Tikal Sunrise Tour - A Birthday to Remember
Often traveling around, you get the chance to pow-wow with other travelers and get some ideas of where YOU want to go. We had heard from some other travelers, that watching the sunrise at Temple IV of Tikal was something special. We knew right then, that this was something and we wanted to experience personally. It was going to be my birthday, and I couldn’t think of a better way to start my birthday than from above the canopy of the jungle watching and hearing the world awaken below. We were eager to see and explore Tikal, and knew it was one of the best Mayan sites in the Americas and we were not disappointed!! We booked a room at the only hotel in the park called the Hotel Jaguar Inn Tikal.
Sitting In Darkness Waiting For the Sunrise
We were exhausted from the full day of traveling from San Pedro Sula to Tikal National Park the previous day. After several buses, tuk-tuks and a taxi we hit the sack pretty early the night before after booking our morning tour with the tour office right before they closed. That morning we got up at 3:30am to get ready, slathered on bug spray, got our flash lights and made our way to meet our guide at the front gates of Tikal.
The entire park doesn't have traditional power and relies on battery back up from 9pm to 6am. So walking the 50 yards from the hotel to the gate was a bit eerie as it was pitch black other than the light provided from our flashlights. We met our guide and another couple from France who were doing the tour as well. The path was full of rocks, tree roots and fallen branches, we were definitely glad we had worn hiking boots.
We walked for about 30-40 minutes, hiking in total darkness by only flash light. There were strange sounds coming from the dark and we could hear things moving in the jungle all around us. Spooky! It was warm and humid even thought it was early in the morning. I kept wondering if a snake would drop down from the tree upon us, or even worse, a monkey would throw his own excrement at us as we walked. It's crazy how the mind wanders when you are in darkness, not much being said between the hikers and the guide and "who knows what" lurks in the trees above. We trekked up and down hills until our guide finally stopped suddenly. We couldn’t see anything around us and wondered why we had stopped.
Sitting In Darkness Waiting For the Sunrise
Temple IV -Tikal, Guatemala
We had arrived at the stairs to Temple IV. The guide then says, “HERE YA GO” and walked away without another word. I don't know what I was expecting, but I guess it wasn’t to be so alone in the dark jungle on a pyramid at 4:30 in the morning with two tourists from France. The four of us started slowly climbing up the long-winding wooden stairs.
After a few sweaty minutes of climbing, we were at a landing near the top of the pyramid. We climbed another set a stairs built into the pyramid and found a seat on the very top step against the wall. Sitting there in near silence, just listening to the night and catching our breath was a little un-nerving. We don't often find ourselves in such a remote place such as the Peten Jungle surrounding Tikal. We sat there breathing the fresh air and looking at the night sky. It was quiet, peaceful and somewhat chilly considering how warm we had gotten on walk from the gate.
Creatures in The Night
We began looking around a bit and found a little hole in the wall almost directly behind where we were sitting. I turned my light inside it and we find a snake skin. Slightly panicked, we immediately started scanning the area around us wondering where the snake was, when I see something moving on the wall out of the corner my eye. It was the biggest scorpion I’d ever seen! It was about 5 inches long and scary looking. Needless to say we were careful where we sat and continued scanning the area periodically for creatures in the night. It's quite possible these are the reasons we don't spend much time in remote jungles. Snakes and scorpions can both go to hell, no thank you, not interested.
At about 4:45a we heard something that sounded much like a loud, mysterious, creepy, wind. It took us a minute to realize it was a Howler Monkey. It was the first time hearing one in person. Howler Monkeys are one of the largest species of monkeys native to Central and South America. Howelers range in size from 2-3 feet in height, not including their tail which can be as long or longer than the body. They can live to be 15-20 years old and are considered the loudest land animal on earth.
According the Guinness Book of World Records, their howl can be heard distinctly from 3 miles away. It seemed like that first howl was coming from about 100 yards away, but impossible to tell for sure. It echoed in the early morning darkness and was down-right spine chilling. Suddenly there were howls seemingly coming from all directions. Monkeys calling back and forth to each other from different points in the darkness. It was a really weird feeling. Some seemed so close I got goosebumps. I was just waiting for a monkey to jump onto the platform where we where standing. I guess if that were to happen, I'd rather have snakes and scorpions.
The Jungle Symphony
Around 5am the birds started waking up. It quickly became a concert of monkeys and birds calling across the canopy and we had the perfect seats to listen. Absolutely magical! The sounds got so loud at some points, we couldn’t hear each other speak, not that we were talking much. Infact, I had forgotten completely about the French tourists who were sitting right next to us. They didn't say a word to each other or us the entire time. We were so in awe of what was going on around us.
The monkeys seemed to take a little break between 5:15 and 5:30 to let the birds have their solo in this jungle symphony. Still in mostly darkness, this was definitely a very unique event. Taking away one sense, they say your others senses are heightened. We unquestionably found that to be the case. Unable to see anything and only hear, tugged at the imagination and wonder of the experience.
The Sunrise Arrives
As it started getting lighter out, to the point that we could see our hands in front of our faces, the outlines of the other pyramids in the distance came into view. By 6am the sun started coming up and it was positively majestic! Watching the sunrise from atop the canopy and seeing everything below you come into focus was truly a sight to see. There was a mist in the distance, with just the tops of the pyramids visible below us, We could see the howler monkeys in the trees about 100-200 yards away.
We sat on the top stair of Temple IV until about 7am, just taking it all in and appreciating this special occasion. Finally, we decided to drop down to the ruins to begin exploration in a park that wasn't going to be open for another hour or two. This was one of the best parts of the sunrise tour, you get access to the ruins before they open the flood gates and it gets busy with the crowds of tourists.
Getting Ready to Explore
Change In Perspective
This sunrise tour is undoubtedly a memorable lifetime experience. We will never forget the entire experience and one of the coolest things we’ve ever done! Well worth the price of admission. I couldn't help but wonder how many Mayan people had done exactly the same thing. As a result, there is a "sacred feeling" being in Tikal. We shared an experience that people who lived there so many thousands of years ago, must have experienced. SIMPLY AMAZING!
There will come a time, when things like the Sunrise Tour, just won't exist. Parks will have ropes around the pyramids like Chichen Itza or someone will fall from the pyramid and sue.... and that will be the end to that! It's great to be able to do something that other people we talk with, haven't. It was and is a unique experience that will always give us a sense of accomplishment. We didn't accomplish anything, however it's a similar feeling. Communing with nature this way, in the way we did it. What a great start to my birthday!