A Non-Camper Sleeps in the Jungle. With Monkeys.

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To say that it's disorienting to be woken up at 4 a.m. in the middle of the jungle by a disembodied, deep-throated howling would be an understatement.

It's not just disorienting. It's fucking terrifying.

Add to this being sick with the flu, exhausted from staying up later than you should have to star gaze, and sticky from the jungle humidity, and perhaps you'll be able to imagine my experience camping in Tikal National Park.

Camping at Tikal National Park, Guatemala

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My first memory of “camping” involved a tent in my friend Sarah's backyard when we were about 8 or 9. We stayed up most of the night giggling over the sorts of things that only 8- or 9-year-old girls stay up and giggle over, and eventually snuggled down into our comfortable sleeping bags within a few steps of Sarah's house. Before that, the only time I'd pitched a tent of any sort was in my living room for slumber parties, utilizing my Disney Princess sleeping bags and my mom's kitchen chairs. The kind of tent where you still had access to things like climate control and Saturday morning cartoons.

It's not that I didn't like the outdoors, mind you — my sister and I used to swim in our pond, go on adventures in the woods, and climb trees regularly. I liked the outdoors. I just didn't particularly like sleeping in them.

Which is probably why I can firmly be categorized as a non-camper.

I've never been on a big camping trip. Never stayed in a true campground. And certainly would have never predicted that one day I would be camping in a jungle, being woken up by screaming monkeys.

Parrots at Tikal, Guatemala

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It was before dawn when it started. I was pulled from fitful sleep by a strange sound in the trees surrounding our campsite. It was a weird cross between hoarse barking and the noise I image a demon would make while sucking out someone's soul.

Needless to say, it was not the most gentle of wake-up calls.

Thankfully, I quickly realized what the sound was — howler monkeys.

Since there was no way I was sleeping through that, I patiently waited until it was light enough outside to leave my tent without a flashlight, and decided to get up and make the most of a morning in the jungle.

After taking a (surprisingly refreshing) cold shower, I spent some time trying to spy parrots and toucans in the trees, capture a spider monkey on film (failed), and get close to the adorable coatimundi roaming around Tikal. It turns out this last item was quite easy to do, as these mischievous critters came in droves as soon as the sun came up to raid a nearby camp in a very raccoon-like style.

Coatimundi at Tikal, Guatemala

Once everyone in our camp was up and about, I wandered over to the little market near the entrance to Tikal to pick up a few souvenirs and play “can you spot the croc” near the coffee stand. You know, as you do.


It was as I was dodging colorful turkeys on my way back to our camp that I realized that, despite being sick and tired and sticky (and, in all reality, probably smelly), I had just camped in the jungle in Guatemala.

Oh how far I'd come from those Disney Princess forts in my living room.

Turkeys at Tikal, Guatemala

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So, all dramatic prose aside, what was camping at Tikal like?

It actually wasn't all that bad. We had nice sturdy tents in a little camp that was already set up for us when we arrived. We were provided with sleeping bags/mats, camping chairs, and flashlights. We had access to flushing toilets and showers with running water (there was no electricity in the building and the water was freezing cold, but still).

And, of course, we were within walking distance of the impressive Mayan ruins of Tikal.

Mayan ruins at Tikal, Guatemala

We were also in a prime location to gaze up at a brilliant star-filled sky at night while we sipped warm beer and wine, and to be up close and personal with parrots, toucans, coatimundi, spider monkeys, and howler monkeys when we awoke in the morning.

I've by no means been transformed into a camper after this experience. But, in the end, it's an experience that I'm definitely glad I had.

Camping at Tikal National Park, Guatemala

At the very least, it pushed me outside of my comfort zone just enough to remind me why I do this whole traveling thing in the first place — to be challenged, to have new experiences, and to come home with stories about sleeping in the jungle with monkeys.


Would YOU camp in a jungle like this?



*Note: I camped at Tikal as part of a complimentary 8-day “Land of Belize” trip with Intrepid Travel. As always, though, all opinions, bad words, and lack of camping skills are entirely my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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52 Comments on “A Non-Camper Sleeps in the Jungle. With Monkeys.

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  1. Tikal is a must to see, was a great experience. but when you set up your tent at the campground, don’t set it up on the dirt trails, in the morning they are super highways for leaf cutter ants. They don’t bother you, too busy working. You can lay on the grass 2 feet away from the mass of ants watching them. and the alarm clock in early morning is the howler monkeys. 🙂

      Very good tip! And yup, those howler monkeys will definitely be your alarm clock!

    Sweet! I had no idea you could camp in the park too. When did you guys go? Did you have to pay extra park fees for being there after it closed? Hahaha yeah, I can imagine being woken up by those howler monkeys to be a pretty horrific alarm call. They’re so loud! We heard loads of them when we were there but couldn’t spot them in the trees. Apparently they can be heard from pretty far away though so that made me feel better, but I know in reality I was probably just being blind :p

      I did this a few years ago – 2013, I believe. And I’m not sure about extra permits or fees – I camped there as part of a larger tour of Belize and Guatemala, so everything was already included!

    Looking to camp in Tikal – can you send me the information of the company so we can book a trip?


      I’m afraid I can’t recommend a specific camping company in Tikal, as my visit there was part of a larger trip in Belize and Guatemala with Intrepid Travel.

    We’re headed to Tikal this summer and would love to experience camping there. How’d you set this up? Looking at other blogs, it looks like people just had concrete slabs with a thatch covering.

      The heavy-duty tents we stayed in were included in the tour I did (which was a tour of Belize and Guatemala). The park unfortunately doesn’t have a website of its own, so getting info on camping in the park is tough. If you bring your own camping gear, then yes, you just get a basic campsite. I’m honestly not sure how you can book the more permanent tents, I’m afraid.

    Well you did better than me. I required that I have a bathroom and a hot shower. Otherwise I wasn’t go camping.

      Haha. Normally I would agree. But it was just for one night, and I had 1.5 out of the two (bathroom and cold shower).

    […] days, I still enjoy being outdoors. But you won’t find me camping under the stars (I am SO not a camper), bathing in streams, or embarking on any sort of adventure that would have me doing either of the […]

    Great read! I am a camper, but this sounds quite a bit different from the animal noises that one will encounter in the wild of Canada. I’m definitely going to check it out!

      Haha, yes, definitely quite a bit different to camping in Canada!

    […] more I travel, the more willing I am to challenge myself. Some of the challenges (like sleeping in a jungle or trying a new food) are just baby steps, while others (quitting my job or planning a big solo […]

    […] wasn’t sure at first about staying at a campsite. (I’ve made it very clear before that I’m not much of a camper.) But this campsite completely changed my mind. Forget about pitching your own tent — here […]

    So jealous of your Tikal pictures. Next week our posts on Tikal go up, and there is a whole lotta fog!

      Oh no! I’m sure you still got some great shots, though.

      Also, note to self: don’t post MY Tikal post next week… 😉

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