Tikal might be Guatemala’s most popular tourist attraction and there’s a good reason. The site is massive and although I don’t know exactly how large it is, it reminded me of Coba in Mexico. Everything is so spread out that walking from one temple complex to another takes about 15 mins. Suffice to say, you’ll be doing a lot of walking and be on your feet the whole day. Below you will find a guide for getting to and exploring Tikal, Guatemala.
Fees and Payment
The fee to get in is 150 GTQ. You’ll want to make sure you have enough cash to get in because the only US currency they accept at the gate are $50s and $100 (and I assume those bill have to be pristine with no writing or bent corners). If you need to exchange something smaller, you need to walk across the street to this store that will exchange it for you at a cut throat rate. So you’ll basically buy your ticket BEFORE you drive into the park.
I understand why they would not accept US dollars. What puzzles me is that the site has electricity and lines to run credit cards, yet do not accept them. All this is to say that it’s CASH ONLY.
Driving and Parking
Once you drive in, you’ll be warned to drive NO FASTER than 45 KPH…yes KPH, not MPH. You’ll be given a piece of paper and I think they write down the time you drive into the park. Once you’re at the entrance, you’ll have to show that same piece of paper to the attendant. My guess is, if you arrive too fast, you’ll be fined.
Parking was a breeze since there was really no one there and I just walked right in. You just have to present your ticket at the gate and they’ll give you a wristband. You’ll want to take a look at the map and plan out your path through the site. If you don’t want to purchase a map, I STRONGLY recommend you take a photo of the site map. The site is so large that the last thing you want to do is any sort of backtracking.
Temples in Tikal
The site has a fair mix of temples you can climb and those you can’t. The main sites even have faux wood stairs to make it easier and less steep but access is also limited (meaning you can only go so far).
Obviously the main temple complexes will be popular with tourists so you’ll want to visit those first. A great aspect of getting there early was that there was almost no one in the park which allowed me to have great viewing spots without the crowds. Note that many of the popular temples have limits to the number of people allowed on the viewing decks so during peak tourist season, there could be a significant wait as people leave.
Aside from temple climbing, there are a ton of other sites that are interesting and far less popular. The joy of these less popular areas is that you can find a quiet spot to rest, eat, or just soak in the site. You can also see areas of the park that have yet to be uncovered. It’s actually mind blowing to think how large the site actually if and when it’s completely uncovered.
Whatever you do, take it easy. Rest when you need to and don’t rush it. (I felt like I sat every 10 mins because of the humid weather and exhaustion.) Look, these ruins have been here hundreds of years and they’ll be there if you get there a few mins later. The thing I noticed was that there weren’t very many places to sit (in terms of benches) so I was mostly sitting on rocks, tree stumps, or whatever I could find.
I spent a good 6 hours there and although I could’ve spent more time, exhaustion settled in by 2pm. It was already warm at 8am so you can imagine how warm it was when I left.
I would also recommend to anyone hoping to see the sunrise or sunset to bring a flashlight. Obviously the park doesn’t have lights but I can see the park getting dark very quickly especially at sunset. The trees are so thick that there won’t be much light to see let along know where you’re going. Also, the paths are just dirt paths so you’ll want to be able to watch your step.
Tips for Tikal –
Exchange enough money before you get to Tikal! You will more than likely find ways to spend the leftover money later on.
Take a photo of the site map when you first walk in if you don’t want to buy a map. It’ll really help you find your way through the park and plan a route that avoids backtracking.
It’ll be hot….bring water.
If going on for the sunrise or sunset, you’ll probably want to bring a flashlight. I can see the light disappearing quickly at sunset and navigating your way back to the entrance could be difficult.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t plan to have enough money and that I could stop at an ATM along the way. Not only did I not see an ATM, I only had 10 Quetzals when I crossed back into Belize (along with $5 USD and about $10 Belizean dollars). There were so many little food stands selling food on the road into Guatemala that smelled and looked AMAZING. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stop and eat. You’ll see the ladies over wood fired grills cooking something all along the road and the smell was intoxicating. I really wished I had enough money to stop along the way and try a few of those places. Please don’t make the same mistake I did!
I hope this quick guide to Tikal Guatemala gives you an idea of what to expect when you come. If you really wanted to see all the different sites, you could easily spend a few days here but a full day was more than enough for me. This UNESCO site does offer a lot but is also showing wear from tourism. At least you still have the option of climbing on, in, and around some of the sites now and hopefully it’ll remain that way for a while.
If you’d like to see more info from my trip to Tikal, please check out my Youtube video below!