Once one the largest and most important Mayan cities during its peak, Tikal National Park remains a huge attraction in Central America. Located in the Petén area of Guatemala, Tikal is renowned for its incredible jungle setting and immaculately excavated temples. Many temples are still being uncovered by archaeologists. The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and this is among many reasons for its popularity today.
While the site is very popular among tourists, it is not as overrun with visitors as other Mayan ruin sites such as Chichen Itza. The site’s remoteness allows for more room for visitors and tour groups to spread out in, so visitors rarely feel crowded.
Over 1,000 years ago during the Classic Period, Tikal was one of the largest and most powerful cities of the Mayan world. Archaeologists date Tikal’s ruins as far back as 400 BC, and it was believed to have been dominant until the Mayan civilization began to decline in 900 AD. From then on, the site was abandoned completely until it was discovered by modern explorers in 1848. Major excavation work began during the 1960s and continues on today.
Currently, many temples and remnants have been excavated and are open to being explored by visitors. Many of the temples are not particularly tall with the exception of Temple IV. A few temples can also be climbed by steep wooden staircases.
Many of the ruins have been consumed by the jungle, so venturing from one excavated site to another will usually involve light hiking through patches of large trees. The jungle is generally thriving with wildlife including spider monkeys, howler monkeys, coatimundis, and many exotic birds including wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and toucans. Jaguars sometimes frequent the area as well, but their presences are pretty rare.
The climate is generally very warm and humid, and visitors should dress lightly and bring plenty of water.
The main park gates to Tikal open at 06:00 and close at 18:00. Most visitors arrive with tour groups traveling into the park by bus or minivan. Adult tickets into Tikal cost GTQ150 ($20 USD) per person; children under the age of 12 years of age are free to enter. Tikal does not have any ATM machines, so be sure to bring sufficient cash with you to cover entrance fees.
Popular launching points for Tikal tours are Flores island, or even from San Ignacio, Belize since the country border is not far away. From Flores, tour company minibusses will pick you up from your hotel and drive about 75 minutes into Tikal. The cost for a guided tour (lasting around 4 hours) from Flores including roundtrip transportation generally costs about GTQ100.
Visitors coming from Belize may book a full day trip to Tikal with a local Belize tour company, or opt to venture to Tikal on their own. The tour company option is generally the most convenient, as this option includes roundtrip transportation, border crossing fees, and a guided tour for around $160-170 USD per person.
For visitors traveling to Tikal from Belize on their own, the best way to do so is to cross the Belize-Guatemala border on foot. Once in Guatemala catch a colectivo (also known as a chicken bus) at the border heading directly to Tikal. The ravel time is usually about 2 hours long one way and costs about GTQ100. While a trip from Belize can be completed in 6-8 hours, visitors can also opt to do an overnight trip, which will include an overnight stop in the area, usually in Flores.
Recommended Tikal Tour Companies from Belize
See and Do
Most visitors usually spend 2-4 hours exploring the park and ruins. Maps are available for purchase at the visitor’s center, and many walking trails will take visitors on a winding adventure through temples. In terms of the ruins, be sure to check out the Great Plaza, North Acropolis, Central Acropolis, Mundo Perdido (Lost World Complex) and Temple IV, the tallest temple in the whole park.
As mentioned above, there are also ample opportunities to see lots of wildlife in the park, so be sure to bring binoculars and telephoto lenses for your cameras. Within the national park, there is a Visitor Center with restrooms, a restaurant, gift shop, and a museum.
Tikal Overnight Accommodations
Several hotels are located near the park entrance and they provide basic accommodations, although not necessarily ideal for shoestring or budget travelers. Due to the site’s popularity, many of these hotels may be at capacity, so be sure to make your reservations in advance.
Tikal Hotels and Accommodations
Camping options are available at Jaguar Inn. Here, you can rent your own tent or hammock with access to showers and toilets. A nice solution for those looking to spend the night nearby yet see another part of Guatemala is to secure a hotel in the nearby island town of Flores. This charming town is located near a freshwater take. There are ample accommodations with a range of prices and amenities. Many local tour companies offer guides or transportation to the ruins every day.