Surrounded by a lush jungle, Tikal is one of the most important sites of the Maya world. Located in Peten, Guatemala, this national park is one of the few Unesco World Heritage sites that qualifies for both natural and cultural criteria because of its extraordinary biodiversity and its archaeological importance. To give you some interesting facts. The site includes 57,600 hectares of wetlands, savannah and palm forests. Within this area are 5 species of cats, including jaguars and pumas, several species of monkeys and anteaters, and more than 300 species of birds. There are also 200 tree species and over 2000 plant species. The archaeological complex has palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, residences, ball-game courts, terraces, roads, stelae and water reservoirs.
I had been to Tikal once before when I was 10 years old and remember it being a magical place. Unfortunately, this time, I broke my own rules about traveling slowly and rushed through the experience. In the end, I found it to be the most disappointing part of my trip. I hope that you learn more from my mistakes!
I decided to make the island town of Flores my base. Honestly, there’s not too much to do there. The buildings are pretty and colorful, but it takes about 30 minutes to see the entire town. There are lots of cafes and bars, but I ended up spending most of my time at my hostel. I can recommend Cool Beans Cafe, as a cheap place to eat with a cool funky vibe.
There weren’t many options in Flores, so I ended up booking my stay at Amigos Hostel, which is the ultimate backpackers haven. It’s set amidst a beautiful garden with a good happy hour, comfy lounge chairs and a convenient restaurant. The facilities there were really nice. I stayed in a dorm room and each bed had its own nightlight and electrical plugs.
I went on the early bird tour. During the rainy, it can be quite overcast and cloudy so there is not much in terms of sunrise or sunset views. Although a friend who went on the sunrise tour said it was still spectacular to hear the birds and howler monkeys waking up. I felt that the early bird tour was a good choice because it is much cooler in the morning and you can avoid the crowds of people who all seem to arrive around 11 am.
Since it was such an early morning wakeup, I knew I wouldn’t be hungry at that hour. So, I bought some snacks to eat at the minimart the night before. There are food and beverage stands throughout the park, but it is pricier than normal. I also suggest that you bring mosquito repellant because there can be hordes of mosquitos as you hike through the tropical forest. Sunscreen is another important item to bring with you because the sun pounds down hard by 9 am. Dehydration is an issue because of the heat and exercise, so make sure to bring plenty of water and have salty snacks. Bathrooms are located throughout the park.
I was ultimately disappointed by the tour. While my guide was quite informative and charismatic, I felt like the experience was a bit rushed. Also, I had just booked a standard tour through the hostel and ended up in a group of 30 people. I would’ve MUCH preferred a smaller group. If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve done the 5 day trek to El Mirador, another large Mayan site located in northern Guatemala. Also, a friend of mine from Guatemala told me that he always preferred to make El Remate his base. I highly recommend that you do any of those options for a more personal and authentic experience!
Know Before You Go to Tikal
- Morning tours are the best to avoid the heat.
- Buy snacks beforehand.
- Bring sunscreen, repellant and lots of water.
- Also bring your passport (or a copy) for when you purchase your ticket.
- There are bathrooms and snack stands throughout the park.
- Shuttles back to Flores are located in the parking lot to the right of the Visitor’s Center. You can take virtually any of them back, just be sure to hand them your return ticket.
- Consider staying at El Remate instead of Flores.
- Also consider doing the trek to El Mirador to get a better sense of the Maya world.