Visiting the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

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Last Updated on July 23, 2017 by Audrey Scott

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.

Great Mayan ruins at Tikal, Guatemala.
Looking out over the Great Plaza (Gran Plaza) from the top of Temple 2 in Tikal, Guatemala.

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.

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

12 thoughts on “Visiting the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala”

  1. Ah Tikal, “The NYC of the Maya”. Indeed, just 10% of Tikal has been excavated – just imagine what it must have been like at its peak!

    As an int’l tour operator back in the 90’s I ran trips to Belize and Costa Rica and made many visits to Tikal. In those days, you could actually climb to the top of the Temple of the Jaguar (the taller of the 2 temples in the panorama), but I believe that’s – understandably – no longer allowed.

    You can also visit Tikal as a day trip from the jungle lodges along the border in Belize.

  2. I also stayed at the Jaguar Inn in a tent for a couple nights. A great experience. Love the howler monkeys.
    One other suggestion, assuming it’s still possible, is to take the afternoon bus from Flores which will arrive at around 3 to 3:30. Then purchase a entrance ticket for the following day, as after 4 pm, they will allow you into the park with tomorrows ticket. This gives you some extra time to wander around the park in relative solitude, and take in the Sunset on Temple 4.
    Just be aware that when darkness sets in, if you don’t have a light, it will be near impossible to find the trail back to the entrance…a lesson learned the hard way, the jungle is pitch black at night.
    Also, if you are really on a tight budget, you can take a picture of the map on the wall of the ticket booth with your digital camera, then just zoom in on the picture to find your way around the ruins. Saves you $5.

    Cheers, Dave

  3. @Tony: Glad you’re liking the panoramas. We’ll keep ’em coming. As for Tikal, the edges of the day are great. And there’s nothing like camping with the howler monkeys about.

    @Dyanne: Tikal only 10% excavated? Am trying to get my head around that. To think of what we don’t know about the place. I’m hoping we get to see some more archaeological fruits of excavation before 2012 😉

    I think you might be right about climbing to the tippy top of Jaguar Temple. Our sunset view was from the top of Temple 5.

    Day tripping there from Belize: Good to know. We’d definitely be open to returning, particularly via Belize.

    @Dave: Good suggestion regarding purchasing the ticket at the end of the previous day of your visit. We did that. However, we’ve heard that of March 2011, they no longer allow it. So as we understand it, Tikal tickets are only valid on the days for which they are purchased. Too bad, really.

    The tip of photographing the map on the wall is also an excellent one. We do this all the time. It’s nice to have a map when writing about the experience after the fact and it’s also nice to save a few bucks ($5 in this case).

    Cheers for a very helpful comment.

    @H Mahahrens: Funny. If we could achieve that with our panoramas, that would be something. Something like a video perhaps.

  4. @Matt: Thanks! While they are a challenge to shoot and stitch, panoramas are fun, and in some cases the offer one of the best ways to convey the visual space. Tikal is worth a visit, particularly if you are interested in Mayan culture. Not to mention, Guatemala overall a culturally rich and worthwhile place to visit.

  5. @Matt: Fascinating. Wasn’t aware of that particular connection, but Audrey and I both noted distinct similarities in facial features between some people we met in Guatemala (and through veins of Latin America) and some people we met in Asia. It’s always been a small world, apparently.

  6. @Megan: So great that you’re traveling to Tikal this summer of all years (2012)! Good luck with your travels and enjoy!

  7. Tikal is the best place where You can live one of the most important dates in the Mayan Calendar this year, the Baktun 13. They will have many celebrations related to the Mayan prophecies of Baktun 13!


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