Complete Guide to Visiting Tikal Mayan Ruins, Guatemala
A visit to the Tikal ruins in Guatemala is one of the MUST do things when you’re in Central America! And if you’re planning a trip here soon, you’re in luck – my complete guide below will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about visiting Tikal: how best to visit, ticket prices, the best time of day to visit, whether you should book a tour or not, where to stay, what to pack for your trip – and more!
Are you ready to start planning your Tikal trip?
First of all, why should I visit Tikal?
Spoiler alert: The Tikal ruins are one of the best Mayan ruins in the world! Not only are the temples breathtaking, but the entire surrounding area makes these ruins special compared to others. Imagine this: Mayan temples set in a lush jungle – Tomb Raider style. Already sounds exciting, right?
Tikal National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s thousands of years old. It’s pretty impressive, trust me! Tall temples of at least 44m, lush rainforest and the sound of wildlife echoing through the trees – you’ll find all this in Tikal, plus some happy spider monkeys and some random turkeys waddling about.
What’s more, Tikal is also less crowded than other world-famous Mayan ruins such as Chichen Itza (Mexico) and bigger than Copan (Honduras). It seems to be the perfect combo, my friends!
Ready to get lost in the jungle looking for ancient Mayan temples? And I mean that only metaphorically, of course, ‘cause after going through this guide, it should be impossible to get lost at Tikal!
Here we go:
Everything you need to know about visiting Tikal in Guatemala
I’ll guide you step-by-step through all the most important things to know before visiting Tikal and its ancient ruins:
Where is Tikal?
Tikal National Park is in North Guatemala, close to the Belize border, in an archaeological region called Peten Basin. The most important thing about it is that it stretches over more than 575 km2. The Maya temple complex is located right in the middle of the National Park complex and it is part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Tikal is also 65km away from Flores, the closest town where most hotels are located.
The map below will show you the exact location of Tikal:
How to get to Tikal, Guatemala
FLORES TO TIKAL. The most popular and most convenient option. Flores is 90 minutes away by car. You can get from Flores to Tikal with a shuttle bus. The buses run frequently; the first one departs at 3:30 AM and it’s a great option if you want to get there to see the sun rising. The next one is at 4:00 AM and you will arrive at Tikal right in time for the gates opening at 6:00 AM. The price is Q60 (7.80 U$) per person for the roundtrip ticket. Keep in mind, the last return bus to Flores departs at 5:30 PM, half an hour after the park’s closing time.
GUATEMALA CITY TO TIKAL. Guatemala City is 525km away from Tikal, which is 9h30’ by car or bus. There are overnight buses that go on this route which is a great budget option. I would always recommend the first class ticket, as they are much more comfortable and have fewer stops along the way. The bus departs at 10:30 PM from Guatemala City, so you’ll be arriving sometime between 5 and 6 AM at the gates of Tikal, close to the opening time. If you take the Fuente del Norte night bus, the price is Q145 (around 19 US$) for the first class option (premier service).
There’s also the option of booking a flight from Guatemala City to Flores (Mundo Maya Airport), then taking the shuttle bus to Tikal. The price for flight tickets are usually around 100 US$.
SAN IGNACIO TO TIKAL. Being so close to the border, there’s also the possibility to visit Tikal from San Ignacio in Belize. You can either take the bus or organise a private car to cross the border. The journey usually takes around 2h20’ depending on immigration. Remember to bring your passport!
Personally, we found we didn’t want to arrange the transportation by ourselves and decided instead to book an organised tour from Flores which took care of everything for us. This is my recommended choice, I’ll talk about this option in detail below in the “What is the best way to visit Tikal” section.
Entrance fee and types of tickets for Tikal National Park
Entrance tickets for Tikal are bought at the Banrural Bank Gate before you enter the park or at Banrural Bank in Flores town (or any other city) if you want to buy them in advance.
There are different ticket options and most travellers find it VERY confusing to decide which ticket they need. Worry-not, as I will explain everything down below!
Here are the 3 basic options for Tikal tickets:
- 1-day ticket to Tikal (6 AM to 6 PM) = Q150 (19.50 US$)
- Sunrise ticket (4:30 AM to 6 AM) = Q100 (13 US$)
- Sunset ticket (5 PM to 8 PM) = Q100 (13 US$)
Now, taking a look at these, you might have different needs and plans for the day, so I’m making all the combinations below for you, with explanations for which types of tickets you need for each:
- visiting during the day and leaving before sunset – 1-day ticket = Q150
- visiting during the day with sunset as well – 1-day ticket + 1 sunset ticket = Q250
- sunrise + visiting during the day – 1 sunrise ticket + 1-day ticket = Q250
- sunrise, visiting during the day and seeing the sunset – 1-day ticket + 1 sunrise ticket + 1 sunset ticket = Q350
- sunrise, visiting during the day, seeing the sunset and returning the next day as well – 2 x 1-day ticket + 1 sunrise ticket + 1 sunset ticket = Q500
- seeing the sunrise and leaving right after – 1 sunrise ticket = Q100
- coming for sunset, overnight stay, seeing the sunrise and leaving right after it – 1 sunrise ticket + 1 sunset ticket = Q200
- coming for sunset, overnight stay, seeing the sunrise the next day and visiting on the next day as well – 1 sunset ticket + 1 sunrise ticket + 1-day ticket = Q350
- The park officially opens at 6 AM and closes at 6 PM. The ticket booth opens at 6 AM and closes at 5 PM.
- If you buy your day ticket and only use it after 3 PM, it will also be valid for the next day
- Make sure you buy the right ticket before entering the park! In case you enter with the wrong ticket, you’ll have to go back to the gates and change it; there is no ticket office inside the park.
- There are two gates – the main one and the second one near the Jungle Lodge. The second one doesn’t have a ticket office so you’ll have to go 20km to the main gate to buy your tickets. This means that, if you spend the night in one of the park’s accommodations (which are near the second gate), you’ll have to buy your tickets beforehand.
- Make sure to bring your passport with you when you buy the ticket, regardless if you’re buying it at the entrance or beforehand.
- All tickets are valid for 30 days (until they’re validated at the entrance), so you can buy them beforehand with no problem.
- You can buy your tickets at any Banrural Bank in Guatemala, regardless of which city you’re in.
- You can only buy your ticket with cash. No option for paying with your card I’m afraid.
- For the sunrise visit, you’ll HAVE to purchase your ticket on the day before your visit. This is because the activity takes place earlier than the official opening of the park, so the ticket office at Tikal will be closed. So make sure to buy your ticket the day before, no later than 6:00 PM (that’s when the bank closes).
- After you enter the park, your ticket will be “cut” and you’ll get a coloured bracelet depending on the type of tickets you got.
- During summer, the sun sets at 6:30 PM, so you’ll definitely need a sunset ticket if you want to see it. During winter, it set’s earlier, so you might get a glimpse of it with just a day ticket.
- There are rangers in the park walking around – rest assured that they’ll escort you out if you try to stay longer than your ticket says. For example, if you only have the sunrise ticket without the day ticket, you’ll be escorted outside after 6 AM. No kidding here! They are vigilant!
- Children under 12 years old can enter free of charge.
I hope everything is clear for you regarding how the tickets work now. I tried to explain everything in as much detail as I could and include the precious information I wish I knew before visiting the park myself! 🙂
What is the best way to visit Tikal, Guatemala?
There are two main options here, depending on your budget and preferences. You can either visit the ruins of Tikal by yourself, taking care of the transportation, tickets and routes by yourself – and accommodation if you want to spend the night close to the park. Or you can join an organised tour that will take care of everything for you. Don’t worry, none of these options are too complicated and I will explain everything below:
1. VISITING BY YOURSELF
Obviously, there are various options depending on your chosen itinerary. For the full experience, I’ve included my suggested itinerary below:
- ARRIVE AT 6 AM AT THE GATES. And visit Tikal National Park after buying your tickets at the entrance (make sure to grab a map!). If you get there right when the park opens, at 6 AM, you might be lucky enough to avoid the tourist crowds and have the park for yourself for a couple of hours. By 9 AM it will get super hot, so I strongly advise you get there early! You can also arrive at the park at 4.30 AM if you want to buy the sunrise ticket too.
- SPEND THE NIGHT AND VISIT THE PARK THE NEXT DAY. This option is good if you want to take your time to see everything and not be too tired from the road. I recommend spending the night at the Jaguar Inn, which is right next to the entrance. But make sure you buy your tickets the day before your visit, as I mentioned above! Staying at the inn also means you can go back to your accommodation easily if the midday temperatures get too hot and then go back to the park before closing time.
- STAY IN A CAMP (SUPER BUDGET OPTION). If you want a backpackers budget option, you can also stay in the tent camps close to Tikal. I don’t really recommend it because the temperatures can get insane and I can imagine that going back to your tent will be similar to entering an oven. Personally, I think it’s better to spend the night at Jaguar Inn, mentioned above – the prices are not that high and it’s much more comfortable. But if you’re on a super tight budget and feeling adventurous, camping could be for you.
MY TOP TIP: If you decide to visit by yourself (like lots of travellers do), don’t forget to download a Tikal audio guide on your phone! This is amazing if you want to learn some interesting information during your walk around Tikal. Sure, it won’t be as informative and fun as the stories you can receive from a local guide, but it’s still very useful. Which brings me to my next point…
2. VISITING WITH A TOUR - RECOMMENDED!
There’s also the option of getting a guided tour. The downside is that you cannot arrange a tour on the day at the entrance – I know, it would’ve been SO convenient! You’ll have to book it beforehand at your accommodation or when you buy your bus ticket to Tikal (the agencies that take care of transportation usually have options for guided tours as well).
You can either choose a guide for a sunrise tour, day tour or sunset tour – your choice! These tours usually take place in small groups of around 10 tourists and the price can be anything from Q100 to Q200 (13 to 26 US$) without the price of the entrance ticket, depending on your tour.
Because the park is so large (575 sqm is no joke!) and complex, getting a guide is definitely recommended, especially if you want to learn the stories of the Mayan civilization that once lived there. Plus, you’ll be in the middle of the jungle… literally. So it helps better with not getting lost!
In order to make everything easier for you, I recommend booking your tour online in advance. Here are my top recommendations that have lots of very good reviews:
GUIDED TOUR IF YOU’RE ALREADY NEAR TIKAL:
- Sunrise small group guided tour – pick-up and drop-off to your hotel in Tikal
- Sunset small group guided tour – pick-up and drop-off to your hotel in Tikal
DAY TRIP FROM DIFFERENT CITIES:
- From Guatemala City (with lunch) – plane ticket and entrance ticket included;
- From Flores (with lunch) – entrance ticket included;
- From San Ignacio (with lunch) – entrance ticket included;
Visiting at sunrise vs sunset
I know a lot of travellers are wondering which of the two tickets is more worth it: the sunrise visit or the sunset? Truth be told, there’s no right or wrong answer here. It all depends on your preference. But I can give you some advantages and downsides for each!
NOTE: The weather can be unpredictable, so be prepared for this. Some mornings may be cloudy, some evenings as well. We can’t control the weather!
PROs: less heat + less crowds
CONs: you’ll have to wake up super early in the morning (the first bus to the park leaves at 3 AM) + you cannot enter without a guide (Q100 – 13 US$ per person) + you’ll have to make sure you purchase your ticket on the day before
PROs: you won’t have to wake up early in the morning, hehe
CONs: if you’re not staying overnight and you’re not with a tour group, you’ll have to catch the last bus that departs at 5:30 PM
What’s there to see at Tikal Guatemala?
- Grand Plaza – The Great Plaza and its main square was once the heart and soul of Tikal;
- Temple I (Temple of the Great Jaguar) – make sure you don’t miss the carved lintel of the king on a jaguar throne;
- Temple II (Temple of the Masks) – yep, you guessed it right, there are carvings of masks here. What’s more important is that you can actually climb this temple for incredible views across the jungle!
- Temple III (Temple of the Jaguar Priest) – 55m high, this is the last Tikal pyramid built before the Mayan city “died”
- Temple IV (Temple of the Double-Headed Serpent) – this is the tallest one of all! It’s 65m high and you definitely have to climb it for the views of the other temples. Yep, you won’t just see some trees from up here – in fact, the view from the top of Temple IV is so beautiful it was used in Star Wars: A New Hope!
- Temple V – second tallest of them all (57m);
- The Lost World / Mundo Perdido – okay, let me make things clear – Tikal is not all about the 6 temples near the Grand Plaza (although many tourists that forgot to explore tend to believe this). So make sure you don’t miss the Lost World, especially if you’re an astronomy lover. This important site helped the Mayans develop the Mayan calendar. It has three pyramids, with The Grand Pyramid and the Temple of Three Rooms being the two most important ones.
- Group G / Acanaladas Palace (Palace of Vertical Columns) – impressive structure of pseudo-columns, with intricate details, extremely well executed;
- Bat Palace – yep, its name is no joke, this palace has bats hanging above you from the ceiling, so I won’t recommend it if you’re scared of these little creatures!
- El Peten Jungle – let’s not forget about one of the things that makes Tikal so unique all around the world – its surrounding jungle, of course! You can spot howler monkeys, butterflies, agoutis and other animals if you peek into the jungle, especially if you’re there at sunset. That’s when the sounds of the jungle come alive.
Where to stay in Tikal, Guatemala
Wondering where to stay when visiting Tikal? As I mentioned above, spending the night at or near Tikal is a must if you want to do the sunset tour – or if you want to do the sunrise tour but don’t want to lose a full night of sleep for it. Or, why the hell not, you can stay there overnight simply to make your experience more awesome! But still, a sunrise or sunset visit is a must, if you ask me.
There’s a huge advantage here, especially if you’re staying in one of the accommodations near the gates (I’ll mention them all below). Let me explain. Being right near the entrance means that you can go to your accommodation whenever you feel like the heat is too much for you, you can do the sunrise visit while also getting some sleep (no waking up to travel at 2 AM!) and you can also stay inside the park until 8 PM when the sunset tickets expire (no 5:30 PM shuttle to catch for you!). You can do everything that tourists who only have the basic day ticket can’t!
You have two options here, depending on your preferences. You can either stay in Tikal or in Flores, the closest town to the park. Let me tell you everything you need to know about both options:
STAYING INSIDE TIKAL
This option has the most advantages (all the ones I mentioned above) because you’ll be super close to the entrance. Plus, who doesn’t want to spend the night in the jungle?! But I have to mention the downsides as well. First, you only have 4 hotel options and they’re not really on the budget side. Second, you’ll be completely dependent on your accommodation’s food and quality of services. With this in mind, I still totally recommend going for it!
Here are the 4 Tikal hotels you can choose from:
- Hotel Jaguar Inn – you can choose from bungalows for 2 or 3 people and quadruple rooms, depending on the size of your party. A huge plus is their night tours in the jungle – so cool!
- Hotel Jungle Lodge – super close to the park’s second gate; they have a pool, an on-site restaurant, bungalows for 1, 2, 3 or 4 people and more!
- Jungle Lodge Hostal – closest one to the park’s second gate; it’s a really cool accommodation with an outdoor pool, lush gardens, free Wi-Fi and more.
- Tikal Inn – 10 minutes away from the pyramids; they have different types of rooms to choose from, which is a great plus – hell, they even have villas with a pool!
STAYING IN FLORES
The town of Flores is the closest one to Tikal, only 65km away by car. Even though you’ll be a bit further away from the ruins, staying here comes with its advantages – you’ll have a longer list of restaurants to choose from (so you won’t be dependent on your accommodation’s food) as well as cafes and, of course, numerous hotel options as well. Plus, the city itself is super cute and colourful, so you might want to explore it as well!
Here are my recommended hotels in Flores:
How much does it cost to visit Tikal?
I already told you about the entrance fees but let me make an approximate round-up of all the expenses you should expect during your trip to Tikal if you’re staying inside the park and doing all possible visits:
- Shuttle bus round trip: Q120
- 1-day ticket to the park: Q150
- Sunrise ticket: Q100 + Q100 for the guide
- Sunset ticket: Q100
- Hotel: Q900 per room, Q450 per person
- Breakfast, 2 x lunches, dinner: Q500
TOTAL = Q1.520 = 197 US$/person.
I think this is a pretty fair price, but you can definitely lower it if you only go for the day ticket or choose a guided tour instead. In this case, the total price would be Q270 (35 US$), but make sure to bring lots of water with you and some snacks.
Packing list for visiting Tikal
What to wear to Tikal? And what to bring? I’ll keep things straight to the point this time:
- your passport – mandatory, otherwise you won’t even be able to buy your tickets or enter the park;
- your camera – duh! Or at least your phone;
- extra batteries for your camera – you’ll be snapping tons of pictures, trust me!
- lots of water – the heat is REAL, people, and you’re walking through a jungle!
- sunscreen – let’s not forget about that precious SPF!
- Snacks; to avoid the onset of hanger;
- comfy shoes and clothes – you’ll be walking and climbing a lot;
- a hat – to protect you from the midday sun;
- mosquito repellent – it’s a jungle out there!
- Tikal audio guide – if you don’t visit with a guided tour, make sure to download this audio guide on your phone while you still have Wi-Fi before entering the park!
- a torch – for the sunrise and/or sunset visit.
NOTE: Drones are banned in Tikal park in order to protect the jungle birds. No exceptions!
A brief history of Tikal & Tikal facts
Let’s talk about history for a bit. Now I’m not a professional guide or anything, so this is just a little bit of what I learnt. Tikal wasn’t always about ruins and ancient tombs. Not at all! There were around 100.000 people living in this Mayan city, making their living by processing natural resources (resin, cedarwood etc.). In fact, the oldest traces of life in Tikal are said to be dated around 1.000 BC and by 300 BC the city became an established town. Tikal reached its peak development around 700 AD and they even had a hospital, school, as well as the royal palaces and pyramids you can still see on-site today. Yes, Tikal was one of the most powerful Maya kingdoms that ever existed!
Unfortunately, the good days didn’t last for long and by 900 AD Tikal became abandoned. And the most interesting fact is that historians are not sure as to why!
Nowadays, Tikal has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
BONUS: My travel tips for visiting Tikal, Guatemala
Now that you know all there is to see, let me give you a couple of precious tips to know before going:
ARRIVE EARLY IF YOU CAN.
Especially if you want to avoid the heat and to get a bit of time to see the ancient ruins for yourself without hundreds of tourists.
MAKE SURE YOU TAKE A MAP OF THE SITE.
You can find these at the entrance for Q20 (2.60 US$) when you buy your ticket and, trust me, you’ll be completely lost without a map (Tikal is huge!). If you don’t want to waste paper, you can take a picture of the map located right after the entrance with your phone and keep it close during your visit - or save one from the web beforehand.
WEAR COMFY CLOTHES AND SHOES.
After all, you’ll be walking quite a lot (in the jungle too), so comfortable shoes are definitely a must, as well as a hat to protect you from the sun. Or you can just check my recommended packing list above.
DON’T STOP BY THE RESTAURANT AT THE ENTRANCE.
Trust me, it’s really bad and really overpriced. Instead, I recommend taking some proper food with you or some snacks, as well as a water bottle.
DON’T MISS THE BUS.
Make sure you get to the bus on time, maybe 10 minutes before its departure time. They don’t wait for anyone and you’ll have to wait quite a long time for the next one, as they don’t run that frequently.
As you might’ve guessed, there’s no ATM in Tikal. You’ll also need to buy your tickets with cash as well.
BRING A TORCH.
This will be useful if you’re doing the sunrise and/or sunset visit, as it’ll be dark and you won’t be able to see where you step!
DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS.
This advice is available everywhere in the world when you encounter wild animals - don’t feed them, as you’ll make them dependent on us humans to survive. Just, don’t.
This is literally everything you need to know about your future visit to Tikal in Central America if you want to see the ancient Mayan ruins. In the article above I have told you everything about the cost of visit, the different types of tickets you can choose from, how to get there, where and if you should spend the night plus lots of practical tips too!
And if you want to see more than just the Tikal ruins and you’re curious to read about more places for your Guatemala itinerary, I recommend clicking here to find all my articles about this amazing country.
Oh, and don’t forget to have fun and to take lots of pictures!