Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala

Although I have made many trips, Guatemala still remains one of my favorite countries, the ones to which, sooner or later, I would love to return. A still genuine country, full of beautiful things to see, where you can breathe an ancient atmosphere.

Certainly, in mine honeymoon in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize visit of Tikal, together with those of Antigua, Semuc Champey and Lake Atitlan it was one of the highlights.

Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala

I've seen so many Mayan ruins in Mexico, but Tikal in Guatemala it was a totally different experience. And better, I think, along with Palenque which I also liked terribly.

Whether you are traveling for months in Central America or just plain taking a short trip, the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal are definitely one of things to see in Guatemala.

Il Tikal National Park it is located in the middle of a jungle that is home to monkeys, toucans and macaw parrots (just to name a few of the creatures you might spot!).

As you walk through the ruins that emerge from grassy mounds and are surrounded by trees and vines, you'll feel like you've been thrown into an Indiana Jones remake.

It is an absolutely magical place.

Brief information about Tikal

Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala

Although you will learn a lot when you visit the site itself, I thought it would be useful to include some preliminary information about the visit so that you do not go completely unprepared like I did.

  • La city ​​of Tikal it was named long after its collapse and extinction. The name means "at the watering hole" in the Mayan language.
  • THETikal architecture it was built in limestone extracted from the local area.
  • For much of its history, Tikal was influenced and controlled by the powerful Teotihuacan located in central Mexico.
  • La Mayan civilization of Tikal it fell into decline around 900 AD Its death is thought to be due to drought, but no one really knows.
  • However, it was never forgotten and the local people made trips to Tikal in the 1850s. And for the next 100 years, the archaeological site of Tikal was visited by explorers and adventurers.
  • Il Tikal National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
  • The park covers an area of 575 square kilometers and it was the first protected area in Guatemala.
  • - park opening hours it's 6am to 00pm every day, but if you've booked a sunrise tour you will enter the park at 17am.

When to visit Tikal

Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala

Di Nadine Folkertsma /

Trying to get the best out of your visit to Tikal means taking several things into consideration, the main one being when to go to Guatemala. Since you will be spending a lot of time outdoors on your trip, planning the trip at the right time is essential.

If going in the best season means being more likely to get beautiful sunny days, going in the low season means finding fewer tourists (even if there are not many in Guatemala yet, most travel with organized tours) and significantly lower prices. .

Guatemala in general has two seasons, the rain season and dry season. Visiting during the rainy season, which runs from May to October, is not ideal as rain comes in regularly during the afternoon and lasts for hours.

Additionally, Tikal can get quite muddy and humid at this time of year, making your visit more strenuous. During the dry season Tikal is warmer, especially in the months of April and May.

The other factor to keep in mind when planning your visit is the high season crowds. In Guatemala thehigh season is from December to March, although it is at its peak in the weeks of Christmas and Easter.

A higher demand for housing during these periods means that prices they will probably be taller compared to other times of the year.

All of which means that the best time to visit Tikal is during the months of February and March, when the weather is a little cooler and drier, and the prices are slightly cheaper.

How to get to Tikal

Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala

Given its remote jungle location, figuring out how to get to Tikal is a crucial part of planning your trip.

Tikal is located in the north of Guatemala, not far from the Belize border and the fastest and easiest way to get there is from the nearby town of Flores, which is about 70km away and which is where most travelers generally spend a night. .

Due to its location in the Peten jungle, you can only reach Tikal by public transport from Flores. Chicken buses run fairly regularly with the first bus leaving for Tikal at 3.30am and the last bus returning to Flores at 17pm. The time it takes to reach Tikal from Flores is approximately 30 hour and a half.

The best way and what is most common is visit Tikal with a tour that starts from Flores that you can organize with your hostel or with one of the many agencies that are located in the city.

The tour options are plentiful, some include a guide, others just the return shuttle leaving you all day to visit tikal on your own.

Some tours depart very early in the morning to watch the sunrise from Temple IV, above the Peten jungle. I did, but apart from hearing the howler monkeys I didn't see anything else as there was a terrible fog.

I then discovered that the fog is often there, to be able to see the sunrise you have to be lucky, but if you can it is an incredible experience.

You can get to Tikal not only from Flores, there are also tours departing from Belize cities such as San Ignacio and Belize City. If you have less time but still want to visit Tikal, there are also tours that take you from Guatemala City to Tikal in just one day.

Local agencies may cost less but not all are reliable and especially in high season you may not find a place.

Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala

Yes, I want my tailor-made itinerary!

Where to sleep in Tikal

There aren't many sleeping options in Tikal, but sleeping in the jungle is definitely a great experience. As I said before, Flores is the main base for visiting the Mayan ruins.

In this small but pretty city, obviously very touristy, there are plenty of accommodation options, from cheap to more expensive ones. You will surely be spoiled for choice!


Most travelers go directly to thehostel Los Amigos as soon as he arrives in Flores.

It is something of a hangout among backpackers: it has pretty much all the amenities you could wish for; Internet access, book exchange and on-site bar / restaurant.

The best thing about this place? It has an open courtyard filled with trees, fountains and hammocks that give you the feeling of being in the jungle. A tip: given their success, they tend to inflate tour prices. Before booking a tour with them then take a tour of the city at the various agencies, you will probably find better prices.

I arrived in Flores without booking and unfortunately I have not found a place in Los Amigos.

However, we found a place in thehotel Mirador del Lago in a double room, simple but basic. There is hot water and the cost is really low.

The hotel bar has a splendid view of the lake and you can use their kayaks for free. If you only care about a cheap place this is definitely worth considering.

Ciao Cacao Hostel & Vegan Cafe offers a large tropical garden where guests can relax in hammocks and enjoy vegan delicacies, coffee, smoothies and homemade ice cream. The hostel contains a cozy common area and you can ask for both dorm and private room.


See Hotels in FLORES

Tikal National Park

A night in the national park will give you a wonderful jungle experience. And most likely you will have the opportunity to observe the fauna of the park (which hides during the day with so many people).

Sleeping nearby or in the park is the perfect option if you want to try to see the sunrise, that way you won't have the alarm going off at 2am and you can get some more sleep.

The downside is that you will be completely dependent on hotel services. Food in restaurants can be bland and expensive, and you may be stuck there without being able to move freely.

You will need to bring cash with you, there are no ATMs you can withdraw from.

Il Jungle Lodge Tikal Hostal it is the cheapest option in the archaeological site.

The rooms are simple with comfortable beds, there is no air conditioning, and the rooms have shared facilities.

Sometimes called Tikal lodge, it is more like a hostel than a hotel.

It does have a swimming pool though, which is ideal for relaxing after a hot day of sightseeing.

Hotel Jaguar Inn Tikal has thirteen bungalows equipped with ceiling fans, hot water and private bathrooms. Those who want to spend even less can ask for a tent.

The resort also offers twilight or full moon tours.


See Hotels in TIKAL

What to see in Tikal

Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala

The central and restored area of ​​Tikal, the one that tourists can visit today, is about 16 km² large. Here are some of the most important buildings.

1 - Great Plaza

The access road to the site will lead you straight to what is the largest square in the entire complex. The Grand Plaza was the heart of Tikal and the center of the city's ceremonial life.

On its sides overlook the Temple 1 and 2 (among the most majestic of the entire Mayan city), the field for the ball game and a series of other ancient buildings.
It is bounded to the north by the North Acropolis and to the South by the Central Acropolis.

2 - Temple 1

Temple 1 is also known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar.
The building was built as a funerary monument to King Jasaw Chan K'awil who was buried here in 734 AD.

Construction work presumably began after his death and ended between 740 and 750 AD. The building is about 47 meters high and once on its top there was a large sculpture representing the king sitting on his throne (today unfortunately very little of this work remains).

The king's tomb was discovered in 1962 and a rich funerary outfit was found in its entirety that included a large amount of jade, shells, pottery and a series of human and animal bones masterfully engraved to represent gods and people.

3 - Temple 2

Opposite the Temple of the Great Jaguar is the Temple 2, also known as the Temple of the Masks.

This building was built around 700 AD when King Jasaw Chan K'awil was still alive. The Temple was dedicated to the king's wife, although the tomb has never been found inside.

The Temple is about 38 meters high and today it is possible to climb to its top to enjoy a magnificent view of the Gran Plaza.

4 - Temple 3

Located west of Temple 2, the Temple 3, also known as the Temple of the High Priest, appears to have been the last building erected in Tikal.

The Temple is about 55 meters high, consists of only two rooms (unlike the others which have three) and was built around 810 AD

Outside there is a figure dressed in jaguar skin, a mask on the back and on the forehead the symbol of a god.

5 - Temple 4

Il Temple 4 it is also known as the Temple of the Two-headed Snake. This building, with its 70 meters, is the tallest in all of Tikal and is currently the tallest Mayan construction in the world, despite the fact that the Pyramid of the Sun of Teotihuacan was once probably even higher.

The building was erected around AD 470 to celebrate the 27th king of the Tikal dynasty, Yik'in Chan K'awiil. Archaeologists claim that his tomb is somewhere under the Temple, but still no one has been able to find it.

Today it is possible to climb to the top of Temple 4 to enjoy a magnificent view over the entire jungle: at sunset and sunrise it is absolutely the best time to do so, when the sun's rays reflect on the pinnacles of the other temples that emerge from the trees.

6 - Temple 5

Il Temple 5 it is located south of the Central Acropolis and is about 57 meters high.

This is the only funerary monument of Tikal that still creates strong doubts to archaeologists: in fact, the name of the ruler who should have been buried here is not known. Radiocarbon analyzes date the building to around 700 AD.

Temple 5 is also the only building of its kind in Tikal to have a single room inside.

From the top you can enjoy a magnificent view of the city, but the structure of the staircase and its tiny steps make the climb really dangerous: be careful!

7 - Temple 6

Il Temple 6 it is also known as the Temple of the Inscriptions for the numerous engravings that can be seen on the pyramid roof structure.

The internal rooms are accessed through three portals facing west. This suggests that the building was not a temple, but rather a palace.

8 - The Lost World

The lost World it is the largest complex in the entire city of Tikal and is organized like most of the Mayan astronomical installations.

Here too, in fact, as in other cities, it is possible to notice a large pyramid aligned with a ceremonial platform facing east on which three other smaller temples stand.

Over the centuries this complex was rebuilt and remodeled several times. Between 250 and 300 AD it was modernized on the basis of architectural influences that came from the great city of Teotihuacan and in the Early Neoclassical Period it became one of the central places of the city along with the North Acropolis.

Between 250 AD and 378 AD this area was probably also used as a royal necropolis.

9 - Great Pyramid of the Lost World

La Great Pyramid of the Lost World it is the most important building in the El Mundo Perdido complex. Like the whole complex, the pyramid was also rebuilt several times and its current shape is the result of five phases of reconstruction.

Today the pyramid is about 31 meters high and its base is about 67,5 meters wide: for a certain historical period this was the largest pyramid in the Mayan world.

One of its peculiarities are the stairs to reach the top that rise on all four sides of the building. The stairways are all adorned with large stone masks, some too damaged by time to understand whether they are zoomorphic or anthropomorphic figures.

10 - Complexes of the twin pyramids

Within Tikal they are located i 9 complete consisting of two pyramids facing each other along the east - west axis.

All of these complexes have different sizes, but the structure never changes.

The buildings, in fact, have stairs on all four sides, a series of steles placed on the ground on the west side of the pyramid to the east and another series of steles to the north of both.

generally arranged equidistant from each other. South of these complexes you can always see a vaulted building consisting of a single room which can be accessed through nine doors.

Studies have found that these complexes were built within 20 years of each other.

11 - North Acropolis

THENorth Acropolis of Tikal is one of the most studied areas in the whole area. The first evidence of settlement dates back to 800 BC, but the first buildings were built around 350 BC.

This area was used as a royal necropolis for 1300 years!

12 - Central Acropolis

Immediately south of the Gran Plaza is theCentral Acropolis, according to scholars, one of the most difficult places to decipher in the entire archaeological site of Tikal.

The Acropolis, in fact, continued to develop over a period of about 500 years and as the city changed, the area grew in height in an intricate maze of buildings.

The Central Acropolis develops upwards around six courtyards, each placed at a different height.

Some buildings are thought to have been the permanent residence of the Tikal nobility, but some buildings appear to be more likely to be buildings intended for visiting families.

Under some buildings, in fact, the remains of ancient burials have been found, a common custom among the Maya, but in others there is no trace of tombs.

This suggests that the latter buildings were not used continuously and permanently.

13 - South Acropolis

THESouth Acropolis it is located near Temple 5 and is built on a base covering approximately 20.000 m².

Like Temple 5 also of the South Acropolis, not much is known and studies continue to go on at the same time as the excavations.

14 - Square of the Seven Temples

West of the South Acropolis is the Square of the Seven Temples.

The shape of the square is rectangular, is oriented on the north - south axis and measures 25.000 m².

This huge square is characterized by seven small temples built in the late classical period which seem to have served for studies of astronomical measurements.

15 - Museum of Ceramics

The Ceramics Museum collects some of the findings made during the excavations of the archaeological site of Tikal.

Here you can admire vases, masks and the replica of Ha Sawa Chaan K'awil's burial.

16 - Museum of the Stele

Il Museum of the Stele was created to protect some of the site's findings from bad weather and damage.

One of the most important works is the Hombre de Tikal, a human-shaped figure on which some hieroglyphs are engraved.

Tips and useful information

Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala

After my visit (and the mistakes I made) here are some tips based on my experience for visit Tikal.

  1. Coming soon to avoid crowds and heat.
  2. The sun can be relentless, then bring plenty of water, wear a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and comfortable clothing.
  3. There are no ATMs, bring cash
  4. Give it more time than you think. The distances between the temples are long and Tikal is huge!
  5. Have a picnic under the trees while gazing at the ancient ruins. Food at the on-site restaurants is bland and expensive.
  6. Be careful when you go up the pyramids and if you are not feeling well, take a break.
  7. Wear comfortable shoes and sturdy and beware of slippery wet stones, roots and trunks.
  8. You will need one flashlight or head lamp if you decide to take a sunrise tour of Tikal. Before sunrise, in the dark you will have to walk for about 40 minutes to reach Temple IV. It is difficult to see the path!
  9. Please, take your trash with you out of the park.
  10. Don't feed wildlife as it creates a dependence on humans for survival. I know that animals are very cuddly and will make you tender, but NOT feeding them is for their own good.
  11. Bring a sandwich if you think you'll be hungry. There is a restaurant on the site that also sells sandwiches, but they are overpriced and quite ahem yucky. I asked for a vegetarian sandwich and was stuffed with something like a slice of cheese in the middle of two pieces of bread at an absurd cost.

Il archaeological site of Tikal it is simply spectacular. One of the must-see destinations in Guatemala.

Visit Tikal, the Most Important Mayan Site in Guatemala
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