Recently I was having a conversation with someone here in Guatemala while trying to hash out some post Spanish school travel plans. When I mentioned that I have very little interest in visiting Tikal, she seemed surprised. It is almost like Tikal is a rite of passage that every traveler to Guatemala has to experience. But when I only have a few weeks to explore, Mayan ruins are rarely high on my list. Especially since I have been so so many sites, and Copan, over in neighboring Honduras, which is more of my jam, is on my list. (Copan is famous for its details, which I tend to be attracted to). This conversation got me thinking, does it make me a bad traveler that I don’t really want to visit Tikal?
Ruins, museums, and even most temples are not usually travel priorities for me. In fact, after three months in Asia, I was so “templed out ” that I had to really psych myself up to visit Bagan, in Myanmar, towards the end of my trip (side note: it was worth it). And when I returned to Sri Lanka at the very end of my trip, I told my Singhalese friend and Sri Lankan travel partner, “No more temples. Period.” Throughout our travels in Sri Lanka, we would pass so many quintessentially Sri Lankan Buddhist white stupas, but I never wanted to stop to explore. I was over temples by that point. So does it make me a bad traveler that I don’t want to see every possible temple?
Normally, I am not the type of traveler who likes to spend a lot of time in a museum. And unless it is something special that I really want to see, I usually skip it. As a child, I visited Madrid with my family and we went to the Prado. As an adult, when I lived in Madrid, my friend practically had to twist my arm to get me to return to the Prado during free hours. It is awesome that most of Madrid’s museums are free for the two hours right before closing, or else I’d probably never step foot in them. During a quick weekend trip to Mexico City, I did not go to the The National Museum of Anthropology, which is Mexico’s most popular museum. Really, when the choice is a museum or being outside, exploring the streets of a foreign city, nine times out of ten, I choose the latter. So does not seeing every national treasure enclosed in a museum make me a bad traveler?
Most sites of ruins make this list as well. Obviously Tikal is what got me thinking about this. But while in Turkey, I was not nearly as impressed with Troy as I should have been. And my during a visit to Italy, I made the mistake of visiting Pompeii. Knowing myself and my style, I should have forgone that and instead hung out in a Napoli cafe drinking espresso and watching the street scene unfold in that fabulous city. Pompeii did nothing for me (aside from the views of the foreboding volcano in the background). For the record, I’ve been to Thailand several times and have not yet step foot anywhere near Ayutthaya. How dare I call myself a “good traveler” when I was not moved by Pompeii or Troy or have no desire to see Ayutthaya.
Of course there are exceptions. While it was not my #1 reason for visiting Perú (the Amazon was), I absolutely enjoyed Machu Picchu. And I kicked off my most recent Southeast Asian trip in Cambodia so I could explore the temples of Angkor Wat before I became sick of temples, which I knew I would. There are certain museums that I can spend an entire day in and not get bored, for example the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and some of Paris’ smaller museums. And one of my most enjoyable Mexico City mornings was spent in the Frida Kahlo Museum.
That brings me back to ruins and Tikal. So here I am in Guatemala. And unless there is a major change in plans, I will have time to travel after my Spanish school ends in a few weeks. Clearly Tikal is a very important attraction in Guatemala, but I feel like I do not have to see it. And I have come to the conclusion that no, none of this makes me a bad traveler. I am a traveler who prioritizes what I really want to instead of checking items off some superficial “how many sites in the world have you seen?” list.
Update: this morning in class, my Spanish teacher was explaining to me that Tikal is filled with monkeys. Although that is not really a reason to visit a site like Tikal, it is reason enough for me as I love monkeys. So I guess I will be visiting Tikal after all, and because of the reason I am going, that might make me an even worse traveler. But perhaps not. I am a traveler who knows what she wants to see and does not waste valuable time in places that she doesn’t want to see.
(As a personal travel consultant with over 15 years of experience in the industry, I can help make your travel dreams come true too. Whether its ruins and temples, or strolls down quaint streets in magnificent cities and towns, we can work out the perfect itinerary to suit your needs. Let me know how I can help you see the world!)