How to Visit Tikal – The Ancient Maya Ruins

How to Visit Tikal - The Ancient Maya Ruins

Tikal. What’s left to say about this vast ancient Maya city. Of all the ruins we’ve visited in Central America, Tikal has been the most awe inspiring. You probably have the image of the Temple of the Grand Jaguar ingrained in to your psyche. You may also think “isn’t that the place in Star Wars Episode IV”. Spend a day exploring though and there’s so much more on offer. 
This post tells you how to have Tikal all to yourself, witness the sunrise over the temples and spot toucans and howler monkeys!
Tikal Grand Plaza view from high up
Tikal’s Grand Plaza
Tikal was a religious ceremonial centre, with no evidence of sacrifices, weapons or slaves. There is however, evidence of workers and communities all contributing to this sacred place. At its peak there were 250,000 people living here. Changes in the climate led to Tikal’s decline. The rains became scarce and the population struggled to maintain life here.
Only discovered in the 1840’s, Tikal had been swallowed by the jungle. Whilst excavations have taken place, there’s still an estimated 16,000 buildings undiscovered!
Here we want to share some beautiful pictures, give you advice on how to get the most out of Tikal and inspire you to make the trip.
Temple of the Grand Jaguar Tikal
Temple of the Grand Jaguar

How to get to Tikal

The departure point for most people will be Flores. A beautiful little island situated in Santa Elena, 65km south of Tikal. It takes between 1 – 1 1/2 hours to get to Tikal from Flores.
Transport is via a shuttle. It’s easy to arrange via your accommodation, or from any of the tour agents in town. There’s so much online about people getting scammed. Promised a lot from the tour agency, only for them to fail at delivering.
Here’s a shortcut to save you the worry. Get in touch with Mayan Heritage. They are reliable, well priced and have Maya guides for the tours. Expect to pay Q70 ($9 USD) for your transport. If you want a tour it is just Q20 ($2.50) extra, so Q90 ($9.50 USD) for transport and a guide. Note that you may be able to haggle this price down slightly.
Sunrise at Tikal Temple II
The sun bursting through the trees at Temple II, Tikal

Tikal opening times

Tikal opens at 4:00AM for sunrise tours. 6:00AM for everyone else.

View across Tikal
The views across Tikal are breathtaking

Tikal entry cost

When discussing transport with a tour agency, many will fail to tell you that admission to Tikal is not included in their price. The entrance fee is Q150 ($19.50 USD). The shuttles stop to let passengers off, you pay the entrance fee and then get back on the shuttle. There is then a 15 minute journey in to Tikal.
If you wish to enter Tikal before 6:00AM for the sunrise, the entrance fee is Q250 ($32.50 USD). It is not possible to do sunrise without a tour.
Walking path at Tikal
The walking trails at Tikal are scenic too

The best time to arrive at Tikal

Shuttles will leave Flores at 3:00AM for the sunrise tours. You will arrive around 4:30AM. Other shuttles will leave at 4:30AM, 6:00AM, 8:00AM, 9:00AM, 10:00AM.

From experience, we recommend 4:30AM. You may well have Tikal all to yourself!

Tikal Climbing temples
You'll want to climb as many temples as possible, but they are steep!

Tikal sunrise and sunset tours

A lot has been said about sunrise and sun set at Tikal. If you wish to do that, it could be a great experience. But, we did things differently and below will tell you why.

Tikal Sunrise over Temple of the Grand Jaguar

How to get the most out of a visit to Tikal

Rose loves animals and wanted to see as many parrots, toucans and howler monkeys as possible. This wasn’t going to be possible on the sunrise tour. If you arrived after 9AM, they will nearly all have gone. Here’s what we did.
We left Flores at 4:30AM, so were in Tikal by 6:45AM (bear in mind you have to stop and buy tickets). Upon entry we headed straight to the Grand Plaza. It takes 20 minutes to walk there, but the empty paths had so many birds and monkeys. At the Grand Plaza we climbed Temple II. This was incredible. Your line of sight is with the top of the trees. Here we saw parrots and toucans play in the trees. (Temple IV and Temple may also be good places; let us know if you head there early).
Tikal Temple VI
The remote and less visited Temple VI (Temple of Inscriptions)
As if that wasn’t incredible enough, the sun is still rising. We watched the sun rise over the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. There were only two other people around. Tour groups were still loitering around the car park. People who had paid the extra for a sunrise tour were elsewhere. We had Tikal to ourselves. This was a truly unforgettable experience.
After two hours of monkeying around (pun intended), we returned to the car park. Here we met with a 9:15AM tour that we had booked on to.
Tikal Temple IV Star Wars
The view from Star Wars Episode IV. You need to climb Temple IV for this.
For us this was perfect. Sunrise, Tikal to ourselves and then an incredible insight in to Tikal with a Maya guide.
Huge thanks for Ciao Cacao Hostel for liaising with Maya Heritage. That enabled us to arrive early and meet up with the tour later.

Top Tips to enjoy your visit to Tikal

  • Bring lots of water (it gets very hot).
  • Wear sunscreen – eco friendly sun screen is best!
  • Wear a lot of insect repellent. I personally find a spray works better than roll on or gels.
  • Climb the pyramids and temples. The view from Star Wars IV is at the top of Temple IV.
  • Take it easy. You can’t underestimate the size of Tikal. If you want to do it all, don’t burn yourself out.
  • The walk to Temple VI has a lot of wildlife on the trail through the forest. It’s remote and not a lot of people make the effort to walk 25 minutes to get there.
  • Do what you want to do. Lots of tour agencies and web-sites tell you that you have to do sunrise, sunset, stay in the park, have a tour, don’t have a tour. However you go about it, Tikal will blow your mind. It’ll be special however you go about seeing it.


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