The Morning March to the Tikal Temple Sunrise

I used the light from my camera, peeled off 100 Quetzales and handed it over.  He told me, “cien por persona.” He must have thought we were together. We weren’t. She paid her hundred and he continued to collect from the six or eight other people joining us. It was too dark to get an exact count.

He put the money in his pocket and slung his shotgun over his shoulder and started toward the entrance gate.  As he passed me again, with help from the faint moonlight, I noticed the embroidery on his shotgun strap. The gun seemed extremely special to him, I just hoped he wouldn’t need or want to take the gun off that shoulder.

The March to Templo IV

He began at a brisk pace and the hike felt like a near military march as we were led through the gate and into the jungle. As someone not used to any 4 a.m. wake-ups I felt it. My legs felt it. But we needed to arrive well before the park opened and I suspected he needed to return to his post for work.

templo IV sign in Tikal

signs I would only really see after sunrise

The sunrise hike was not part of any “official” tour. There are tours available, but they cost more, not to mention you also need to pay the park entrance fee (150 Quetzales). So for a 100 Quetzales this was certainly a bargain.

We continued through en route to Temple IV, the very place I watched my Tikal sunset the night before when I had met the guard who offered me this “tour” and I recalled we faced due east. As long as the weather cooperated and the thick fog lifted, I expected a perfect sunrise.

fog in tikal

the wall of fog.

The pace quickened. I stumbled and nearly tripped. I slowed down to fix my boot and the others just passed me. No one was talking and no one wanted to fall behind. We all needed to keep up as the jungle began to wake up. The howler monkeys were up now and although the loud howls instilled some fear, we were told they were harmless.

I had done the hike a day earlier so at times the signs and paths seemed slightly familiar. Yet at other times I just hoped we took short cuts as the same paths seemed new. It was still too dark to be sure. We kept on with the brisk pace and suddenly arrived.  I decided to rest for a minute before climbing the steps. Yes, in Tikal, you don’t climb on the temple stones but rather wooden stairs built next to the steps, and Temple IV had plenty.

Eventually I made it to the top and left the wooden platform to finally step onto the cool, wet stone. A few folks had already arrived and staked out their viewing places, while others still lagged behind. I moved across the stone and found my spot. My phone read – 5:17a.m.

The Fog Eventually Lifts in Tikal

On the top, a fog seemed to come and go like a ghost. At times, stars appeared in the sky and then disappeared. The fog lifted but often returned thicker than before. It almost seemed like a wall, or an object you can touch. With such limited visibility, I wondered if we would even be able to see the sun rise over the jungle.

couple on top of templo IV in tikal, guatemala

a couple looks out over the fog filled forest

As time continued to move forward, howler monkey calls echoed across the thick forest with growing intensity. I imagined what an unknowing explorer might have thought of such sounds when trekking through this terrain hundreds of years ago. Frightened, no doubt. Then to add to the moment a new group arrived. The eventual English words made me realize this was another “tour” and maybe even the “official” tour. They seemed quite surprised to see us already sitting on the top.

Light arrived as an intense whiteness through the fog, but the wetness continued to keep us all cool. People left, new ones arrived and the park was open. By 730 a.m. I could finally see the distant temples. I debated heading down myself, but instead I waited. Already nearly four hours had passed and I wanted to see the sun.

a fg filled view from the top of temple IV in Tikal, Guatemala

the fog lifts slowly

Then just before 8 a.m., I finally started to feel the warmth of the sun. I finished writing a few words in my journal, attempted a sketch of the scene and decided to take one last image before my descent. In the park so early, I knew I’d enjoy walking the grounds of Tikal with hardly any other tourists, so I spent the next few hours exploring.

the sun shines through the fog in tikal, guatemala

the sun shines through...

Watching the sunrise was a welcome change, as I normally prefer sunsets. Sure, it wasn’t the perfect sunrise with such limited visibility, but with the chance to experience it at such a mystical site, Tikal, it will be a sunrise I always cherish. And like some sunsets, the sun itself wasn’t the entire show. The mystery and magic of the setting and the moment proved just as important.

Stay adventurous, Craig

Travel Tip: Be silent. Listen. On my excursion, a couple on top of the pyramid kept chatting, chatting and chatting. I asked them to be quiet but then and I eventually moved away from them. Listening to the sunrise from the jungle is just as rewarding as seeing it.

This post is part of the Get To Know Guate Series.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Tags: , , , , , , ,

  • Charu

    I really loved this narrative—great capture of every moment and detail! 

  • Laura in Cancun

    Wow, those photos are stunning!

  • craig zabransky

    @a6e7624bba62b45ac3215aab247f00ff:disqus thanks, I appreciate it. It was quite a morning and well worth it.
    @b915649d0a8be7621cd097b127a77671:disqus  thanks, I’ll have a few more photos of Tikal in a photo essay soon.

    stay adventurous, Craig

  • Leah Travels

    Ahhh…you set the scene so well. Bravo, Craig! I kept waiting for something to jump out of the bushes. Your piece is a testament to the saying, “The early bird gets the worm.” You got one hell of a great worm that morning.

    • craig zabransky

      sure did Leah, it was a very memorable sunrise.

      stay adventurous, Craig

  • Ana Silva O’Reilly

    You are a talented writer indeed! What I don’t know is… where is this place?

    • craig zabransky

       Thanks Ana for those kind words… and yes, I often need to tell more about the location for travelers…Like a how to get there, and where exactly there is….
      Tikal is in the Jungles of Guatemala in an area called Peten. It took me 10 hours on an overnight bus to get to the town of Flores a popular stop off point to Tikal from Guatemala City.

  • Kieu – GQ trippin

    I hate it when chatty Cathy ruins a great moment. I’m glad you ask the chatty people to be quiet. :) Great pics!

    • craig zabransky

      Thanks, yes… someone else watching the sunset thanked me. sometimes you must just ask for what you want. stay adventurous, Craig

  • The World of Deej

    Great stuff man…Wish this was where I saw today’s sunrise… And well done with the people yammering away. So annoying…

    • craig zabransky

       thanks appreciate it. Yeah, I don’t see many sunrises, but this one makes me want to see a few more… And it was a bit annoying, it had to be said.
      stay adventurous, Craig

  • The World Wanderer

    Great story!  I felt like I was with you on the trail!

  • Lazy Travelers

    hiking on a foggy trail in the dark while animals howled in the forest would be sooo unnerving.

    • craig zabransky

       well we had numbers, plus the guard had his gun… but I guess it is often you really only need to outrn the slowest one, right? hahaha, stay adventurous, Craig

  • Lauren DiMarco

    i want to listen to the sunrise in a jungle. that sounds delicious. great, great photos!! the fog definitely made it seem even more mystical :)

    • craig zabransky

       the sounds of a jungle waking up from atop a pyramid was amazing, and with fog… yes, a special moment indeed… glad to see you want to do it one day too. stay adventurous, Craig

  • Travel Rinse Repeat

    Beautiful writing here Craig. Tikal is in my top 3 North American destinations right now…I can’t wait to make it there. The fog definitely adds some mystery and intrigue to the setting.

    • craig zabransky

       Thanks, appreciate it. Curious about your other two top N American destinations…, but Tikal is a worthwhile selection. Definitely.
      stay adventurous, Craig

  • Raul

    Wow, pretty cool!  The fog must have made almost mystical to be there.  Kudos for waking up that early!

    • craig zabransky

       Thanks Raul, yes… waking up early is never easy for me… but it was well worth it in this case. stay adventurous, Craig

  • Raul

    Wow, pretty cool!  The fog must have made almost mystical to be there.  Kudos for waking up that early!

  • Raul

    OK, I had not read Lauren’s comment before I wrote mine!  Mystical I guess is the perfect word for you what shared with us here!

  • Raul

    OK, I had not read Lauren’s comment before I wrote mine!  Mystical I guess is the perfect word for you what shared with us here!

  • Jetting Around

    Marvelous photos and a fantastic experience! I love your tip about just listening… Who needs to speak surrounded by views like that?

  • travelingted

    Even though you did not get to see a classic sunrise, the sun penetrating through the fog was just as cool. Too bad there were some chatty Kathys spoiling the mystical serenity of the experience.

    • craig zabransky

       It turned out to be just as cool indeed. absolutely. thanks. stay adventurous, Craig

  • Tim @ Marginal Boundaries

    Rock on :) It’s a magical place…and it’s even more magical when you can get there as part of a non-official group early in the morning. Good on you, and great photos!

    • craig zabransky

       Great name marginal boundaries… and yes, I agree sometimes it is nice to be outside the lines a little. It is part of Staying Adventurous, Craig

  • Francesca

    Great storytelling! The photos are awesome, too. The fog may have marred your view of the sunrise but it sure made for some cool photos.

    • craig zabransky

       It sure did… and I have some Tikal Photos coming soon without the fog that are pretty awesome too… It’s a magical place.
      stay adventurous, Craig

  • Pingback: A Guatemala Adventure - The Parable of Three Animals | Stay Adventurous()

  • Pingback: Sunset Sunday - Sunset at the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala | Stay Adventurous()

  • facebook fans

    WoW Amazing pics
    i loved it

  • Green Global Travel

    Love these pictures! Thanks for sharing them along with your adventures and stories! -Dana