Tikal Maya Ruins

 
Tikal
 

Easily the most famous Maya city in the world, Tikal has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. With soaring iconic temples that have appeared in hundreds of films, TV shows, and documentaries, Tikal is a sprawling site located deep in the jungle of El Peten Department in northern Guatemala.

The sprawling site measures over six square miles (16 square km) and has more than 3,000 surviving structures. To get the best experience, it’s definitely recommended that you explore Tikal with one of our experienced local guides. Few sights can compare the endless jungle panorama that you can glimpse from one of the pyramids built thousands of years ago.

Watching the sun set below the horizon in Tikal is a magical experience. As darkness settles, the jungle will come to life. First, spider and howler monkeys will make their presence known in the tree tops. If you’re lucky, you’ll also glimpse creatures like tarantulas, foxes, wild turkeys, ocelots, coatimundis (a cross between a raccoon and a monkey), and even toucans.

Besides being famous for its majestic beauty, Tikal is unique in that the main temples are spaced quite far away. Even with thousands of tourists visiting the site each year, it’s possible to be on the grounds and not see a single other human being. You’ll definitely feel a bit like Indiana Jones, discovering the long-lost ruins for the first time.

Our guided tour will take you to approximately 90% of the site, including plenty of time to explore the central plaza, seven different ball courts, and the big palaces. The heart of Tikal is known as “El Mundo Perdido” (The Lost World), a truly unique archeological site. Participants will also get a chance to climb Temple 4, the tallest building on the site. Measuring 70 meters (230 feet) tall, it was built by the king Yik’in Chan Kawil. Temple 4 is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Your professional guide will share their expertise about the architecture at the site, its history, and the flora and fauna in the area.

Sunrise Tour

One of the best way to experience the magic of Tikal! Departure is at 3:00 AM from the hostel. You’ll arrive at the site around 4:30 AM with plenty of time to watch the jungle come to life as the sun rises.

Buses heading back to the hostel leave Tikal at 11:00 AM and 12:30 PM. The drive to Flores takes about an hour.

The price of the tour is 110 quetzals. This price includes ground transportation via private shuttle and an English-speaking professional guide. Spanish-speaking guides are also available.

To enter the Tikal site, you’ll have to pay 150 quetzals and an extra Q100 for participants of the sunrise tour because the park does not officially open until 6:00 AM. The additional fee is for guards to work overtime. All told, this means you’ll need to pay 250 quetzals to do the sunrise tour, but it’s definitely worth it. Make sure you ask for an official entry ticket.

Pro tip: Cloudy mornings are common in this region of Guatemala so catching an unforgettable sunset is more common than a clear sky sunrise.

Early Bird Tour

You’ll still get to enjoy the magic of Tikal with this tour. Departure time is 4:30 AM from the hostel and you’ll get to the site at 6:00 AM, the official opening time. Buses back to Tikal leave at 12:30 PM and 2:00 PM and the trip back to Flores takes about an hour.

The price for the early bird tour is 110 quetzals. This includes ground transportation in a private shuttle and a professional, experienced English-speaking guide. Spanish-speaking guides are also available.

To enter the Tikal site, the price is 150 quetzals. Make sure to ask for and receive an official entry ticket.

Day Tour

No chance of catching the sunrise, but this tour is better for travelers who want to sleep in. The departure time from the hostel is 8:00 AM and arrival in Tikal is about 9:30 AM. The return bus leaves at 3:00 PM from Tikal and you’ll be in Flores approximately an hour later.

The price for this tour is 110 quetzals. This includes ground transportation in a private shuttle and a professional, experienced English-speaking guide. Spanish-speaking guides are also available.

To enter the Tikal site, the price is 150 quetzals. Make sure to ask for and receive an official entry ticket.

Tikal Sunset Tour

By far, our most popular tour. Departure is at 12:30 PM from the hostel and you’ll arrive on the site at 2:00 PM. The return bus leaves Tikal at 7:00 PM and you’ll be back in Flores in approximately an hour.

This includes ground transportation in a private shuttle and a professional, experienced English-speaking guide. Spanish-speaking guides are also available.

The price for this tour is 110 quetzals. This includes ground transportation in a private shuttle and a professional, experienced English-speaking guide. Spanish-speaking guides are also available.

To enter the Tikal site, the price is 150 quetzals. Make sure to ask for and receive an official entry ticket. There is an additional fee of Q 20 because of the need for extra guards on the site, therefore the total entrance price is 170 quetzals.

History

Tikal was founded somewhere around 3,000 years ago. Major construction began around 2,600 years ago and included some of the pyramids and platforms that still exist today. Tikal began to take off around the year 100 AD and soon became the most powerful city-state in the Maya world.

Tikal was locked in a battle for supremacy with other nearby Maya cities like Calakmul, Naranjo, Caracol, and Uaxactun. By the year 300 AD, Tikal’s power had waned and the area was dominated by cities like Caracol and Uaxactun.

Archeologists believe that the leaders of Teotihuacan, the sacred capital of the Aztecs in what is now Mexico, invaded Tikal and overthrew it. Aztec leaders ruled over Tikal for the next century but civil war and strife lead to the downfall of Tikal. The last major construction on the site was around the year 500 AD when thick fortifications, earthworks, and defensive ditches were built.

By the year 600 AD, Tikal was badly weakened and became a vassal state of neighboring powers. Nonetheless, Tikal managed to hang on until around 900 AD when Temple 3 was constructed. By the year 950, the city’s government collapsed and the site was completely abandoned by the year 1000 AD.

Pro Tips:

  • Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
  • Bring your bug spray and plenty of drinking water.
  • There is no food for sale in Tikal, so we recommend bringing along one of our lunch boxes.
  • For the sunrise or sunset tour, bring a flashlight. You’ll also need a warm shirt as the air can be quite brisk at the top of the temple.

Fun Fact:

The original Star Wars (Episode IV) from 1977 filmed on location in Tikal.


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