From spider monkeys and toucans to jaguars and parrots, Guatemala’s Tikal National Park (Parque Nacional Tikal) has it all.
Most visitors come to the park, located in the rainforest of Guatemala’s Petén region, to see its expansive ancient Mayan ruins. But the array of wildlife draws tourists and bird-watchers from around the world.
Since we only had two days to spend in Tikal, we decided to maximize our experience by staying in the park rather than in town. We stayed in Jungle Lodge, a very basic bungalow-style hotel. There’s also camping inside the park. We watched the sunset from a Mayan temple and woke up with the animals at dawn. Here are photos of the animals we were lucky enough to spot.
As we hiked to a Maya temple, we heard a rustling in the trees above. Then, as bits of discarded monkey food rained down around us, we looked up and spotted a group of four spider monkeys swinging through the trees above us.
What struck me most about the blue-crowned motmot was its unique tail, which looks like it’s missing a section at the end. According to my wildlife reference book, it’s called a “tennis racket” end.
Although Tikal National Park is home to a variety of toucans and toucan relatives, we only spotted the collared aracari. There was a group of five of these smallish birds high above us in the trees. They hopped around quite a bit so it was hard to get a good photo of them.
This duck-sized bird was scouring the grass near a swamp for insects, then plunging its beak into the grass when it found one.
The orange-breasted falcon is an endangered species in Guatemala (and likely in Belize), with only 50 breeding pairs left in the country. This one is nesting in Templo IV, and we spotted it guarding its nest from the scaffolding outside the temple.
When we ran under a tree to avoid the rain, we looked up and saw this male summer tanager. Its bright red color contrasted brilliantly with the green leaves behind it. These birds are seasonal migrants to Guatemala. Female summer tanagers look almost identical, but are yellow.
It’s hard to miss parrots in the park, since they squawk obnoxiously as the fly around. They usually travel in pairs and this red-lored parrot flew in with another, then landed in the tree above us. It took me a while to spot him since his feathers are perfect camouflage in the trees.
This outgoing group of ocellated turkeys was hanging out near some picnicking locals, likely waiting for leftover food.
We spotted a few of these large birds wandering around Mayan temples. We only saw males, though; females are brownish in color.
After our early morning hike through the jungle, this small yellow flycatcher was perched on a pillar.
Just like the coati we saw in Iguazu Falls in Argentina, this guy was hanging out near people scavenging for food.
This baby crocodile was swimming through a swamp near the visitors center in the park, taking in all of the tourists.
When we woke up at 5:00 AM on our second day in the park, we were greeted by the eerie calls of howler monkeys. We searched for them as we hiked through the jungle an hour later, but didn’t spot any. If I hadn’t seen a group of spider monkeys and some awesome birds, I might have been disappointed. But the wildlife I saw in Tikal National Park made our time in Guatemala the best part of this leg of our trip.