Stand in the middle of the Grand Plaza between Temple I and Temple II at Tikal, Guatemala and imagine what life must have been like in this Mayan city over 1,200 years ago when Tikal was at its peak. The size of the temples and surrounding acropolis indicate that this must have been a rich and sophisticated city-state. Yet the ruins are only partially exposed and understood, as thick rain forest still covers most of the park.
And the grand mystery remains: Why was Tikal abandoned in 900 AD?
We can't answer that question, but we can give a sense of what it's like to sit in the middle of the Grand Plaza and wonder.
Advice for visiting Tikal Mayan Ruins
If you're visiting the Tikal ruins from Guatemala, you have a couple of options.
1. Day Trip from Flores: It is possible to visit Tikal as a day trip from Flores. Most travel agents in town sell round-trip bus tickets to and from town (around $7.50 round-trip) and you hop on whenever it suits you. If you chose this route, try to get on one of the first buses in the morning; you'll be able to enjoy the park in the early morning light before it the becomes stiflingly hot and humid.
2. Camp at the Park Entrance: There are a couple of hotels at the entrance to the National Park. However, their prices tend to be on the high side for budget travelers. We rented a tent (complete with an air mattress) from Jaguar Inn for around $25 for the night. If you wish to camp but don't have your own equipment, there is also a campground in the area that supposedly rents camping equipment. In any case, spending the night in the park will allow you to enjoy the light and cool weather of the early morning and enter the grounds before the late-morning onslaught of the crowds and buses.
Additionally, you'll get a full appreciation for the wildlife in the neighboring rain forest. We originally mistook the eerie nighttime sounds of the howler monkeys for growling jaguars — added a bit of “holy sh*t!” to our night, to put it mildly. You'll also be treated to the full-blown wake-up call of a birdsong symphony in the morning.