Key Facts

  • Tikal National Park is located within the 6,000 square mile Maya Biosphere in the northern part of Petén, Guatemala
  • Park area: 576 km² (222 miles², 125,000 acres²)
  • The ruins area encompasses about 24 sq. kms. About 80% are still unexcavated.
  • Only 30% of the ruins area has been mapped (around 6 miles²)
  • Tikal was declared a National Park by the Guatemalan Government in May of 1955, and a National Monument in 1970. It was the first National Park established in Central America.
  • The name 'Tikal' means 'Place of Voices' or 'Place of Tongues' in Maya.

Tikal National Park Travel Guide

Tikal National Park is located in Central America, in the Northern Guatemala area of Petén, 60 km from Petén's capital city of Flores. There is no Tikal village or town.

There is no electricity in Tikal. Generators run for about 3-4 hours in the evening for services and accommodations offered there. In the high season sometimes the generators run longer.

The main arrival area includes the Visitor's Center, two museums, a post office, Park Administration offices, souvenir handcraft shops, three hotels, a campground, and a few restaurants and 'comedores'.

The Visitor's Center, open from 6am to 6pm, is located just before entering the trails that lead to the ruins, which are approx. 20 min. away by foot. Located at the Visitor's Center entrance is a large model of Tikal, the way it would have looked when inhabited. Here you will also find one of the two museums, consisting of carved stone monuments and photos taken during the restoration in the 1960s. Also, there is guide service, information desk, souvenir shops and a restaurant.

A smaller museum housing some Tikal artifacts is located a few hundred meters away, near the hotel area. A small fee is charged to enter (in addition to the park entrance fee).

Access to the ruins is by foot only. All cars must remain at the parking lot. People requiring handicapped assistance can get special permits at the park headquarters.

History

At its height, during the Classic period around 500AD, Tikal had a population of 50,000 to 100,000 people. Many consider it the main governing city of the Maya civilization. For reasons not yet clear, around 870AD the city's decline began, and was completely deserted by the end of 900AD.

Tikal has an estimated 3,000 structures including temples, palaces, shrines, ceremonial platforms, residences, ball courts, terraces, causeways, and plazas, most interconnected with aqueducts and cisterns for holding water. In the main ceremonial precincts there are 200 stone monuments, known as stelae. Stelae were elaborately carved with glyphs, a form of writing, and other ../images that tell stories about the rulers during that time. The partially restored area of Tikal consists of nine groups of courts and plazas. There are 5 large temples: Temple I or Temple of the Great Jaguar, standing at around 44 m (144 ft), Temple II or Temple of the Masks, 37 m (120 ft), Temple III or Temple of the Jaguar Priest, 60 m (180 ft), Temple IV or Temple of the Double Headed Serpent, 70 m (230 ft), and Temple V at 59 m (190 ft).

Since rediscovering Tikal in the late 1800s, archaeologists from all over the world have been excavating. Some structures are almost fully restored but the vast majority are high mounds with stones and lush growth of trees and vegetation. After the Maya abandoned Tikal, the city was reclaimed by the jungle. Even today it is only with a great deal of diligence that the restored ruins are not overgrown with trees and jungle vegetation. The park is rich with tropical plants and wildlife. Tikal is truly a sanctuary for flora and fauna covering more than 200 square miles. Over 285 species of exotic birds, monkeys, jaguars, pumas, tapirs, small deer, and more rare and endangered wildlife inhabit there. Hundreds of orchid species and more than 30 hardwood species. Trees include zapotes, from which chicle, a base for chewing gum is derived, Spanish cedar, Ceiba (a tree sacred to the Maya), mahogany and over 25 other precious hard woods. Tikal is no doubt a birdwatchers paradise, one of the best birding areas of Central America.

The most viewed (and heard) animals in Tikal are the spider monkey, howler monkey, agouti, coatimundi, red-fronted parrot and oscellated turkey. Jaguars are rarely seen. You will not see Macaws or the Resplendent Quetzal (national bird of Guatemala).

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Money & Schedule

The park boundary entrance is located 16 km before the parking area and Visitors Center. Tikal has an entrance fee of Q150.00 or about $20.00 (at time of writing). It's best to pay in Quetzales, because if you pay in U.S. dollars you may not get a good exchange rate. Park hours are 6am to 6pm everyday.

Cost to enter the small museum near the hotels is approximately Q20.

Please note that there's no bank or ATM in Tikal, the closest is in Flores/Santa Elena. Credit cards are not accepted to pay your entrance fee.

Transportation to/from Tikal

Minibuses service the Tikal-Flores route everyday, passing through El Remate. There are several types of shuttle buses that go to and from Tikal every 30 min. to 1 hour or so. Some older collective shuttles are very crowded with local residents who live on the route and/or others visiting the park. Other shuttles cater to tourism and aren't so crowded. Often times, tourists just wait along the main road and catch one of these shuttles. Always ask price before boarding, and it's best to have change when paying.

Most hotels sell tickets for certain shuttles and book taxis, especially in the early morning hours. Private transportation is also available.

When booking transportation in advance, always ask about vehicle condition, age, A/C, capacity, etc. Overloading vehicles is a common and dangerous practice.

The services arranged by La Casa De Don David are what we feel to be the most satisfactory and fit the needs of our guests.

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Tips to help you get the most of your day in Tikal:

  • If you're only visiting for one day, plan on just hitting the main spots, such as the Main Plaza, Temple IV, Temple V and Mundo Perdido. You can easily spend two days to a week or more at the park and not see every ruin that has been excavated.
  • Wear sensible shoes. There is plenty of walking.
  • Try to climb at least one of the temples, especially Temple IV. This is where you will get the best view.
  • It's best to pack a lunch, or some snacks. There is no food sold within the ruins area, which is a 20 min. walking distance from the restaurants. Beverages are available in the park.
  • Have insect repellent on hand. The jungle around the ruins is dense and mosquitoes can be a problem.
  • The earlier you can get to the ruins, the better. Dawn is the best time to see birds and animals. Temple IV is the most popular early morning spot. This is the place to get the 'special photo' of temples III, II and I rising up through the jungle, with the sunrise in the background. But beware, it is common for heavy fog to be in the area, which still makes for a special photo.
  • Don't miss seeing the two large masks in the North Acropolis in the Main Plaza.
  • Wildlife is abundant in the park. Walk slowly and listen. If you hear or see small fruits and branches falling, look up and you will usually see monkeys or birds.
  • Upon exiting to the parking area, visit the small museum near the hotels. Cost is Q15 and is worth it. The Visitors Center has a free museum which mostly has stelae and restoration photos.

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Things to consider taking:

  • Camera and batteries
  • Cap/Hat and sun protection
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Map (if you have one, but not necessary)
  • Identification (copy of passport is OK)
  • Rain protection
  • Binoculars
  • Flashlight to look in some ruins underground
  • Cell phones work on top of some temples

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Sunrise in Tikal

A very special experience, visitors sit atop Temple IV to watch the sunrise, the early morning mist rising from the pyramids and the jungle 'waking up'. The park administration recently reinstated permission to access the park before normal operating hours of 6am-6pm. Visitors can now enter the park from 4am for sunrise or stay in the park after sunset, for $13pp more in addition to the normal entrance fee of $20. During these extra hours visitors must be accompanied by a guide.

Guides in Tikal

You can find a licensed guide from around $50 for 1-5 persons, $8-10 per extra person, up to $100 maximum charge. If you join a group, you may pay as little as $6-8 per person in some cases. Be aware that there is not much price or capacity control and some guides have been known to guide more than 50 persons. It's best to be with a guide that may cost slightly more but guarantees a group no larger than 15 persons.

If you are on a bus to Tikal and encounter a guide offering his service, be sure to ask for his CARNET or INGUAT (Guatemala Institute of Tourism) license. Regulations passed in 2009 require all guides in Tikal to be licensed.

You can book a guide from La Casa De Don David. Alternatively, you can visit the guide booth in the Tikal Visitors Center upon your arrival. When hiring a guide, always ask details such as languages spoken and experience. We don't advise buying your services on the street.

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