After Semuc Champey I headed to Flores, the city closest to Tikal. It was another long minibus day, 11 hours on the bus, but at least this time I got a single seat near the door without one in front of it, so I had plenty of legroom and nobody taking up the space where my shoulders go. I stayed the night in a hotel where I was the only guest. I really don't think the travel agent made much effort to get me in somewhere cheap as I had to walk past a few different hostels to get there. I made good use of the air conditioning at least!
The next morning I was picked up by another shuttle that took me in to Tikal itself. I had opted to stay a night at one of the hotels situated right at the entrance to the park to enable me to do the sunrise tour without having to get up at quite such a ridiculous hour to travel the hour or so from Flores to the park and still make it for sunrise. My room was one of the cheapest ones, so it was situated away from the fancy part of the hotel near the pool, down a long path out into the jungle. I think I'd actually prefer this over the ones in the upmarket part of the hotel as it was a bit more private feeling and got the sounds of nature after dark.
After checking in I went and did some solo exploring of Tikal. It seemed like a long walk before I saw any sign of ruins, then suddenly I was next to an enormous pyramid!
It was amazing to see the scale of the site and the structures on it. Even more so when you realise pretty much every hill you see is actually an unrestored structure of some sort or another.
The structures themselves weren't particularly imagination provoking for me. They're huge, but they just feel like giant piles of bricks. I have trouble imagining how people would live in them, or guessing what they would use them for, which makes it hard for me to wonder much about their lives. Maybe I've just got ruin fatigue, although I've only seen two Mayan ruins so far.
It was interesting to see on Temple V how different the sides that aren't restored look compared to the one that is. The ones that aren't restored just look like very steep hills covered in trees, while the one that is has a giant staircase surrounded by terraces. The original archaeologists would have needed much better imaginations than mine to realise what was actually there.
I climbed up to the top of Temple IV and the view was epic, endless jungle with the tops of temples poking out here and there. This was the temple that we would be climbing for the sunrise tour, so I was excited about how pretty this vista might be.
The Grand Plaza was pretty monumental, surrounded on two sides by enormous pyramids, and on the other two sides by the acropolis and the palace, littered with stela and alters.
Since I was in the park overnight anyway, I also decided to go on the hotel's sunset tour which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The tour was supposed to be in English, but the guide's English was extremely poor. I noticed at one point that on his official guide badge it only listed Spanish as the language he was permitted to provide his services in. This led to it not being very informative at all, and I got little more from having a guide than I had from wandering around by myself.
It was a three hour tour, but the guide kept stopping in plazas and giving us 30 minutes of "free time" to explore by ourselves while he sat and talked to other guides. Having already explored most of the site that morning, I felt like this was pretty crummy. All up the tour was maybe 45 minutes of actual tour and a lot of waiting.
For sunset itself, our guide told us that the Acropolis is the best place to view it, but really it wasn't a very good view for a sunset, the Acropolis itself and Temple II blocked most of the view, Temple IV was tiny and in the distance. There weren't many other people around, so I'm guessing there's somewhere better to view it from that all the other groups had gone to, maybe further into the park meaning a longer walk out.
As the sun came down there were some amazing clouds formations appeared in the sky and some thunder. They were beautiful when they were off to the south, less pretty when they blew over and blocked the actual setting of the sun and didn't even give us pretty colours. Ah well, you can't always get ideal weather.
After returning from the tour, I showered and then had dinner at the hotel with a couple from Singapore who love to travel and told me all sorts of great stories about their travels in Cuba and Columbia. After dinner I walked along the long path towards my room with my head torch on, and could see hundreds of little dots reflecting light brightly back at me all over the ground. As I got close enough to see what they were I found that there were hundreds and hundreds of wolf spiders just chilling about on the grass and on the path way, so I walked carefully and tried to avoid stepping anywhere near any of them.
The next morning I got up at just before 4am to meet up at the hotel reception with my sunrise tour group and have a coffee. It was a dark morning and we could see so many stars out. As we walked the long walk from the hotel over to Temple IV a fog started to rise, and by the time we climbed the stairs at the back of the temple to sit up on top of it the fog had truly taken over.
We waited for ages for it to become light, but the heavy fog meant we couldn't even see the closest temples until the sun was well and truly up, and we never saw any pretty colours or evidence of the sunrise. Such a tease after being up so early, especially after it had been so clear earlier. 0 out of 2 solar events witnessed. Screw you weather!
After the failed sunrise we went on a short tour, and this guide was much better than the first one. We went over to the Lost World and heard how the structures were built as a sort of calendar with the sunrise lining up with various buildings on the longest, middle and shortest days. I wish I'd had this guide the first day and could have learnt more about the other areas of the park.
After the tour I headed back to the hotel for breakfast, checked out and stashed my bags, then went and visited a few of the museums around the entrance of the park. One of them was super interesting, with lots of historical photos showing the state that all of the temples were found in (after they'd be cleared of trees at least). Interestingly there were photos of some of the temples that now have massive trees growing out of them that showed they had once been cleared in the past. It seems irresponsible not to keep them free from trees to prevent further damage, even if they are not restored.
Wandering near a little lake I saw a sign warning there were crocodiles, so I spent some time looking and found two of them lurking near the surface. They were only little fellas, but I still wouldn't want one of them biting me.
In the afternoon I got a shuttle back to Flores where I was spending the night, but this time I arrived with enough time to actually explore a bit. I tried to walk around the street that circles the island, but one side was cut off by the lake where it's broken its bank. It seems like there's a lot of lakes with rising water levels in Guatemala.
Flores didn't really seem like a very interesting place. Everything there was a hotel, a restaurant or a souvenir shop, with more souvenir shops per square km than Antigua by a long shot. I was pretty glad I only had the afternoon there, it seemed like plenty, and I had a bus booked to take me down to Rio Dulce the next morning.