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El Zotz Tikal Trek – Lost in the Jungle

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El Zotz

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I had a plan. It was to cycle through the remote Guatemalan jungle to the famed ruins of Tikal via the little known ruins of El Zotz. There is not a lot of information on the El Zotz Tikal Trek. I was unable to find much information to confirm if it was possible. The best I could do was load up with a couple of days of food and just go for it. Not all things go to plan.

Flores to El Zotz

With a couple of days food in my bags and a sense of discovery I set off to the ruins of El Zotz. The first 60km or so to the town of Cruce dos Aguadas. I stopped long enough in the small village to buy food, water and eat the Guatemalan staple of fried chicken and fries. From here it was into the unknown.

The trip to Tikal via El Zotz ruins is a common hiking trip sold to adventurous travelers in all the Flores travel agencies. But information on the trip was not easy to get for an independent traveler.

The first couple of kilometers was easy going on a dirt trail to the start of the reserve. I knew there was an entrance fee into the reserve but there was nobody in attendance to collect it. I opened the gate, let myself in and kept on cycling.

It was about 14km from the park entry to the ruins of El Zotz. The trail was in good condition and I zoomed along the trail in less than 2 hours. The jungle in this section was stunning.

Above me were the cheeky Spider Monkeys, the athletes of the jungle. Their noisy companions the Howler Monkeys also showed up from time to time.

On arrival at the ruins the two friendly Park Rangers stopped to talk to me. An hour later I set up camp with them for the night. I was offered a shower, use of the kitchen and restrooms.

They advised me not to walk around at night time without a headlamp due to the high concentration of snakes. They mentioned that they would see one or two every week on their nightly journeys to the restroom at night. They also mentioned I was the first cyclist they had ever seen on the trail.

El Zotz Tikal Trek

I was awake early to visit the nearby El Zotz ruins. I set off on foot, leaving my bicycle with the Park Rangers. Like it’s nearby neighbour El Mirador little restoration had been done. It was very much in it’s natural state.

I climbed several of the pyramids, walked around the ball court and wandered around the jungle covered ruins for an hour. Like many of the remote ruins that I have been seeking out lately, I was alone. Just me and nature.

I seem to feel a great peace when I’m exploring these ruins alone. Many times I wonder where are all the tourists, how come places like this are not be visited by hundreds people everyday.

El Zotz Tikal Trail

It was mid morning when I returned to the Ranger Station to pick up my bicycle. I cycled off to the nearby Bat Cave.

Unfortunately, the bats make their grand escape at sunset every night. If I had known this last night I could have visited the place last night.

1000s of bats escape the cracks and crevasses to venture into the night sky in search of insects. Anybody else visiting this place, make it part of your plan to be here at night.

The narrow trail

The rangers had told me that the trail gets much narrower from this point. I set off with little expectations and it wasn’t long before I was on this stunning narrow trail that carved it’s way through the jungle. In many ways it was paradise for the adventurous explorer.

The trail continued to get smaller and narrower. I had a map of the trail on my GPS. It was clearly marked on my Pocket Earth Pro app. But as the trail continued to get narrower. At times I has to get off and push but as the trail was so narrow it was almost impossible. I persisted.

Am I lost in the Jungle?

The trail was getting too narrow to cycle and impossible to stand beside my bicycle and push it. I noticed a couple of things that made me think that I was either lost or not on the correct trail.

Firstly, there was no evidence of any parts of the trail being hacked away by machete. Not only were there no freshly cut branches but no evidence of any old machete cuts on the branches.

Secondly, there were several small trails that branched off as I hiked. Am I lost?

Time to turn around

My GPS said I was on the trail but my instinct told me differently. I got off the bicycle and scouted the trails ahead. Things got even more enclosed. With only 10km to the famed ruins of Tikal I had to make a decision.

Continue, and accept the conditions or turn around. I chose the lesser of two weevils and turned around.

At that moment a family of Howler Monkeys signaled their approval at my decision with an angry display of loud howls. Time to find an alternative way to Tikal.

El Zotz Entrance
The entrance gate to El Zotz. Nobody was there so I just opened the gate and cycled in.
El Zotz Tikal Trail
The trail started easy enough
Cycling on the El Zotz Tikal Trek
And was very scenic
Leaf Cutter Ants on the trail
Lots of Leaf Cutter Ants on the trail, going about their business
El Zotz temples
One of the main temples at El Zotz, very overgrown. Nature does not take long to take back
View from the top of the temple at El Zotz
The view from the top of the temple
Second Temple at El Zotz
The second main temple at El Zotz was also very much a part of nature
Bat Cave near El Zotz
The bat caves. Unfortunately, I was told it is quite the spectacle to be here at sunset to watch the thousands of bats exit the cracks and crevasses.
El Zotz Tikal Narrow Trail
The trail got narrower after El Zotz ruins
El Zotz Tikal Trek gets narrow
And narrower
This is the El Zotz Tikal Trek
Until I could not ride any further. Was this the trail. It was too narrow to ride and too narrow to push. Time to turn around.
Howler Monkeys
This is my friend the Howler Monkey. They have been my constant companions for the last several weeks in the jungle.
Howler Monkeys
Their call, or howl, is very loud.

Next : Tikal -The Disappointment of a guided tour

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Sydney, Australia.

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11 thoughts on “El Zotz Tikal Trek – Lost in the Jungle”

  1. Interesting to find this, we did this also unguided without a GPS last year. Cant believe you tried it on bicycle, we could barely walk!! We did hesitate several times but as we were 3, we continued and eventually made it to Tikal. The shitty thing is that we didnt have a ticket, but one nice park ranger took me on a motorbike 30km to buy tickets for all of us. I believe your unfinished journey is the most complete description I could find, and only after the trip, as we left quite unprepared. Wouldn’t do it again but it was a great trip. We ended up camping in the middle of the jungle as the night came, that was scary as fuck. I wrote a story in Finnish here, but google translates it better than I do ;) https://maailmanlopunpaivakirja.pallontallaajat.net/2020/06/04/opastamaton-seikkailu-sademetsan-halki-suuntana-tikal-guatemala/

    Reply
    • Made a mistake- we did have the path marked on Maps.me in my phone, so didnt have a GPS but a phone where we could track ourselves!

      Reply
  2. Hi man, I did this trip in 2004. I started in Uaxactun. No GPS, just a lot of talking to the local people. I’ve done it on my bike. I can tell you, I was so scared! I made during the passage a small map. Every small path I marked to my map and wrote what km is it in case I will get lost. What surprise I met a local guy somewhere between El Zotz and Uaxactun. He told me, that i am on right track and I was so happy. I was about 40 km from Uaxactun to El Zotz and I was soooo happy to arrive to El Zotz. I would not do it again.
    Take care and good luck!!!!

    Reply
    • Hard core back before GPS. Sometimes you need to know when to turn around and I reached that point. Agreed, I would not do it again, unless it was more of a marked path.

      Reply
    • For most people yes. I had the maps on my gps phone app. I just wasn’t sure I was in the right place. Wouldn’t been much easier hiking.

      Reply

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