Tikal – A nature lovers guide
Tikal is surrounded by jungle making it not only a great site for archaeology but also nature. Dating back to around 1000 BC Tikal wasn’t a thriving city until fairly recently in 700AD. It was one of the most powerful cities in the Americas with around 100,000 residents, a school and even a hospital. It was an advanced city where being sacrificed was still thought of as an honour. But within just 250 years the city would be abandoned and left to be reclaimed by the jungle. Why is still a mystery.
When to go to Tikal
The best time to visit Tikal is during the months of February and March, when the weather is a little cooler and drier, and prices are slightly more affordable.
How much does it cost to visit Tikal?
The park’s opening hours are from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily. The entrance fee is 150 GTQ for tourists, roughly $20 USD. Do note that this is the general entrance fee, and those doing a sunrise tour (4am start) will be charged 250 GTQ, or around $33 USD. I wouldn’t advise the sunrise tour for two reasons. Firstly there is usually a lot of mist/fog in the early morning in the jungle, sou your not going to see much until about 9:30 when the sun burns through. Secondly it’s bloody early!
Tips for visiting Tikal
Tickets are cash only so make sure to have enough money on you as there are no ATM’s around (it’s a jungle!).
Tickets to Tikal can only be purchased 20 minutes before you get to the Tikal hotels/entrance at the first gate. Hours are 06:00-18:00 everyday. (If you do the sunrise tour you must get them the day before at the Banrural Bank).
Get there early to avoid the heat and crowds. Tours start to arrive around 10:30, so it’s a good time to leave!
The food isn’t amazing and there is nothing inside the park apart from a few fizzy drinks. Bring snacks and drinks with you.
Where to stay
Stay in the jungle
Hotel Jungle Lodge Tikal is a good option for backpackers, at $50 a night it’s not exactly budget, but you are in a jungle surrounded by nature and right next to the entrance to Tikal. We’d heard the food wasn’t great and a little expensive so we ate in the comedors in the park. The WiFi is bad/non existent and there isn’t any electric between 21:00 and 09:00 so make sure you get a shower the night before. They do exchange USD, EURO and BZD but the rate isn’t amazing. You can pay by card! But what makes up for all of that is there’s wildlife everywhere. We saw a coati within 5 minutes and a walk around the car park revealed monkeys, toucans, Ocellated turkey’s and much more!
We went and visited Tikal at 6am, left the bags in the room, came back at 11:30, showered and checked out at 12. The bus to Flores is at 12:30 so time for a quick lunch.
Many people stay on the small tourist island of Flores. It was the last Mayan city to be conquered by the Spanish and is full of pretty streets and great restaurants. Some recommendations are Hotel Villa del Lago, Hotel Isla de Flores and Casa Ula Hostel. We stayed through Airbnb and found a great last minute deal.
You can find tours to Tikal through every hotel and entrepreneurial sole on the island. Book through a hotel as scams are rife and you might find there is no bus for you in the morning. A round-trip bus ticket costs 80Q ($10.70 USD), with a guide it’s 120Q ($16 USD).
If you do stay in Flores check out ARCAS a rehabilitation centre for wildlife and victims of the pet trade. Just donate 25 Quetzals at the entrance or stay for a week as a volunteer for just 200USD. Check out ARCAS here.
You can also stay in the sleepy lakeside village of El Remate. It’s quite with a few hotels and restaurants and a bit closer to Tikal making for an easier journey/ later wake up in the morning.
Do you need a guide?
It depends entirely on what you want from the experience. As people that work in the tourism industry we often tend to avoid the groups and wander around in our own time. There is a great app for Tikal that has a map and all the info that you need. However if you want to see the highlights, possibly save time and get local insight a guide costs around 100 Quetzals per person.
The museum costs an additional 35 Quetzals, one ticket for both museums, but isn’t worth it in my opinion. All the info is only in Spanish, so pretty hard to interpret for non speakers, and the artefacts are very weathered.
What to take
Passport; you won’t be allowed to get in without it as they check the name against the ticket. Food and water as it’s expensive inside the park. Suncream, insect repellent and a good hat/ headscarf. Good walking shoes are essential.
Hiking up the tallest temple in the park.
Temple IV is 70 meters in height, and is actually the largest pyramid of its time built anywhere by the Mayans. It is the tallest pre-Columbian structure and the views of the rest of the park are perfect just as the sun comes through the mist.
The Lost World Pyramid in the Mundo Perdido complex.
It is the oldest structure in Tikal. It’s covered in vegetation, dating from the 4th century, and also has a great view point on top with amazing views of Temple IV.
Howler and spider monkeys
You will undoubtedly hear the howler monkeys with their menacing roars way before you see them. They are actually the less aggressive of the two species and are quite sedantry so hard to spot. They are all talk and no action so just follow the noise to spot them.
Spider monkeys are a lot more active, swinging from tree to tree in search of fruit. You will hear the clatter of branches so take a minute to pause and look up. You are sure to spot them on their daily forages. Just be careful as they have been known to go to the toilet on people’s heads! Also I know you aren’t stupid but don’t feed them! They will become aggressive towards humans and anyway they aren’t supposed to eat biscuits.
There are two types of toucan in the park; Keel Billed and Chesnut Eared. Both are easy to spot. You won’t miss the loud calls of the Golden Oriole with its bright yellow tail feathers or the bright Ocellated turkey’s wandering around. Black vultures and parrots are abundant and you might even spot a woodpecker and a Great Curassow if you’re lucky.
Coati’s are mainly around the car park scavenging leftovers but can be seen in the jungle too. Anteaters are harder to spot along with wild pigs. Even more impossible than that is to see a jaguar, they are there but avoid humans and are so well camouflaged in the jungle.
Getting to Flores if you haven’t pre-booked
Now there’s one easy option to make the next journey to Flores. We stayed at Jaguar Inn for one nigh so just left our bags in the hotel, grabbed them after visiting Tikal, then jumped on the 12:30 bus leaving from the main car park. They run from 6:30 to 17:00 apart from Sunday’s when the last one is 11am. They cost 35 for the 1 hour journey and drop you off in Flores bus station. Then you can get a quick 5 minute ride in a tuk tuk to Flores Island (where everyone stays).
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