Visiting Tikal in Guatemala

Visiting Tikal is probably on the bucketlist of every traveler in Guatemala. As the most famous Mayan sight in the world, Tikal is one of the most iconic places to visit in Guatemala. The misty atmosphere, the huge Mayan pyramids, the gigantic size of the national park, the sound of the howler monkeys and the lush jungle make a visit to Tikal unforgettable. This Mayan city should be on your bucket list and a Guatemala itinerary just isn’t complete without it. But a visit to Tikal is quite a consideration when it comes to a tour from Flores or an overnight stay at Tikal, whether or not to buy a sunrise ticket, etc. This blog will provide you with a practical guide to visiting Tikal in Guatemala.

Tikal Guatemala Jaguar Temple

How to get to Tikal in Guatemala

The ruins of the ancient Mayan city are located in the jungle of Tikal National Park in northern Guatemala. The towns El Remata and Flores are the closest and especially Flores is a popular base to visit Tikal. As one of the most popular destinations in Guatemala due to its proximity to the famous Tikal, you can get to Flores from all over the country as well as from neighboring Mexico and Belize.

Read more: best things to do on Isla de Flores.

Flores is located on a peninsula in Lake Petén Itzá in northern Guatemala. There are several small villages around the lake, but Flores is the most popular with travelers because of the charming streets and the wide range of travelers-oriented restaurants and hotels. Flores consists of two parts and it is good to take this into account when looking for a place to stay. The rather uninteresting town of Flores is on the mainland, but the touristic and more charming part of Flores is on a small peninsula in the lake. This peninsula part is also referred to as Isla de Flores and this is where you’ll want to look for a place to stay in Flores

Tikal Guatemala

Why Tikal is worth a visit

The largest and most powerful Mayan empire

Tikal was once the largest Mayan city. Not only in size, but certainly also in power and influence. For about 1400 years, this place in the jungle of Guatemala was built into a powerful city-state, of which thousands of ruins, temples and pyramids still remain today. Tikal may have had as many as 100,000 inhabitants and still consists of 6,000 to 10,000 buildings. Only a small percentage of the ancient Maya city has still been excavated, but that part is enough to entertain you for hours wandering the archaeological park of Tikal. It is no surprise that a site like Tikal is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Viewing tip: prepare your visit with the documentary The Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake Kings to learn more about Tikal and the Maya. You can see it on the paid channel Disney Plus. A free Discovery Channel documentary can be found on Youtube, Lost World of the Maya.

The vast area that Tikal still covers reveals pyramids, temples, royal palaces, houses, administrative buildings, cisterns, terraces, monuments and much more. The location in a lush jungle with exotic birds and wildlife makes the ancient Mayan city particularly spectacular. The most impressive are of course the pyramids and temples that tower high above the tops of the jungle. You can climb some of these for a phenomenal view of the ancient Maya empire. As popular and touristy as Tikal may be, a visit to this Mayan city should be on your bucket list. It doesn’t feel overrun by visitors fortunately. The archaeological area is large enough to spread out the many visitors, although you will see many other visitors at the largest and most beautiful Mayan temples. 

Tikal Guatemala

The best temples of Tikal (to climb)

The Tikal National Park is gigantic. It is estimated that the ancient Mayan cities covers 6,000 to 10,000 structures, all spread over a huge jungle area. As far as we are concerned, you don’t have to visit every corner of the park to fully experience Tikal. It is worth knowing in advance what the most impressive temples and ruins are, so that you can make sure to visit them. But other than those, we would recommend simply wandering around the national park.

A map of Tikal is very useful for not getting lost and finding the most beautiful structures. There are many information boards with a map around the park, so you can simply take a picture of it. You can also take a free map with you at the entrance and the app is a practical option as well (on which you can also download maps in advance to use offline).

Be sure to visit the Grand Plaza, where the most famous temples are located, such as the Temple of the Great Jaguar and the Temple of the Masks. This was once the heart of the ancient city, where the social and political life of the Maya took place. There are several temples and other beautiful buildings, making this one of the most impressive sights of Tikal.

The largest and most worth-seeing temples of Tikal are numbered I to VI, although they often also have another, more catchy name. For example, the Temple of the Great Jaguar is also referred to as Temple I and the Temple of the Masks as Temple II. You can climb the temples II, IV and Perdido Mundo and those are therefore the most popular places for sunrise or sunset.

We consider Temple II the perfect option for the sunrise, because there are usually few people here and – with a bit of luck and without fog – you will be able to see the Grand Plaza in a beautiful morning light. The temple is a 20-25 minute walk from the ticket check, so you can get here right on time for sunrise if you enter the park right at 6 am.

Temple IV is most popular for sunrise and sunset, as it is the tallest temple of all at 70 meters. We wouldn’t recommend Temple IV for sunset though, because the sun will set behind you (unless you bribe a guard to walk around, which we have heard isn’t unusual). The temple is about a 45-minute walk from the ticket control. Also popular for sunset is the Perdido Mundo Temple, located near the Plaza of the Seven Temples.

Be sure to plan in enough time to not only see the largest and most impressive structures, but also to wander through the jungle past the smaller structures. In the areas beyond the well-known temples and pyramids are far fewer other visitors and you can fully experience the magical jungle atmosphere of this unique Mayan complex. You will be amazed at how many structures are scattered through the woods. These may not be pyramids that rise above the treetops, but they are beautiful structures as well and their more remote location with fewer visitors makes them leave a big impression as well.

Tikal Guatemala

Things to know before visiting Tikal

The opening hours and costs of Tikal

The Tikal National Park is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. We have read in a lot of travel blogs that you can also enter the park after 3 pm the day before with your day ticket for the next day. We have checked this (to try it ourselves) and unfortunately this no longer works. We’d advise you to enter the park as early as possible, so immediately at 6:00 am. It is still relatively quiet, the morning light is beautiful (especially if there is no fog) and wild birds and animals are active. You can then leave the park early in the afternoon, before it gets too hot, and in the meantime experience all the main attractions of Tikal and the jungle atmosphere.

As a foreigner, you pay 150 Quetzal for a day ticket (which is about 18 euros). If you want to enter the park earlier or later for the sunrise or sunset, you need an extra sunrise or sunset ticket of another 150 Q.

The entrance to the park and also the ticket office is along the highway to Tikal. The ticket control itself is much later, behind the parking lot. So make sure you buy your ticket at the entrance of Tikal National Park, because after that you won’t have the opportunity to do so. The ticket office only opens with the opening of the park, so at 6:00 am. You should therefore buy a sunrise ticket in advance (which your guide will arrange if you book a day tour from Flores). You buy your ticket in cash, so make sure you bring enough money with you and don’t count on being able to use a credit card. Also take your passport with you, because you have to register with it at the ticket office.

Tikal Guatemala

Is a sunrise or sunset ticket worth it?

Let’s be brief about this right away: we think a sunrise or sunset ticket and excursion are not worth the money and effort. Although there is of course something magical about being in the park outside normal opening hours, the sunset and sunrise in Tikal are usually not very spectacular.

Especially the sunrise tour to Tikal is popular. Unfortunately, that is often a big disappointment. In the rainy season, you can simply not see the sunrise because of all the fog in the morning. Even the rest of the year, fog will probably spoil any sunrise. We experienced the same when visiting Tikal, but fortunately without having booked and an expensive sunrise tour.

You can also be just in time for the sunrise or at least that beautiful early morning light, if you enter the park at opening time at 6 am. If you enter the park at 6:00 am and head straight to your desired temple for the sunrise, you will usually be right on time for that moment (in winter it is around 6:20 am). This is what we did and we were at Temple II exactly in time for sunrise. But there was just nothing magical about this moment, as there was a lot of fog in the jungle during our visit which only cleared up later that morning

We recommend visiting Tikal as early as possible in the morning. The park is a lot quieter and you can enjoy the active wildlife in the jungle. Exotic birds fly overhead, you hear the howler monkeys and you have a magical jungle experience. You can also avoid the hot temperatures of the afternoon.

Sunrise Tikal Guatemala

Staying at Tikal or booking a day tour from Flores?

There are roughly two ways to visit Tikal: spend the night in Tikal or take a day trip from the town of Flores (or El Remata, but few travelers choose that). We chose to spend the night at Tikal, but afterwards would have preferred to book a day tour from Flores.

At the gates of the archaeological park of Tikal are four hotel options, located directly next to each other. We also stayed here during our visit to Flores and Tikal, but we would not recommend it. The hotel rooms at the Tikal National Park are quite expensive compared to Flores. We liked staying near the entrance to be able to enter the park at opening times. But there are many tours from Flores to be the very first in the park at 6 AM – or even a sunrise tour – as well. You may have to get up a bit earlier than when you stay at Tikal, but you save yourself the trouble of arranging transport to Tikal yourself and booking an expensive hotel room. You pay for a guide and transport from Flores 90 Q to 150 Q (converted between € 10 and € 18), which does not include your park ticket.

The only reason we would recommend staying at the Tikal lodges? If you want to do a sunset tour one evening and explore the archaeological park during the day the next.

Note: are you traveling without a guide and on your own from Tikal to Flores? Then it’s good to know that the last normal bus already leaves from Tikal to Flores in the mid-afternoon, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Hotel Jungle Lodge Tikal

The four jungle lodes at Tikal

If you’d prefer to stay at Tikal, there are four hotel options to choose. All four are located directly at the park entrance, i.e. next to the parking lot and at the ticket check. The ticket office where you buy your tickets for Tikal is along the road to this location. Make sure you have bought your ticket(s) before you go to your hotel, as there isn’t any other place to get your tickets and it’s a long way back to the ticket office.

#1 Hotel Tikal Inn for the most popular hotel at Tikal National Park with a location in the middle of the jungle. Guests stay in bungalows with palm frond roofs in the jungle or at the pool. This hotel is the most popular option at Tikal because of its good value for money. It is therefore often fully booked, so make sure to book your stay well in advance.

#2 Hotel Jaguar Inn Tikal for a hotel in the national park with simply furnished bungalows and an on-site restaurant. Due to the remote jungle location, WiFi and electricity are only available daily during specific time slots.

#3 Jungle Lodge Tikal Hostal for the most budget-friendly option in the national park, where we also stayed during our visit. There are tropical gardens, a swimming pool and a restaurant. Bathrooms are shared.

#4 Hotel Jungle Lodge Tikal for a luxury hotel at Tikal with a somewhat higher price tag. The tropical setting, outdoor pool and luxurious thatched bungalows are a photogenic sight.

Tikal Guatemala

Packing list: what to bring to Tikal

There are few facilities in Tikal National Park and you have to deal with a remote jungle environment. So visiting Tikal requires some preparation and that’s why it’s good to know what you really need to bring for your visit:

  • Cash, because there is no ATM and you have to pay for your tickets in cash.
  • Passport to register for the national park.
  • Mosquito repellent for the many mosquitoes in the jungle.
  • Sunburn for the blazing sun when you’re not walking under the canopy.
  • Water, a lot of water.
  • Food, because there are no restaurants or shops in the park (only at the ticket control)
  • A map of Tikal, which you can get for free at the entrance and see on the signs, but also suffices.
Mayan site Yaxha | El Sombrero Ecolodge | guatemala |

Alternative: visiting Mayan city Yaxha

Another special day trip from Flores is to the temple complex of Yaxha. This hidden gem is located deep in the jungle, on a crocodile lake. While all travelers flock to the famous Tikal, neighboring Yaxha remains blissfully undiscovered. The size of the complex is enormous, the view from the highest temple is phenomenal and the location on a deep blue lake is unique. Yaxha is estimated to have once had a population of over 20,000 and about 500 buildings have been found in the complex.

Read more: visiting Mayan city of Yaxha in Guatemala

One of the highlights of a visit to Yaxha is the sunset from the largest temple (Structure 216 or Temple of the Hands). With a height of 30 meters, this temple towers above all other temples and treetops. It offers the perfect view of the two lakes on which Yaxha is located. At the end of the day, you can watch the sun go down behind one of the lakes, just before the park closes.

Yaxha is unique in Mayan archeology because of its location on two lakes. The lakes were part of an important riverine trade route between major Mayan cities. With some luck, you can find a motor boat (a lancha) at the jetty at Yaxha that will take you to the island in the main lake and back. Because there is another temple complex on the island: Topoxte. The temples themselves are nice to see yet not extremely interesting, but they are said to be among the oldest Mayan temples in Central America. The magical atmosphere of temples with an island location, the roar of the howler monkeys and the few other visitors make visiting Topoxte a unique experience.

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