Once a powerful seat of the Mayan empire, Tikal is now the most famous archeological site in Guatemala and one of the most-visited sets of Mayan ruins in all of Latin America. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of temples, plazas, and pyramids, was first settled around 700 BC, and modern visitors still get swept away by their beauty and powerful aura.
Tikal stands apart from other sites of Mayan ruins due to its location deep in the jungle and its easy access, as the roads leading to one of the most popular attractions in Central America are well-maintained. Guided tours make it seamless to visit the ruins on a bus, shuttle, or airplane from as near as Flores or as far as Antigua and Guatemala City, or across the border from San Ignacio, Belize—even on a day trip. Those who want to stay longer can take an overnight tour or book a hostel or campground for the night, which gives opportunity to watch the sunrise from the top of an ancient pyramid.
Things to Know Before You Go
It’s best to book a tour with round-trip transportation or plan to stay the night as Tikal is in a somewhat remote location.
Some of the not-to-miss highlights include Temple of the Grand Jaguar, Northern Acropolis, and Temple of Inscriptions.
Visitors can explore an onsite museum to learn more about the ruins’ history and rediscovery.
Lodging and camping are available outside the park.
How to Get There
As one of the most popular attractions in the region, Tikal is easy to access. The ruins are located in El Peten, and regular shuttles run from Guatemala City, Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Belize. Flights help you make the most of your time, as the shuttle rides can last upwards of 12 hours.
Many guided tours include worry-free transportation.
When to Get There
Visit during the rainy season, generally May through October, for the fewest crowds (though come prepared with rain gear). Park hours are 6am to 6pm and are strictly enforced.
Lord of Chocolate
As the capital of a conquest state, Tikal served as a center for trade and economy, growing to a population of almost 100,000 before its decline. Some of its more noteworthy characters include Jasaw Chan K'awiil I, also known as Au Cacao (Lord Chocolate!), who conquered the chief rival Mayan state of Calakmul around 695 AD.