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If your travels take you to Guatemala, a stop at the ruins in Tikal is one of those activities you should reserve a spot on your list for. It’s without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Guatemala!
Tikal is a Mayan ruin site that features five huge temples. One temple is actually 65 meters (213 feet) tall and is believed to be the tallest Mayan temple ever built!
Tikal is one of the most impressive ancient ruins you can visit in Central America and one of the most beautiful ruins to visit in the entire world. It was even a filming location for Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. You’ll recognize the temples in the background as part of the rebel base.
It’s in a remote location in the middle of the Guatemalan forest, not far from the borders of Mexico and Belize. One of the things I like most about visiting Tikal is that in comparison to many other ruins around Central America and Mexico, it is not very busy. You can wander around the grounds and find yourself completely alone without another person in sight!
Whether you have a deep interest in Mayan history or not, Tikal should be at the top of your Guatemala itinerary!
We absolutely loved our time exploring here and have a few tips we learned along the way. Check out our list of the 12 things to know before visiting Tikal to ensure you have the best trip possible.
Let’s get started!
1. About Tikal
Tikal was once one of the largest and most powerful cities among Mayan civilizations. Experts believe there could be ruins of as many as 3,000 structures here.
The Mayans occupied most of Mexico, Guatemala, and northern Belize with their earliest settlements originating from around 1800 BC!
For around 700 years, the city of Tikal was the Mayans’ economic and political epicenter making it the capital city during that period. At its peak, Tikal’s population is believed to have reached around 100,000 people, which was extraordinary for that age.
While no one knows for sure what caused the city’s demise, over a span of 100 years the city went from flourishing to abandoned. Its rapid population growth and a large amount of farming, caused many experts to conclude that it was likely caused by a long period of drought along with epidemic outbreaks.
Once the site was derelict, it was not discovered for hundreds of years as the deep forest had engulfed the whole city. While on a guided tour by some locals in 1848, the state’s governor stumbled across the ancient city. However, due to its location far away from civilization, true excavation did not start until a runaway was built in 1951. From then, the University of Pennsylvania took over after uncovering the sheer size and importance of the site.
Today, Tikal is thought to be one of the most interesting Mayan ruins to visit and Tikal National Park, where the site is located, has been a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
The National Park is enormous, spanning over 358 square miles (576 square kilometers), and is one of Guatemala’s most famous landmarks, attracting a large amount of tourism to the country.
2. Where is Tikal?
Tikal is located deep in the rainforest north of Guatemala, so knowing how to get there is crucial when planning your trip.
The easiest way to visit Tikal is from the tourist town of Flores, which is also known as the gateway to these Mayan ruins. There is a shuttle bus that runs to and from the National Park multiple times a day, with the first bus leaving at 3 am and arriving just in time for sunrise. The trip is just over an hour long.
Flores is a vibrant island located in the north of Guatemala. There are lots of things to do in Flores, so if you have the time, we definitely recommend spending a few days on the island and exploring everything the town has to offer as well as visiting Tikal.
However, if you are basing your time in Guatemala in Guatemala City, you can book this tour which includes transport and a tour guide along with a full day to explore the park for $398 USD. It’s similar to this day tour from Belize which includes transportation from the border, a guided tour of the ruins, and lunch for $115 USD.
3. How much is the Tikal entrance fee?
The entrance fee to get into Tikal National Park is 150Q per person, which is equal to around $20 USD. Children under 12 are free.
There is no way to buy tickets online – unless they are included in a tour package. Instead, tickets can be purchased from any Banrural Bank Agency or at the CHN Bank Agency. You can find these in Flores Airport, Antigua, Guatemala City, Santa Elena, or Melchor de Mencos which is on the Guatemala side of the Belize border.
When buying a ticket, you must pay cash in the local currency (Guatemalan Quetzal). If you can’t make it to one of these locations, the tickets can be purchased at the entrance gate but be warned, the painfully slow internet and long lines take a while!
If you are planning on visiting Tikal outside of the park’s opening times, like sunrise for example, it is worth noting that there is an additional fee of 100Q ($13 USD) per person, for either sunrise or sunset. This also needs to be bought before arriving. You can also opt to purchase the entrance to the museum for 30Q ($4 USD) per person as well.
Upon entering the gates, the park rangers will take your bank deposit slip and give you a wristband. The color of your wristband will depend on which ticket you purchased. The park rangers are pretty strict on who stays past opening times, so be sure to decide whether you want to see the sunrise and/or sunset before you get there!
If you do arrive late and purchase a ticket after 3 pm, a nice tip to know is that it’s good for the next day. So you can come back!
If you are booking a tour of Tikal, double-check that your tour includes your ticket price as you must purchase your ticket prior to visiting. This can be done up to 30 days before arriving as they are valid for 30 days from the purchase date. Everyone who purchases a ticket (including kids with free tickets) requires a passport as ID.
Finally, there is a Tikal Park campground, which costs 50Q ($7 USD) per person. You need to bring your own gear, but this would be a fun experience.
4. What are the opening hours of Tikal?
Tikal National Park is open from 6 am until 5 pm every day of the year. The museums are open from 8 am to 6 pm and closed for any national holidays.
If you buy the standard entry ticket, those are the times you will be able to explore Tikal.
If you purchased tickets for the additional hours, you will be able to stay for either sunset or sunrise, which varies in time depending on the season.
5. When is the best time to visit Tikal?
Coming early for sunrise or staying late for sunset are the two best times to be in the park because it’s quiet!
If you are really hoping to avoid the crowds, and don’t mind being up bright and early, we loved the sunrise tour as you get to experience the park without many people in it. You also get to skip the heat of the afternoon.
I would also recommend avoiding visiting on a Sunday. Guatemalan citizens get free entry to the National Park every Sunday, so it tends to be a busier day.
When you’re thinking about what time of year to come, it’s important to remember Tikal is located in the rainforest in northern Guatemala. This means there are varying degrees of hot and humid all year round!
The dry season in this region runs from November until April, with April being the hottest month of the year. This dry period also coincides with the high season, meaning that it is a lot more expensive to visit between the periods of Christmas and Easter.
The wet season brings long, heavy showers and high levels of humidity from the months of May to October, so this is not considered the best time to visit Tikal. Being in the jungle, the terrain can get quite muddy and you will struggle to find shelter from the rain if you get caught in it!
January, February, and March are considered the best months to visit Tikal. While it will still be hot, the crowds won’t be as bad as in December and April.
Related read: If you’re flying into Guatemala’s main airport at any time of year, you’ll likely be close to Antigua. There are so many incredible things to do in Antigua before you head to Tikal!
6. What are the best tours to Tikal?
To get the most out of your trip to Tikal, it is best to book a guided tour. That way you don’t spend all your time in the park trying not to get lost. Tikal is absolutely HUGE and having a guide will help make your experience as smooth as possible. Plus, you get to learn some of its amazing history, which helped me appreciate the ruins even more.
These are some of our top recommendations:
If you don’t mind getting up early, we highly recommend this sunrise tour. We loved this one! Our guide spoke perfect English and knew so much about Tikal. He also spotted lots of wildlife and we had a really close encounter with a cute monkey!
This tour only includes a guide, not your ticket for the park. You make your own way to the Tikal entrance at around 4:30 am to meet your guide, just in time to watch the sunrise over the temples. The tour lasts roughly six hours but you will get to experience a lot of Tikal before the main bulk of the crowds arrives.
This particular tour is a group tour with a maximum of 8 people, so is a great option for solo travelers who would like some company. Plus, it’s really affordable at only $30 USD.
Private Sunrise Tour
However, if you would like to book your own tour with a few nice extras, this private sunrise tour is a great option. Booking a private tour gives you a bit more freedom to stay longer at different temples and tailor the day to your interests.
This tour also includes hotel pick-up and your Tikal entrance fee in its $145 USD cost, while the sunrise tour above does not. This tour is an ideal option if you don’t fancy spending the whole day at the park as it runs from 3 am until 11:30 am, allowing you to skip out on the afternoon heat as it’s pretty intense!
Tikal Day Tour
This full-day group tour includes either hotel or airport pick-up from Flores and your ticket for an entire day at Tikal. It also includes your guide, entrance fee, and a packed lunch so is a great option for a stress-free experience, especially if you are flying into Flores just for the day.
If you are wanting a private option for a day ticket, this private VIP Tikal day tour is a great option. You’ll be picked up from your hotel before getting to explore at your own pace with a personal tour around the ancient temples. This option is $80 USD and doesn’t include the entrance fee.
7. Can you visit Tikal without a tour?
Yes, you can definitely visit Tikal without booking a tour! However, you will have to arrange your own transport and purchase your tickets in advance. You can go via a rental car or another good option is by shuttle. This shuttle bus from Flores can be booked online here. It’s $80 USD for a group of up to 3 and picks up from any hotel in Flores.
While it’s possible to visit without any tour, we always opt for the guided option, especially if it’s our first visit somewhere. The park itself is huge so having a guide means you don’t miss out on any of the main highlights.
If you don’t book a guided tour, you can also hire a guide on-site. The guides at the park are official guides in either English or Spanish and are relatively cheap at around $5 USD.
Tikal guides are very knowledgeable and can teach you the history and importance of Tikal to the Mayan people so it is definitely worth getting one so you can have all your questions answered!
If you are planning on exploring solo, we would recommend purchasing a map to find your way around and looking into audio guides which you can use while walking around.
8. Can you climb the temples in Tikal?
Yes! Climbing some of the temples is one of the highlights of the park! The viewing platforms give the most amazing views over Tikal and out over the stunning jungle.
Some of the temples have a lot of steps to reach the top, so be sure to bring practical shoes and prepare yourself for the climb.
Not all of the temples are open to visitors so pay attention to the signs posted at each structure. Some of the best temples to climb include Temple IV, the tallest temple, and Temple II, which gives the best views over the jungle.
Related read: If you’re up for a more intense hike uphill, take on the ultimate adventure in Guatamala with the Acatenango Volcano Hike!
9. What should you bring to Tikal?
An absolute must-bring to Tikal is your passport! Do not forget this as you will not be able to enter the park without it.
While exploring the ruins in Tikal, there isn’t much for shelter, so be prepared for the elements. Tikal gets very hot and humid so bring a sun hat, sunscreen, and lots of water. There are places you can purchase cold water throughout the park but it’s best to bring your own water bottle if you can.
Being in the jungle, you will need to bring some insect repellent and some comfortable shoes. There are pathways to all the different temples but the terrain isn’t the smoothest and there are a lot of steps!
Tikal is absolutely beautiful and the lookout point makes the most amazing photos so don’t forget your camera.
It is also worth noting that nowhere in Tikal National Park takes credit cards (and there are no ATMs) so if you are wanting to purchase anything within the park you will need to bring some cash with you.
Related read: If you need some tips before taking pics at Tikal, check out our guide to taking better travel photos!
10. What are the highlights of visiting Tikal?
There are so many things to see here, but the temples steal the show. What’s amazing to think about is that only about 30% of the structures in Tikal have been unearthed. Imagine what other discoveries there may be in the future!
The Grand Plaza
Located in the center of Tikal is the Grand Plaza, which was once the main square of the city, consisting of Temple I and Temple II and the ball court.
Temple I (also known as Temple of the Great Jaguar) stands 154 feet (47 meters) high and faces towards the setting sun. Temple II (Temple of the Masks) is 125 feet (38 meters) tall and faces the rising sun. The Mayans believed that Temple I was the portal to the underworld and actually buried one of their rulers there.
To get the best views of the Grand Plaza and the rainforest, head up to the viewpoint on the Temple of the Masks, you won’t be disappointed!
Also known as The Temple of the Doubled Headed Serpent, this temple is a must-see when visiting Tikal. It’s the tallest temple ever built by the Mayans standing 213 feet (65 meters) high!
This is one of the temples you can climb up to, but be warned, it’s a long way up! Luckily you can now take a set of wooden stairs instead of having to make your way up the slippery slides with only branches and roots to hold onto, like in past years.
The views from here are incredible (and well worth the climb!) with the surrounding jungle and all the other temples poking up above the trees around you.
Another must-visit temple in Tikal is Temple V! Located just south of The Grand Plaza, this temple is the second-tallest in Tikal standing at 187 feet (57 meters) high.
Temple V is located down a little pathway but opens up into this huge temple square. What makes the temple unique is its moss-covered stairway and rounded top.
Lost World Pyramid
The Lost World Pyramid is slightly away from Tikal’s other popular structures and is one of the oldest in Tikal. First built in 500 BC, this pyramid is covered in greenery with four sets of steps, one on each side, and has an astronomical viewing platform that visitors are allowed up to.
11. Facilities at Tikal
There are some facilities around Tikal including a few free toilets. These are fairly spaced out and can be quite tricky to find so we do recommend purchasing a map at the entrance to help you find them.
There are two cafes at Tikal, which sell things like sandwiches, coffee, and other drinks. One is located just outside the entrance and one at the visitors center if you get hungry, and there are a couple of other places you can buy snacks dotted around the grounds.
Make sure you bring cash with you (in the local currency) as there are no ATMs here!
As you can probably imagine, food is quite pricey inside the park so bring some water and snacks with you if you can. There are also a few picnic spots around Tikal with benches, perfect for a packed lunch with a view!
On your way out of the park, there are a few small market stalls selling souvenirs and sun hats if you would like to buy something to remember your trip.
12. Is Tikal worth visiting?
Absolutely! If you are heading to Guatemala or Belize, Tikal is a must-visit!
Wandering through the jungle and around a series of ancient temples surrounded by wildlife at Tikal really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list!
We have been to a few ancient sites now and Tikal is one of the best we have ever seen. Plus, exploring the nearby town of Flores was an unexpected bonus – I had no idea I would love Flores as much as I did!
Where to Stay Near Tikal
Now that you’re all prepped for your visit to Tikal, it’s time to find a great place to stay! I recommend finding a hotel or hostel in the town of Flores.
The main reason people stay in Flores is to visit the nearby ruins, but we found this little place really charming. Wandering the cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and of course taking in the views of the lake are just a few of the reasons I fell in love with Flores!
There are plenty of options for all budgets in this small town and it puts you within an hour’s drive from the ruins. Plus, lots of tours (including the ones we mentioned above) pick up from hotels in Flores. To help you decide where to stay, these are our top picks!
Hotel Petén Express
For budget travelers, Hotel Petén Express is the perfect option. The hostel is located right on the lake, has a pool, a social bar, and a restaurant. The premises are clean and rooms are modern and spacious. Unfortunately, they only have dorm rooms but this hostel is amazing!
Los Amigos Hostel
With a huge garden and an amazing bar and restaurant, this is the place to stay if you want to meet other travelers. Los Amigos Hostel has tons of different rooms available including dorms and large private suites – there is something for everyone! This is easily one of the most popular places to stay in Flores.
For mid-range budget travelers, Hotel Casazul is hard to beat. It’s a lakefront hotel that’s decorated beautifully. The view from the upper balcony is also one of the best in town. The reviews speak for themself too!
You can book on Booking.com
Hotel Isla de Flores
There aren’t many luxury options in Flores, however, Hotel Isla de Flores is one of the few. The hotel has a beautiful rooftop terrace with a pool, a highly-rated restaurant and bar, as well as huge spacious rooms decorated to make you feel as though you’re at the beach. Overall a great choice that comes much cheaper than most luxury hotels we stay at!
You can book on Booking.com
Thanks for reading!
The ancient ruins at Tikal are so cool to see in person. You’ll realize just how large the temples are when you stand beside one! Hopefully, these things to know before visiting Tikal will help you enjoy your visit as much as we did.
If you’re heading to Central America, make sure to check out our other Guatemala blogs as well as browse around other destinations. We’ve traveled extensively around here and have some good tips to share to help you plan your trip and discover some neat places too. Enjoy your trip!