‘La Ceiba’ — Guatemala’s stately national tree — near the entrance to Tikal National Park

Stairs leading up one of the ancient Mayan temples

Tikal’s Temple II, also known as Temple of the Masks

The Great Plaza was the ceremonial center of Tikal National Park.

Temple I, also known as Temple of the Great Jaguar. One of Tikal’s most famous rulers, Jason Chan K’awiil I (also known as Ah Cacao or Lord Chocolate) is buried here. The temple was built during his reign, 682-734 AD

Temple II (Temple of the Masks) and Temple I (next image) face each other from opposite sides of the Great Plaza. One of the most well-restored temples in Tikal, Temple II was built by Mayan ruler Jasaw Chan K’awiil I (Lord Chocolate) in honor of his wife.

The top of the Temple of the Jaguar seen through the treetops from the top of Temple of the Masks in Tikal’s Great Plaza. Although the stone staircase up the side of Temple of the Masks is closed, a separate (safer) staircase built up the back offers visitors access to the 360 views available from the temple top. 

Temple IV is the tallest structure built by the ancient Mayans and offers surreal, sweeping views over the top of the jungle with other temples in the distance poking their heads out above the tree tops. Temple IV is the best spot in the park to see sunrise, and a sunrise in the park — waking up with the howler monkeys and other jungle creatures — is an unforgettable experience. 

“What is this colorful bird? I asked the front desk guy at the Jungle Lodge, showing him the picture on my phone. “Oh…” he said. “It’s just a turkey.”

Sunrises are always magical, but there have been a few in my life that stand out as being unforgettable. Watching the sun slowly fill the crater with golden light from the top ofHaleakala, the earth’s heart chakra in Maui… Getting to be the first person in the country to catch a glimpse of the day’s new sun from atop Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park… And sunrise from Templo IV in the heart of ancient Maya.

I opted not to take a loud and crowded sunrise tour at Tikal National Park, racing through the jungle on my own instead to make it to the top of Temple IV in time to watch the sun wake up the jungle. You can read more about it here.

Towering over the jungle tree tops atop Temple IV at Tikal National Park. My two days spent wandering the ruins of this ancient Mayan civilization deep in the Guatemalan rainforest were absolutely worth the night of no sleep to get there!