If there is one Mayan ruin you should visit in Central America, it should be Tikal (rated as the best Mayan ruins by everybody that we have spoken to.) The ancient city still stands tall and with recent restorations you are able to step back in time and imagine life many years ago. Unlike its counterpart Chichen Itza, it doesn’t attract the huge crowds or extreme heat. In fact, it is possible to find yourself all alone as you stare at the old structures while spider monkeys swing from the trees above. But that is not the only wildlife you are likely to see, so keep a lookout! At Tikal it is also possible to climb most of the ruins. One temple stands at 70 meters high which pierces through the surrounding jungle – the best views money can buy!
We had a special treat when we went as it was the national day for the Indigenous people. They flocked from all over the country to partake in traditional ceremonies and even an animal sacrifice at the main temples. This attracted large crowds but it only added to the experience. In total, 4 hours was more than enough time to explore and we made the 11am shuttle back to Flores. However, no matter what time of year you go or how much time you spend there, Tikal is a must see!
Know Before You Go
150Q ($20 USD)
If you are wanting to beat the heat there are early morning private shuttles that leave the town of Flores at 3:50am and 4:30am. The one at 3:50am will get you to the ruins in time to watch the sunrise at the top of the tallest temple. If those times are a little early there is also one at 8am. When you book the mini bus you will get 3 times to return 11am, 12:30pm and 3pm so you can decide how much time you want to spend walking around. This is the same if you decide to do a tour. The transport costs around 60Q so consider a tour as I only paid 70Q for a tour with transport. You can take local transport but it involves getting a tuk tuk from Flores to Santa Elena bus station to catch the bus. This will cost 30Q each way plus whatever you can negotiate for the tuk tuk.
I did a tour to Tikal and to be honest I really enjoyed it. Our guide was funny, knew so much about the place and the tour was cheap! I paid 70Q or about $10USD which included pickup, drop off and English speaking guide. Tours don’t include the park entrance fee though you also have the freedom after the tour to wander around as long as you would like.
Food and Water
There is a shop at the entrance that sells coffee and other foods although it was quite expensive so I would bring your own snacks! Although the ruins are not as hot as others, all that walking in the sun will take its toll. I took 1.5L of water and that was just enough.
Be sure to keep a look out in the mornings as the wildlife in the park is amazing. Howler monkeys and spider monkeys are everywhere as well as wild turkeys!
The steps to the ruins are steep and slippery when wet so watch your step when you are exploring. Wear good footwear such as trainers or even hiking boots.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a place to stay near Tikal then Flores is perfect. Located only 40 minutes from the ruins, Flores is a great place to hang out in the afternoons when you have seen enough ruins for the day. There is lots of places to eat and stay and with the cheap food markets along the water’s edge. It’s great for backpackers on a budget.
From Lanquin/Semuc Champey – The best way is by shuttle. The distance is large and with a backtrack to Coban required it’s unlikely you could make the journey by chicken bus in one day. We traveled with Adrenalina tours and were happy with the service. The shuttle takes 8 hours and I recommend taking snacks as the stops along the way are really expensive! Book the shuttle here or call (502) 5308-1489.
From Belize City – From Belize city you can either get the FDN bus (large bus) or a shuttle. Both are not cheap although the FDN is more comfortable. Both cost around $12USD.
Please be aware that before you get to Flores someone from a tour company will get on your bus. They will inform you that there is only one bus leaving to Belize (if you are coming from Semuc) or to Semuc Champey (if you are coming from Belize). They will also say it books up and there is only a few sets left blah blah blah. This is total bullshit!! And I know you’re thinking “well that’s obvious” but so many people fall for it and pay too much for their bus. For example lots of people on our bus bought the tickets to Belize for $180Q and I paid $165Q for my Tikal guided tour as well as the bus to Belize!
I have lost count at the amount of travelers who have told me that they preferred Tikal over Chichen Itza. The lack of people along with the wildlife make this a very special place to learn about the ancient Mayan people. The many trees that surround the place makes it easy for those not so fond of the heat and also makes for a beautiful setting you can really enjoy!