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

Last updated on:

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

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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

Join the ADB Community!
Sign up here to get exclusive travel tips, deals, and other inspiring goodies delivered to your inbox.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I find it massively amusing that so many of the comments are focused on needing a flush toilet or daily shower.

    Forget camping – what about hiking. It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll manage a 4-8 hour hike without needing to pee or dig a hole and leave a deposit. Or forget the outdoors – what about places where the “toilet” is a pair of porcelain footprints and a hole?

    People (and their immediate ancestors) were “camping”, eliminating via squatting, and not showering for hundreds of thousands of years before modern times. The most generous of historical records give us 5000 years since anyone though of flushing toilets, and the modern flush toilet we have is no more than 130 years old in any form. Daily showering is something that to this day isn’t that common in the world.

    I’ve done two Outward Bound trips in my life, and both involved a month (each) of camping, squatting in the woods (or in the mountains), washing your hands in stream water and enjoying a shower at the end of the month. I promise you that if you have ever gone a month without a shower the “need” for a daily shower goes entirely away. As does a lot of other unnecessary “modern” prissiness.

      Well if it’s prissiness, then I guess I am prissy! 😛 Not going to apologize for not liking things that I just don’t like. Obviously there are plenty of people who DO love camping and hiking, etc. – I’m just sadly not one of them, and likely never will be!

        I’m not denying that I like the conveniences of modern life – but you’d be amazed at how quickly one become accustomed to a more rustic lifestyle and how it quickly becomes normal. And teaches you to appreciate that modern conveniences are just that – and not modern necessities.

    I’m sooooooo glad you’re not a camper! Makes me feel less… ‘luxury-needing’ 😀
    I don’t mind sleeping in a tent, but I want a decent toilet. Like, a real one. That’s clean and that flushes 😀 I think I’d be able to do longer wihout a shower. Long live dry shampoo and rain/river water!

      Yup, definitely NOT a camper! I’m with you on the toilet bit…

    I’m such a non-camper too! (And a big fraidy cat when it comes to animals.) I’m not sure I’d be brave enough but I could be persuaded to give it a go. Especially if it meant getting early access to the ruins before the hoards. Is it something anyone can book or do you have to be on a tour?

      It seemed like you could book a tent or campsite on your own, independently of a tour (there were others there, too, though they all had their own tents).

      And as for early access to the ruins, that was great – though honestly not necessary, since there weren’t really any hoards to be found at Tikal!

    Love those turkeys! I would definitely be up for a camping experience like that, though I’m guessing nothing could really prepare you for those monkey sounds. The only thing that would put me off completely was if you mentioned seeing big mutant jungle spiders (and you didn’t).

      Yeah, even though I knew what howler monkeys sounded like, I wasn’t really fully prepared to be woken up by them!

      No big mutant jungle spiders – at least, none that I saw! 😉

    I almost didn’t read this post because it had to do with camping and who enjoys camping? Just kidding! I, like you, am not a camper. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time I went except that it would’ve been when I was a young lass. Like maybe 8 or 9. Anyhoo, you actually may have converted me from an absolutely-no-I-will-not-camp-ever kind of person to a maybe-I’ll-consider-it-in-the-jungle-in-guatemala kind of person. The cold shower is most definitely not a turn-on nor is the idea of being sticky sweaty (eewww), but to be able to stand up and say you did it? Well, that kinda makes it seem worth it.

      Well I’m glad you DID decide to read the post, Jodi! And even more glad to hear that I may have convinced you to consider a camping experience like this one at some point.

    This sounds like a blast! Not many other places in the world you’d get to do that. While I’m sure the howler monkeys were loud but I hope you at least were able to appreciate being in the middle of the jungle and taking in all the sights and sounds.

      I definitely did appreciate it – once I was fully awake! 😉

    That sounds like the perfect trip to me! I wouldn’t have guessed you weren’t a camper either. Scott and I will camp pretty much anywhere — as long as I don’t have to hike 10 miles with all of my gear (I only did that once and probably wouldn’t do it again).

      Well now my secret is out… haha.

      If you guys ever make it down to Guatemala, you should definitely look into camping here, then! A very different experience to just visiting Tikal for an afternoon.

    I love your videos, Amanda. Jungle does sound real. And colors of turkey bird are unreal 🙂
    I slept under open sky in Thar desert… peacock screams are the worst!

      Yes, peacocks are terribly loud, too!!

      Glad you like my videos – I’m making it a point to do more of them this year!

    I wouldn’t have guessed you aren’t a camper! I am definitely not a camper. I like my hot shower and feeling clean.

    I do camp on rare occasions and Tikal is probably a place I would make that exception for.

      Definitely NOT a camper! But I’m glad I had you all fooled. 😛

    I think camping is fun and you can enjoy it a lot if you go in groups, not individually. After such camping activities it is more common to remember the activities that you found difficult or mixed with horror.

      It was definitely made better because of the group I was in – I would NEVER do something like that alone! (That’s when the jaguars would be bound to eat me…)

    Oh girl. Then avoid camping in the Outback and Fraser Island in Oz! Not a wink of sleep from all the dingo noises.

    Also, it’s not just camping. I stayed in huts/casitas in both Puerto Rico and Hawaii and the frogs and birds were amazingly loud. Definitely wired into our evolutionary DNA, though, as I slept really well with the serenade!

    I would love to camp out at Tikal. Everything about it screams adventure. It is amazing how noisy jungles are though. I recently camped in the Cambodian jungle near a river and the frogs kept me awake for a looooong time.

      It was insane how LOUD it got in the morning! But yeah, definitely an adventure!

    I am amused. I’ve camped a lot, and birds and squirrels are LOUD in the forest at night.

    My trip to NZ in 3 weeks will be a month of hiking and camping with a little bit of B&B time to calm things down.

    In August I’m hiking “The Long Trail” with a friend. 280 miles of camping & hiking (and 3 shower and resupply breaks). You’ve not lived until squatting in an icy stream to clean off the delicate bits feels like spa time…. 🙂

    Sure makes one appreciate running, hot, water!

      Haha, have fun with that! I have no shame in saying that that does not sound appealing to me at all!! Well, except the being in New Zealand part… 😉

        One of the things I’ll be doing is the 3.5 day Tongariro alpine crossing. Should be fun! Volcanoes and stuff! I’ll have FB photos, for sure.

        Also, unlike you I’ve committed to burning off a pile of middle-age sitting in front of a computer weight gain. Nothing like carrying a pack for weeks to help with that goal!

          Ah, you’re doing a long Tongariro crossing! It’s on my list to do one day, but I’ll be sticking to the 7-8 hour one!

            They have huts, too. I’ll be camping in my tent, but non-campers can book hut space and do the long hike. 🙂

    I just finished my first tour with Intrepid here in Cambodia and was pretty impressed. Belize was on the short list (even bought the Lonely Planet book) but Cambodia won out so thinking of Central America next winter. I looked at the tour you took and the camping thing scared me. I went camping in 1967 and am still recovering!! I have to ask…how far away are the bathrooms? My sixty year old bladder wants to know!! I would be the one creeping out with my flashlight…probably a couple of times!! I do love the thought of seeing all those critters….I’ve been to Costa Rica a couple of times so wanted someplace similar but different….and I too have been awoken by howler monkeys. (from inside a tent camp high up on stilts – with it’s own bathroom!!!) Spooky!!!

      Haha the bathroom was probably about 100 yards away. So not really a hike, but still far enough! I’d suggest a head lamp, for sure!

      Amazing article Amanda! I’m way too used to living in urban areas to try something like this. Seeing a night sky without all the light pollution would be great.

As Seen On

As Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen OnAs Seen On