The Tikal National Park in the province of El Petén was declared World Cultural and Natural Heritage by the UNESCO in 1979. The park covers an area of 576km² and is the most important natural reserve of Guatemala. The jungle of Tikal is home to a great variety of flora and fauna and the remains of the Maya civilization. The earliest evidence of occupation of the site dates back to the years 700B.C. and the latest approximately 900 years A.C. In this period they constructed a high cultural, architectural, urban, mathematic, artistic, agricultural and commercial city. These unique and massive historical temples attract a lot of international and local tourists to Guatemala.
The site of Tikal has hundreds of temples, pyramids and stelae; which you can’t see all in one day. To get a good impression and see the major highlights of this tremendous Tikal you have to start early in the morning. The Maya history is so complex and broad; I will not elaborate on that in this blog. The museum in Mexico City gives an great overview too.
How to get to Tikal?
You buy your ticket (150Q) for the Tikal National Park at the BANRURAL Bank in Flores; bring your passport or a copy, they need to have your name/ID number. Bear in mind the opening hours of the bank, they close at 6:00PM. Now you need to decide when you would like to visit the park. You have several options to choose from; I will recommend you to go in the early morning with the sunrise tour. The park is open from 6:00AM to 6:00PM, if you book a sunrise tour you have to buy an additional ticket (100Q) to get into the park before the set opening hours. The total cost are 250Q excluding the transport and guide in the park; which I bought for 120Q at Getaway Travels in Flores. My tour bus picked me up at my hotel in Flores at 3:15 AM……the journey from Flores to the entrance of the park was ±1,5 hours. The return bus you can choose between the 11:00AM, 12:30PM or 3:00PM. Depending on how much time you like to spent in the park.
Tip: On Sunday the local people have free entrance to the Tikal park; it could get crowded then. That is why I went on a last minute Friday tour, to escape the weekend crowd.
What to bring to Tikal?
Ok all set, entrance ticket from the bank, tour including pick up and drop off from Flores-Tikal. Next important things are food and drinks. In the park you can’t buy anything, only on the outside. I brought; bananas, muesli bars, chips/nuts and water. Next to that I brought: flashlight (sunrise tour) sunscreen, mosquito repellent, raincoat, good walking shoes, hat and some warmer cloths, especially if you do the sunrise tour it could be misty and cold in the morning but warm in the afternoon. And of course the most important item: your camera!!
Tip: Charge your phone/camera the night before and bring you external charger in case you run out of battery.
What to expect in Tikal?
We arrived at the entrance of the park; we showed our official bank ticket and they swapped that into a Sunrise and Day bracelet. We could go to the toilet at the restaurant outside the park; it was still dark, glad I had my flashlight with me. Then we walked with the guide for ±30 minutes through the park, all the way to the furthest Temple IV.
We stopped twice throughout the walk and he explained the Maya customs and we listened to the jungle noises. Then we climbed the stairs of the 65m high western Temple IV: it’s also called Temple of the two-headed Snake and is the highest in Tikal. Here we waited on the temple stairs to see the 6:20AM sunrise…. this moment was so magical!!
I will try to describe the feeling that I will never forget: the animals started to wake up, howler monkeys roaring against each other, toucans flying around, mist moving under and over the temples and the color of the rising sun changing the sky. It was all breathtaking and it was so intense and magical. What an amazing experience; when you still doubting if you want to go, just GOOOOO!!!
Temples and Squares in Tikal
Still high on the sunrise moment, the sky turned blue and the mist was slowly going away. We walked through the park where we spotted so many different exotic and rare birds in the tall green trees. I love the jungle feeling of this park; you hear the monkeys everywhere and spotted them too. I was glad we had Luis as guide, he explained the history and pointed all the vegetation and animals to us. I probably would not have seen so much without him! See below the female Slaty-tailed Trogon.
We left Templo IV and walked to El Mundo Perdido (Lost World); a complex of 38 structures with a huge 38m high pyramid with stairways on the side, in the middle. All structures have a function in the sun’s trajectory and in the astronomical set up. Then we climbed up the temple at the Plaza de los Siete Templos, from here you have a great overview over the entire complex; with in back Templo IV.
After the mirador we strolled through the jungle to the Gran Plaza with Templo I (Gran Jaguar) and Templo II (Temple of the Masks) and the Acrópolis del Norte. This is an impressive plaza with the green grass and the blue sky. There were getting more and more people but still not crowded.
I was told that in the early morning it is the most quiet period of the day. All the buildings have a separate function in the former Maya City, housing, honor kings and show the power of the King Ah Cacao. The temples are build and rebuild bigger and taller over the years with maze of tunnels inside.
The tour stopped at 9:00AM and most of the group went out to get breakfast; I stayed inside and ate my fruits and bars. I walked to the steep (57m) Templo V and passed the palace with 29 chambers of Group G. My final temple was Templo VI; the Temple of the Inscriptions because it has the longest hieroglyphic text in Tikal.
I went to the exit at ±12:00PM and went to the Jungle Lodge next to the park. This three star lodge is an auxiliary branch of my hotel in Flores, so could stay here and relaxed by the pool till my departure with the 15:00PM shuttle. I did a power nap in my hotel after a long day, but what a day. Big highlight in my travels and felt so happy and lucky with this amazing experience!!!.