Within the northern part of Guatemala there’s a huge site of Mayan ruins located in a protected area of rainforest. Known as Tikal, this site is the ruins of an ancient Mayan city which date back to 200 AD and is an ancient city. This ancient city consists of more than 3000 structures and was once an influential part of Mayan civilisation. While Angkor Wat and Chichen Itza are incredible sites, they pail in comparison to Tikal as Tikal doesn’t have hordes of tourists. Because it’s quite difficult to get to, there are a lot less tourists, I was expecting crowds, however it was not crowded at all.
How did I get there?
Because I had such a limited time, I opted to book a flight from Guatemala City. I got an Uber from Antigua to the airport which took about an hour. I do not recommend flying unless you are pushed for time, it’s possible to get the bus from Antigua which takes about 9 hours. However you could also take the bus from another place like Coban if you have more time.
The Guatemala City airport is possibly one of the worst airports I have ever been to. This is because the departure lounge for domestic flights has absolutely nothing. The plane I took was a much smaller plane with propellers and I was flying out at night. I thought that plane wouldn’t look out of place in an Indiana Jones film.
Where did I Stay?
Flores is a small town in Northern Guatemala which is the best place to stay if you’re wanting to visit Tikal. I stayed in a hostel called Don Cenobio which was a very good place to stay. The owners were very chill and helped sort out my visit to Tikal the moment I had arrived. Moreover, the hostel was located on the island within the lake.
The town is a very laid back place and on the island you can feel like people actually live there. It has authenticity, rather than it being just a place for tourists. There aren’t a lot of places to eat and not many places take card. For breakfast I found a good place called Cool Beans Cafe which I enjoyed a burrito and a coffee. The hostel was good as it had a terrace with a view of the lake. Furthermore, I enjoyed a chilled out night watching a thunderstorm which I rarely see.
What’s it Like to Visit Tikal?
I was able to sort out my tour to Tikal through the guy working at the hostel. The tour cost me 150 quetzales or £15 and I was taken to the site on a bus. The drive from Flores to Tikal takes an hour and a half. Once you get there, you need to buy your tickets to enter the site. The normal ticket costs £15, however you have to pay an extra 100 quetzales or £9 to be there for the sunset after 6PM. You also have to bring your passport to show them when you buy your ticket.
Once I got my tickets, the bus parked and we got out to walk into the rainforest. After, half an hour of walking, we saw the first ruins. I recommend going with a guide as this place is huge and will be easy to get lost in. A guide will give you a lot of information about the site. Our guide was named Luis and was able to speak very good English.
Tikal isn’t just one part of ruins, but quite a few. The first ruins you’ll see is one of the temples and the ruins of the main Mayan buildings of the city. What’s cool is that you can even walk on top of one of the buildings. This can get you a view of the temple within the two temples which face each other. There is a staircase which you can get to the top of and you can get great views from there.
Beware of the Rain
We then walked to the other temples, however things took a turn for the worst when it started to rain. I was completely unprepared for the rain and got absolutely drenched. This rain went on for an hour and it felt like biblical rain. I highly recommend taking a raincoat if you’re visiting during the rainy season.
Then after some walking, our guide showed us this steep staircase. It was on one of the temples and the rain started to clear up. The views I saw of the temples and the jungle blew me away, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll recognise this place as a filming location for the rebel base in Episode IV. You can see the jungle as far as the eye can see and with Tikal being in the middle of the rainforest, you can hear the atmosphere of the wildlife.
Unfortunately, because the sky was quite cloudy, we couldn’t see the the sunset, once the sun went down, Luis guided us back to our bus and as it got dark, the path felt quite difficult to navigate. The path is uneven and in the dark, there is absolutely no source of light as it is in the middle of the rainforest. Our guide also showed us an insect which had lights on it like a firefly and it was very interesting. After walking through the rainforest for half an hour, we got to our bus and I was taken back to Flores.
Is Tikal Worth it?
Being located in a very remote part of Guatemala, Tikal is very much out of the way and difficult to reach. Moreover it’s quite expensive as the bus and tickets cost about £40 in total. However, because of its remoteness, it doesn’t have crowds of tourists like a lot of places I’ve been to and the sheer size of the ruins is quite something. In my opinion, Tikal has the most amazing ruins I’ve ever seen and would definitely recommend a visit. What I don’t recommend is flying there and back as the airports are bad. The planes don’t allow hand luggage for bags bigger than a basic backpack.
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