There are quite some Mayan ruins to visit in Central America, but one of the most spectacular is the Mayan city of Tikal, deep in the jungle in northern Guatemala. The city was inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D, and is considered one of the best Mayan ruins in amazing jungle and has obtained UNESCO world heritage status. As the park is not very easy to reach it does not feel overrun like for example Chichen Itza in Mexico.
How to get there
Tikal is best reached from the city of Flores, Guatemala, and many day trips targeted at backpackers are offered for approximately GTQ100 return. However, taking one of these tours you’re most likely to miss the best experience: the sunset and sunrise over the jungle. therefore we took the more adventurous route: we crossed the border from Belize to Guatemala and took a bus from the border town of Melchor towards Flores, and got off at the Ixlu crossing.
From there we took another mini bus towards the entry point of the Tikal national park. Unfortunately the bus couldn’t take us into the park, and as we were not up for the 10+km walk from the entry to the campsite we decided to wait for a lift to get inside the park. This is best tried early in the morning as there will be a decent amount of busses going into the park. If you try this at our time (after 3pm) you might end up waiting more then two hours like we did.
The entrance to the park is GTQ150, but if you arrive after 3pm your ticket is also valid for the next day.
Where to stay
As stated earlier, most people opt to stay in Flores and take a day trip. However, there are several options to stay within the park, and see the ruins pretty much by yourself outside opening hours. We opted for the camp site next to the Jaguar in for GTQ50 per person if you have own equipment. Camping equipment can be rented for an additional GTQ50.
What to see
Tikal is best enjoyed by simply walking around. The area with ruins is absolutely immense, and will give you a proper Indiana Jones experience. There are good signs around the park, and you can get a map at the entrance highlighting the most impressive buildings. As the park is so big, you will frequently wander around without any other people in sight, allowing you to soak up some amazing wild life as well.
Two of the best experiences are the sunset and sunrise from the top of the highest pyramid in the park. There are official tours for to see this, however, we paid the guard and were were allowed to enter the good side of the pyramid to see the sunrise as well.
Safety at Tikal
A lot has been written about the safety in the Peten area in Guatemala. The area borders with Mexico, and reportedly there are quite some drug action in the region. It is therefore advised by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign affairs to travel with a travel company recognized by INGUAT, the Guatemalan tourism organization as robberies have taken place on the road between Flores and Tikal. That being said, we did not feel unsafe at any given time but common sense if definitely recommended.