the most interesting things we learned about this place was that a lot of it was left uncovered — on purpose.  What you see in all of these photos is just the tip of the iceberg.  They could potentially dig deeper, but they chose not to in order to preserve the site better.  As we’re walking around, we saw several mounds like the one you see in the below photo.  We were told that these were all additional buildings that were a part of the community of Tikal, but they were left uncovered as trees and what-not had made it unreasonable to uncover.

We also saw several sites similar to this one below where a circular stone was laid down on the floor and a tombstone looking stone stood behind it (you can see these on the first photo as well where I’m going to climb the ruins).  Apparently the circular stone was for all sacrifices – human and non-human alike – and the “tombstone” had Mayan writing on it.  Our tour guide explained what they were able to decipher with some of the characters on the stone, but a good chunk of it still remains largely unknown.

Later, we found ourselves at another site which was known as The Lost World where we had an option to climb the sites or just wander and take photos.

 

 

We made a stop to use the restroom and grab some cold drinks.  There was another site that could be climbed up with wooden stairs built for easy climbing.  We both opted out of this one and just sat and enjoyed some cold water and cooled off from the heat.  We saw a giant orb spider which was kind of crazy; you can touch his web, and it wouldn’t stick.  It reacts almost like a fishing line.  No, I didn’t touch it.  Our tour guide demonstrated for us though.

Eventually, we were off again, then found ourselves at the presence of spectacular ruins.  Here we find The Great Plaza.  We were able to climb the building on the left.  The building on the right is the iconic building you see on a lot of Guatemalan postcards and souvenirs and rightfully so.  It really is impressive.

Tristan went ahead and climbed up to the top of the building to get a view of the entire plaza.  Can you find me down below and him waving from up top? Haha
This place was amazing and more than words can describe.  I’m so thankful for our tour guide who told us so many interesting things about the ruins and the Mayans themselves.  If you’re wondering, the entire trek was about 4 miles roundtrip. Not gonna lie – I was a little pooped, but lots of water to drink and my hubby supporting me was all I really needed!

Well, we got back in our (thankfully) air-conditioned van and headed back to the lodge.  Before we got to the border, we made a stop for a Guatemalan lunch of stewed chicken, rice, beans, guacamole and fresh tortillas… and a stop for souvenirs.

The below tree is a cocoa plant where we get cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and, well, chocolate!  I saw it at the restaurant.  One of the new friends we made on the journey actually bought some of the locally made chocolate, and she let us both try a piece.  It was definitely raw and not your factory-made milk chocolate.  It tasted like the raw flavor of cocoa meshed with a lot of raw sugar which gave it an almost crunchy texture.  It was sweet like the chocolate we have at home then had a hint of bitterness at the end like unsweetened cocoa.  It was really interesting!

Thank you, Guatemala!  For a short stay, you definitely were memorable with a grand destination, wonderful people and delicious food!

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