If you ask anyone on the streets about where the most pyramids are in the world, they will almost always say Egypt. And for good reason, the Egyptian pyramids are breathtaking. Most people don’t realize this but the Western Hemisphere has more pyramids than the rest of the world combined. The most famous civilizations that built these pyramids were the Inca, Maya, Aztec and Olmec. When my friends and I heard about this fact we started doing some research and found that Guatemala is home to some of the most well-preserved sets of pyramids in the world. That’s when we decided to leave Semuc Champey and visit Tikal.
Making the journey to visit Tikal is a lot easier than it used to be. In this guide, I will go over how to get there as well as some facts, tips, and overall some of the best pyramids to see. After finishing up everything thing to do in Antigua, set off to see what else Guatemala has to offer. This area is being developed fast but still feels off the beaten path.
How to Visit Tikal
When most people decide that they want to go and see the pyramids in Tikal, they decide to stay in Flores. The roads over the past few years are being more built-up than ever as tourism booms. There are multiple different options to get to Flores depending on your time situation and money. Below I will list some options of how to get to Flores and then how to get to Tikal.
Antigua to Flores
Prices have changed quite a lot over the years in Guatemala. Shuttles are the go-to way to travel throughout Guatemala and are a little pricey depending on your budget. I would suggest splitting up this trip between either Rio Dulce or visiting Semuc Champey first and then heading there. That is actually the common route if you are coming from Belize/Mexico. Here are your options when wanting to visit Tikal:
- Shuttle straight to Flores (~Q300)
- Shuttle to Semuc Champey (~Q220) then to Flores (~Q200)
- Shuttle to Guatemala City (~Q100) then fly to Flores (~75 USD)
Guatemala City to Flores
If you are flying straight into Guatemala City then you have a lot simpler options that you might enjoy better when wanting to visit Tikal. You can fly again if you don’t like shuttles, take a regular shuttle or an overnight bus. The overnight bus will also save you money on accommodation for that night. We took the overnight bus from Flores to Guatemala City, then a shuttle from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan for Q400. There might be better options but we also heard people paying Q550 for that same thing so we felt we found a good deal. Here are your options:
- Day Shuttle to Flores (~Q250)
- Night Bus to Flores (~Q250)
- Fly to Flores (~75 USD)
How Much Does a Visit Tikal Cost?
The cost all depends on what you want to do. The key factors are if you already have a car or not (transportation cost) if you want a guide, and what time of day you want to visit Tikal. If you go for sunrise or sunset it will cost you an extra Q100. We decided against this because we have heard recent stories of it being too cloudy. I’m sure if you get a nice day, it is totally worth the money but I believe seeing something for sunrise shouldn’t cost more. Here is a breakdown of the prices:
- Roundtrip shuttle to and from Tikal (Q80)
- Roundtrip Shuttle to and from Tikal w/ a Guide (Q120)
- Entry to Tikal (Q150)
- Entry to Tikal for sunrise (Q150 + Q100 as you need a guide)
Fun Facts When you Visit Tikal
Tikal is a very old place and it was only recently discovered/heavily researched. The civilization that built these pyramids and more in the surrounding areas was the Ancient Maya. Scientists now believe that there are over 3,000 different structures in this region.
This region of the world was once home to the most powerful era of the Ancient Maya civilization. As you walk during your visit to Tikal, you will see boards that have a history timeline of when these structures were built. Some of these structures were built as early as 700 B.C. and are older than some of the popular pyramids like Chichen Itza in Mexico.
Tikal is one of the oldest National Park in Guatemala and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It can take multiple decades to clean off all of the vegetation that has grown all over the pyramids for hundreds of years. When the Spanish first arrived in this region in the 1500s, these sites were never found because of the extremely dense forest. With over 3,000 structures known today (and growing) and it was one the largest in the world.
Tips When Going to Visit Tikal
There are many questions that I had and I’m sure you do when you want to visit Tikal. Should you get a guide? Are we allowed to climb the pyramids? What can you do in the national park? I will go over the answers to these questions below.
Climbing the Pyramids of Tikal
In a short answer, yes you can climb the pyramids when you go and visit Tikal. There are only a few that allow you to do so though. These pyramids don’t allow you to take the regular stairs that you might think. There are wooden stairs made for this purpose. All this is for your safety and for the safety of the pyramids in Tikal. This is smart for both reasons and I agree. The main one you get to climb up is Temple IV and you have a good view of how dense the forest actually is. While up here, it gives a good perspective on why it was so hard to find these structures in the first place.
Should You Get a Guide?
Although I didn’t get a guide, I do suggest that you get one. I will normally always suggest getting one because it helps the locals and you learn so much more than you ever would have. On the other hand, it was nice walking around on your own schedule. If you are going to get a guide, I suggest getting with the tour company who is getting you a ride as it will be cheaper with them. If you want to book a guide then you can do that here. This tour offers lunch and even admission to the park so it is a great deal.
Items to Bring When You Visit Tikal
Depending on what time of the year you go, you might need more items to bring. I would suggest you always bring your own water if possible. The best time to visit Tikal is at the beginning of the year and especially in the months of February and March. We bought bug spray while we were there and either it worked extremely well or there were no bugs. Below is a list of items you might want to think about bringing.
- bug spray
- sun hat
- good walking shoes
- a good camera
Should You Visit Tikal for Sunrise?
If you don’t mind spending the money and waking up early, then I think you should visit Tikal for sunrise. I have seen pictures of people who have done it and it looks crazy. The idea of you seeing the sunrise from the pyramids as they did centuries ago is mind-blowing. The wake-up time is around 3-4 am and the ride to the national park is around 1 hour and 30 minutes. The benefit of being some of the only people there is an added benefit. You then get to go home early and do more activities for the day or just nap.
Wildlife When You Visit Tikal
While in Guatemala for the past few weeks, I didn’t see much wildlife. I was only in Antigua and Lake Atitlan so you really have to try to go see wildlife. While we were in places like Montezuma, Costa Rica we saw monkeys daily. The wildlife we saw when we went to visit Tikal were a lot of spider monkeys and we heard a ton of howler monkeys. There was also some interesting vegetation and trees throughout the park that we saw some local guides pointing at. Overall, it was really nice to be back in the jungle.
Best Pyramids in Tikal
When we showed up to visit Tikal, we thought we would only see a few pyramids. We were very wrong in this aspect. There are so many pyramids everywhere and it was, at its peak, a huge civilization. Below I will go a few other best areas to visit in the Tikal National Park.
Temple V was by far our favorite pyramid that we saw when we went to visit Tikal. The size of this pyramid blew us away when we first walked up to it. It’s hard to believe that people centuries and centuries ago could build something this massive without the tools of today. The pictures of this place do not do it justice.
PLAZA DE LOS SIETE TEMPLOS
Another very interesting area to see when you visit Tikal is the Plaza de Los Siete Templos. This area has some well-preserved buildings in it that are extremely well preserved. These pyramids were circled around a central ball court where sports were held.
The Grand Plaza
The Grand Plaza at Tikal was a sight to behold. You are able to climb to the top of one of the pyramids to get a nice viewpoint of the entire place. Here you can start envisioning what life used to be like in Tikal. I started to imagine the Mayan people walking around doing their daily life and socializing. It must have been something else to look down on this area centuries ago.
When you visit Tikal, Temple IV is one of the ones you hear about the most. It is the highest pyramid in the entire national park. This is where we went first as we wanted to envision the entire civilization from above. It is easy to tell how it was so hard to find these pyramids those many years ago. When you arrive at this pyramid you will walk up a staircase for around 5 minutes until you reach the top.
Should You Visit Tikal in Guatemala: The Final Verdict
I think you should absolutely visit Tikal in Guatemala. Personally, I was also on the fence about going because it is so far away from the rest of the country. If you are coming from either Belize or Mexico then you should 100% stop by this national park. There were so many more preserved pyramids than I ever thought there would be. If you finish walking around there is a restaurant where you can sit and chill until your driver comes back.
Thank you for reading my guide about why you should visit Tikal! I hope you gathered all the information you need from here to help persuade you that visiting Tikal in Guatemala is a must.