Tikal, Guatemala - a two day trip from Belize

By Charlotte Reeve, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Tikal National Park.

Overall rating:4.7 out of 5 (based on 6 votes)
Enjoyable
4.833335
4.8
Useful
4.833335
4.8
Inspirational
4.833335
4.8
Recommended for:
Adventure, Cultural, Gap Year, Budget, Mid-range

Venture deep into the jungle, where monkeys clamber over ruined temples, and prepare to unleash your inner Mowgli on a magical adventure into the heart of the Mayan empire

Some say there is magic in the air at Tikal. Others describe it as more of a ‘power’. Whatever your opinion, it is undeniable that Tikal is the most important and impressive Mayan site in Central America. Covering an area of 222 square miles, Tikal National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and it’s not difficult to see why.

For many people, visiting Tikal is just a distant dream. After all, how many people plan a holiday in Guatemala? What most people don't realise is that it is very easy to reach Tikal National Park from the much more tourist-friendly destination of Belize. We did just that and here is the story of our two days in Guatemala.....

Now I'm the king of the swingers, the jungle VIP

After an early start from San Ignacio, in the Cayo District of Belize, we reached Tikal National Park mid-morning and checked into the Jaguar Inn, our home for the night (see below).  Keen to avoid the heat of the day and the tour groups we decided to bide our time at the hotel for a few hours. No sooner had I settled into the hammock outside our bungalow than a flash of colour caught my eye. I couldn’t believe my luck that my first encounter with the famed Tikal wildlife had happened so quickly – a Collared Aracari (a type of toucan) was perched in the tree right above me. As I started to look around me more closely I realised that this wasn’t just a lucky isolated sighting; within minutes I had also spotted a woodpecker and a half metre tall weaver bird, not to mention the myriad iridescent butterflies.

At about 3pm, with our appetites well and truly whetted, we decided to head into the park itself. The wildlife sightings continued to come thick and fast; one minute an agouti meandering across the path just in front of us and the next a comical ocellated turkey with its distinctive (and some might say garish) bright blue head covered in red nodules. And then the moment we’d been waiting for; tipped off by the sound of crashing in the canopy above we looked up to see the first of many spider monkeys swinging casually from tree to tree.

After a short walk through the jungle we emerged into the incredible Gran Plaza, an open square surrounded by towering temple-pyramids, terraces and monuments. It was awe-inspiring to gaze down on the Plaza from the top of Templo II and try to imagine the Mayan people going about their everyday lives as far back as 400 BC.

Our final destination for the day was Templo IV which, at 210 ft, is the highest structure in the park. After a quick stop at the base to watch a raccoon-like coatimundi wandering around and completely ignoring our presence, we set off to climb the wooden staircase up the side of the pyramid.  We sat atop the temple and looked out over the jungle canopy as parrots flew home to roost in the rapidly fading light. Just as the sun finally set, we headed down from the temple for a fun walk back to the hotel with only the light of a bright orange moon to guide us.

Oh obee doo, I wanna be like you, I wanna walk like you, talk like you too

The alarm clocks were set for 5.30am and we made it to the gate as the park opened at 6. The time just after sunrise is when the magic of Tikal really takes hold. As the mists gradually clear and the tips of the pyramids begin to appear, the surrounding jungle comes to life with an orchestra of animal noises, conducted by the trademark roar of the howler monkeys.

At this time in the morning there are very few tourists around, and we were lucky enough to find the Gran Plaza deserted apart from a spider monkey climbing the stepped walls of a temple. We carried on to the El Mundo Perdido (Lost World) complex, a great place for sightings of toucans and bright green parrots, before heading back to the gate via some of the more isolated temple complexes.

After a late breakfast we boarded our minibus and set off for the laid-back island town of Flores, but that’s another story……

The Bare Necessities (aka the practical stuff)

Top Tikal tips

• The entrance fee to Tikal is Q150 (approx US $20).  If you enter the park after 3pm, say ‘mañana’ to the guards and they will stamp your ticket to give you free entry the following day.
• There are several refreshment stands inside the park but these are only open during the middle of the day when the tour groups are around. If you go into the park in the morning or evening, make sure you take plenty of water in with you.
• If you are in the park in the evening, don’t forget to take a torch as it gets dark very quickly.

How to get there (and back)

The easiest way to visit Tikal is to take an organized tour from San Ignacio. Pacz Tours (www.pacztours.net) run day trips with 3 to 4 hours in the park (US $135 or US $165 for a private tour) or overnight trips for US $350. However, if you prefer the flexibility of travelling independently, there are a number of options for transportation. The most straightforward options are detailed below.

San Ignacio to Tikal

You can travel to Tikal by public transport (approx US $15) but this will involve several buses and taxis and negotiating the border on your own. A much quicker and easier option is to pay US $25 one way for a spare seat on one of the tour buses leaving from San Ignacio; you will generally get picked up from your hotel and get the added bonus of a guide to point out interesting sights along the way. The journey takes approximately 3 hours in an air-conditioned minibus. Ask around the tour agencies in San Ignacio the day before to book a seat. A departure tax of US $15 and a conservation fee of US $3.75 are payable on the Belizean side of the border.

Tikal to San Ignacio

Shuttles run from Tikal to the Belizean border (approximately Q275); ask at the park information office or the park hotels for details. Cross the border (no departure tax is payable in this direction) then catch a taxi to San Ignacio (US $10-15). If the times of the shuttles aren’t convenient, a taxi to the border will cost approximately US $50-60 and public transport will cost approximately US $15.

(Note – 1 quetzal (Q) = approx US $0.13)

Where to stay

There are three hotels and a campsite at the entrance to Tikal National Park. We stayed at the cheapest of the hotels, the Jaguar Inn (Tikal National Park), where comfortable bungalows are available for Q520 for 2 people. The other two hotels, the Tikal Inn (Tikal National Park) and the Tikal Jungle Lodge (Tikal National Park) offer nicer bungalows and a swimming pool. Prices start from Q550 upwards, depending on the level of comfort required, although both hotels force you to book a package including a tour and meals. Each of the hotels has a restaurant and cheaper ‘commodores’ are available nearby. For travellers on a budget, tents can be rented at the campsite for Q60.

Extend your trip

If you want to explore Guatemala a little further, zip lining (www.canopytikal.com, US $30) is available near Tikal.  Alternatively, head to Flores, a sleepy town of colourful houses perched on an island in Lake Peten Itza, 1.5 hours from Tikal. Spend your time swimming in the lake or head to nearby Parque Natural Ixpanpajul (www.ixpanpajul.com) where zip lining (US $25), horse riding (US $15 per hour) and a canopy tour (US $25) are available.

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More information on Tikal, Guatemala - a two day trip from Belize:

Author:
Charlotte Reeve
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4.666665
Average: 4.7 (6 votes)
Total views:
549
First uploaded:
21 January 2011
Last updated:
3 years 38 weeks 5 days 8 hours 36 min 51 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Adventure, Cultural, Gap Year
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
wildlife, temples, monkeys, jungle

Charlotte recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Jaguar Inn
N/A
2. Tikal Inn
N/A
3. Jungle Lodge
N/A

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Community comments (8)

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Well done on a great guide, Charlotte. I liked the "Jungle Book" theme that ran through it.We travelled in Guatemala some years ago and you have brought some wonderful memories back.

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

The most inspirational part of tis guide is when Charlotte tells of her own experiences, and makes the place come alive, particularly when she describes the wild life that she saw. The practical advice too is clearly indispensable. If I'm ever lucky enough to head that way too, I shall certainly take a torch.
Thanks Charlotte for a great guide.

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

The description of the wildlife encounters and the photos make this a brilliant guide.

You really had my imagination going thinking how amazing it must be to be sitting in a hammock and see all this birdlife. Then walking into the park knowing that you are going to see this impressive Mayan site is exciting enough; but the wildlife makes it even more fun.

You have certainly inspired with this guide and then provided plenty of detail in order to get there and stay there.
The little video you attach is brilliant for a neat and short overview of Tikal.

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Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

What a lovely experience Charlotte - the Americas have pretty much passed me by so far, and I've love to spend some time exploring central America. Your review certainly captures the animal and history experiences to be found here.

My only slight confusion is with the use of different currencies in your piece (and I spotted a stray pound sign too!). Can you use dollars to pay for certain items or can you use either currency?

Paul

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Thanks for pointing out the pound sign - now changed! In terms of currencies, in Belize you can use Belize dollars or US dollars so I stuck to US dollars for clarity. In Guatemala, the currency is quetzales. US dollars are not widely accepted in Guatemala, although are for certain touristy activities such as zip lining - I've tried to keep to the currency the activity/hotel is advertised in.

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I have the distinct sense of you wanting to fit even more into this excellent guide Charlotte.
The photography and the descriptions are great. Working with these gorgeous creatures you couldn't go far wrong. Loads of information and I suspect you will be tempting and making very many people jealous with your guide.

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Thanks Johanna. You are exactly right - I really struggled with this guide, trying to get a balance between description and information, and ended up having to delete about 1000 words!

Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I'm just envious of Charlotte's holiday adventures

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