Next to Antigua, Tikal is one of the most popular destinations in Guatemala. This largely imparts because of the large Mayan city that was found here. Located deep in the jungle is a set of one of the largest Mayan cities in Guatemala. Tikal is certainly a must-stop destination for anyone visiting Guatemala.
The area of Tikal is the ideal destination for those looking for an adventure-based vacation. There are a number of tours and guides services that can show you around the area. Many of these tours are a day to four days in length and include stays in rustic lodges, camping, and other adventure-oriented accommodations.
If roughing it isn’t your style, you can try to arrange a reservation for any of the accommodations in Tikal National Park. These lodges tend to book up, so if you really want to stay here you will need to make reservations well in advance. If you don’t mind not staying n the Tikal National Park, you can try the nearby town of Flores.
Flores has a much wider selection of everything from hotels to restaurants. Aside from a wider selection of accommodation and eats, there are even a few internet cafes in town.
Tikal National Park is is located in the lowland rainforests of Guatemala. Tikal rests in the northern area of the country near the Belize border and is 63 kilometers of Flores, Petén, Guatemala. Petén is to 495 kilometers from Guatemala City.
How to get to Tikal
Since many visitors to Tikal stay in Flores, transportation to the ruins from Flores is very easy to find. there are a number of taxis and tourist vans that can provide transportation to and from the ruins.
Likewise, there are a number of transportation services that can offer you transportation to the Tikal area. Many visitors opt for organized trips, but it is also possible to take the local chicken buses to get there.
If you have some money to spend, you can also look into an in-country flight from Guatemala City to Flores.
The San Juan Travel Agency has minibusses that will pick you up from your hotel in Flores in the morning on the hour. These minibusses will cost you about 50 Quetzales round trip. The minibusses leave Tikal hourly from 2-6pm.
The rainy season in and around Tikal National Park is from April till October, so you probably don’t want to visit during these months. Not only do these months bring lots of rain, they also bring plenty of mosquitoes. If you do plan on visiting during these months bring plenty of bug spray and some worthwhile rain gear.
December and January are the best months to visit as far as the weather goes. Early mornings and late evenings can be a bit chilly, but the days are usually sunny and warm with average temperatures around 28°C (82°F).
March and April are the hottest and driest months out of the year.
July, August, and September are borderline miserable. These months are hot, muggy, and still, have plenty of bugs from the rainy season.
Around October and November, the bugs tend to die out and the temperatures start getting cooler overall.
The Maya settled in Tikal around 700BC. It is thought that the Mayans choose this location for its height above the low lying swamplands and ample amount of flint. The Mayan Ruins in Tikal are known as The Grand Plaza and its construction date precedes the birth of Christ by a few hundred years. By the 6th century, the city of Tikal had confiscated over 30 square kilometers of the surrounding jungle and had a population well into the six-digit figure.
The Mayan Ruins found in Tikal once served as the capital city of the large and impressive Mayan empire. In fact, not only are the ruins found here the largest in Guatemala, but they are believed to be the largest Mayan ruins in the world. The exact area of the ruins is unknown, as the excavation has proven to be much larger than anyone could have ever imagined. It is thought that in its heyday, the residential area of Tikal alone could have been 125 square miles and home to well over 100,000 Mayans.
The city of Tikal lay hidden in the Guatemalan jungle for years until the Government finally sent out an expedition around 1848. It wasn’t until 1881 that true scientific exploration of Tikal became a reality. Since 1956, the main amount of archaeological study, research and restoration had been conducted by the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, the site is being restored by a joint effort between Guatemala and other countries.
By 1990, Guatemala had acquired about 21,000 square kilometers around the ruins and established the Reserva de Biosfera Maya. This Maya reserve adjoins the Calakmul biosphere reserve in Mexico and the Río Bravo Conservation Area in Belize. together, these reserves form a massive, multi-national reserve that covers over 30,000 square kilometers.
>>more information on Mayan Ruins
What to Do
The Maya ruins at Tikal National Park are quite possibly the most spectacular ruins in all of Latin America. Scattered throughout Tikal are towering pyramid temples looming above the jungle canopy, palaces, plazas, and stelae carved with Mayan hieroglyphics. Temple four has amazing views over the surrounding rainforest of Guatemala. The jungle setting also provides a marvelous opportunity for seeing wildlife at close quarters. Monkeys swing amongst the trees of the National Park and throughout the ruins and pyramids. Around 300 bird species have been recorded at Tikal National Park, and other sightings include spider monkeys, howler monkeys, deer, foxes, and the occasional puma. Top tip for travel to Tikal, Guatemala: spend the night in the actual site. This is, of course, not allowed, but done by various tourists who visit the National Park on their tour of Guatemala. Temple 4 is a famous spot to overnight so that one can see the amazing sunrise the following morning, but the guards know this and will probably catch you, and demand a bribe to let you stay. A good after dark route into the ruins at Tikal is via the buildings to the right of the main entrance/pathway (as if you are looking at it). By these buildings is a small path that leads through the forest about 500 meters and into the actual Mayan site of Tikal.
Obviously, the main attraction here is Tikal National Park and the Mayan Ruins. The park has six large temples and vast amounts of other uncovered ruins to explore. The main entrance to Tikal National Park opens at 6:00 AM and closes at 6:00 PM. Tickets to the park can be purchased at the main gate which is located a few miles from the visitors center.
Just outside the gates of the Tikal National Park, you can find a variety of canopy tours. the company offers two choices in the way of canopy tours. The longer of the two is about US$30 and has lines that vary in length, with one of the longest being 150m. There is a cheaper and shorter version of the canopy tour which only costs around US$10.
The Tikal Visitors center offers a place where you can get your bearings before you start exploring. Here you will find a restaurant, a gift shop, and restrooms.
Flores is just 40 minutes from the ruins at Tikal, and most tourists end up staying there, or on the road between Flores and the entrance to Tikal. There’s just one hotel in the National Park itself.
Tikal Jungle Lodge – This basic lodge is superbly located in the National Park of Tikal, right beside the entrance to the Mayan ruins themselves. Because it is set within the jungle, monkeys and toucans are often seen in the grounds. There are 30 simple rooms, electricity cuts out from time to time, and the restaurant is rather poor. However, for those short of time, it’s best to spend the night here as it’s right next to the ruins.
Flores / Road to Tikal Hotels
Camino Real – The Camino Real is located on the shores of Lake Peten Itzá on the road between Flores and the Mayan pyramids of Tikal. The Camino Real has 70 air-conditioned rooms, a good restaurant, and a large swimming pool. The hotel is the most comfortable option in the Tikal area of Guatemala, as such, it’s the best option for luxury tours.
La Lancha Hotel – located on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá and 10 km from the main road between the Mayan ruins of Tikal and Flores, La Lancha is owned by the film director Francis Ford Coppola (the other hotels he owns nearby are Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge and Turtle Inn in Placencia). There are 10 bungalows (no air conditioning) that are either jungle or lake view. As well as swimming or kayaking on the lake, La Lancha offers fishing and bird watching tours, sunrise hikes, boat tours, and of course, day tours to Tikal. The area is rich in wildlife and good for wildlife viewing – there is more to do at La Lancha than just visit the ruins at Tikal.
Villa Maya Hotel – This secluded lodge is located ten minutes drive from Flores and 45 minutes from Tikal ruins. Villa Maya has 50 rooms, a swimming pool, and kayaks can be hired to explore the lake upon which it is situated.