A visit to the Mayan ruins of Tikal Guatemala would have to be one of the most spectacular things you can do in Central America. Like something from Indiana Jones, these ancient temples once made up the biggest capital of the Mayan civilization.
If you’ve been to the giant pyramid of Chichen Itza in Mexico, this place is similar but arguably even better. Tikal National Park is home to all kinds of wildlife, and many of the Mayan temples here are open for climbing, so you can enjoy panoramic views of the jungle surrounding the ruins!
The other good news is that Tikal (pronounced ‘tee-kahl’) is relatively easy and affordable to visit on a day trip from Flores in Guatemala, or you can also visit Tikal overland from the neighboring country of Belize.
In any case, it’s a bucket list experience that you can’t miss if you’re traveling in Belize or Guatemala! Star Wars fans will also appreciate that Tikal was used as a filming location for one of the original movies, ‘A New Hope.’
This Tikal travel guide will explain where the ruins are located (plus a Tikal map), how to get there from Guatemala or Belize, hours & entrance fees, safety tips, best tour packages, and everything else you need to know before you go!
Where To Stay In Flores
Best Tikal Tours
Tikal Guatemala is one of those places that’s best seen with a tour, especially on your first visit. It’s the safest and most convenient way to get transportation to the ruins, and an English speaking guide can be very helpful for explaining everything and taking pictures for you.
GetYourGuide has Tikal day tours from Flores in Guatemala, or they also have day tours starting from San Ignacio in Belize. Some of these tours also include lunch and hotel pickup and drop-off to make things even more convenient.
We’ve used GetYourGuide for lots of tours and activities around the world, and they’re great. Highly recommended!
Where Is Tikal?
Tikal is located in northern Guatemala, in the Peten department (state).
The nearest town is Flores in Guatemala, which has plenty of tourist-friendly hotels and restaurants, or you can also visit Tikal overland from San Ignacio in Belize.
How To Get To Tikal Guatemala
• From Guatemala
If you’re coming from Guatemala, the closest airport to Tikal is the Mundo Maya International Airport (code: FRS) in Flores, Guatemala. You can also go by bus from Guatemala City, which is a bit cheaper but much slower, taking about 10 hours.
There are daily nonstop flights to Flores from Guatemala City or Cancun, Mexico. Airline choices are Avianca or TAG Airlines, and Avianca is better if you have the option (best safety record and more flexible about baggage).
The flight to Flores from Guatemala City only takes about 45 minutes, and you can sometimes find prices as low as 400 Quetzales ($50 USD). You can shop for flights on Skyscanner.
Once you arrive in Flores, the next step is getting to Tikal, which is a 1.5 hour drive from Flores town. The easiest way to do this is a shared tour by bus from Flores, which can be very affordable.
If you’d rather visit Tikal without a tour, that’s also possible if you rent a car or take a shuttle from Flores. However, it doesn’t work out to be a whole lot cheaper than taking a tour, and having a guide can be helpful for explaining things in the park and taking pictures for you.
• From Belize
If you’re coming from Belize, your first step will be getting to San Ignacio, which is a city in Belize near the Guatemala border.
The drive to San Ignacio from Belize City takes about 2 to 2.5 hours, and you can go by car (taxi), bus, or shuttle. I think the shuttle is the best way to go.
Sometimes there are also flights from Belize City to the tiny airport at San Ignacio, but those are puddle jumper planes and the options are pretty limited. You can inquire about that with Tropic Air or Maya Island Air.
Once you arrive in San Ignacio, it’s another 2 to 2.5 hour drive to cross the Guatemala border and get to Tikal. The easiest way to do this is with a day tour package that handles all the transportation for you.
The border crossing adds a step or two to the process, but it’s not very difficult. If you’d rather go without a tour, you can rent a car or take a shuttle from San Ignacio to Tikal.
Visiting Tikal Guatemala: What To Expect
The Tikal Guatemala ruins cover a pretty large area, but it’s still small enough to be walkable on foot. All of the paths are flat and easy, although if you choose to climb any temples then that part can be a bit strenuous. Some temples are easier to climb than others.
Some of the temples at Tikal are closed to climbing, so you’ll want to keep that in mind. Check the signage before you climb. Everything is posted in English and Spanish, so it’s easy for visitors to understand.
There are hundreds of animal species living in Tikal National Park, and you have a good chance of seeing some of them on your visit. In one day tour, we saw spider monkeys, coatimundis, turkeys, and other wildlife. It’s also possible to spot tarantulas and toucans here, and even the occasional puma or jaguar!
You can see the highlights of Tikal in a few hours, so I think one full day trip is enough time for most people, although some photographers might want to stay longer and take more pictures. There are a handful of hotels at Tikal with direct access to the park if you want to stay a night or two.
Tikal Map (Guatemala)
Here’s a handy 3D Tikal map you can use to plan your Guatemala trip. You can also buy a paper Tikal map at the entrance of the national park, which will be a big help for finding your way around the temples, ruins, and everything else in the park.
Among other things, this map shows where you can find bathroom facilities throughout the park. The park entrance is marked as ‘9 Ingreso’ on this map of Tikal. That’s where you’ll enter the park when you first start your tour.
Best Tikal Temples & Ruins
This isn’t a complete list of all the Tikal ruins, but these are just some of the best temples in the park, in my opinion:
• Temple I
Also known as the ‘Temple of the Great Jaguar,’ Temple I is probably the most beautiful and iconic of all the temple ruins in Tikal Guatemala. It’s also one of the tallest.
You can’t climb Temple I, but you can climb the opposite building (Temple II) and use that as a vantage point for taking pictures of Temple I. This is where the most famous pictures of Temple I are taken.
This temple was the burial place of the Mayan king Jasaw Chan K’awiil I. It’s photogenic from almost any angle, and there are also lots of other nice photo spots in the Great Plaza where Temple I is located.
• Temple II
Also known as the ‘Temple of the Masks,’ Temple II is a nice building in its own right, but the best thing about it is that you can climb it for amazing views of Temple I and the Great Plaza, which sits right next to it.
This temple stands 38 meters (125 feet) high, but the backside has a wooden staircase, which you can climb to reach the top in just a few minutes. The view is well worth the climb!
• Temple IV
Temple IV is the tallest temple in Tikal, and one of the tallest Mayan buildings in the world, with a height of 65 meters (212 feet).
You can also climb it! The wooden staircase has almost 200 steps to reach the top of the temple, so it’s a serious workout. Our group was exhausted and sweaty when we reached the top.
Also known as the ‘Star Wars temple,’ this one was used as a filming location for the jungle planet Yavin 4 in Star Wars: A New Hope. It’s a great view in the movie, and also in real life.
• Temple V
Last, but not least, don’t forget to visit Temple V. This is a very big and photogenic moss-covered temple located near the Central Acropolis of Tikal National Park. It’s the 2nd tallest building at Tikal after Temple IV, standing 57 meters tall (187 feet)!
You can’t climb the stairs of Temple V, but it’s still very impressive and great for photos. Archaeologists aren’t sure about the purpose of Temple V, but it’s believed to have been a mortuary temple (i.e. tomb) for one of Tikal’s ancient rulers.
Tikal In Star Wars
If you’re looking for the Tikal temple from Star Wars, that’s Temple IV. In the movie ‘A New Hope,’ a Rebel guard watches the Millennium Falcon spaceship landing on the jungle planet of Yavin 4.
The movie shot was taken on top of Temple IV, and in the distance you can see Temples I, II, and III rising above the jungle canopy.
You can see a screenshot of the Star Wars movie scene below.
Interestingly, the movie scene was shot in 1977 during the Guatemalan civil war, and according to a Reuters article, George Lucas’s team had to hoist the bulky camera gear and heavy lights to the top of the temple with a pulley system.
The Star Wars movie team paid a local Guatemalan security guard with six-packs of beer to protect the equipment with a shotgun for four nights!
I’ve always been a big fan of Star Wars, so it was fun to visit this spot in real life!
Entrance Fees At Tikal National Park
Adult tickets to Tikal for foreigners cost 150 Quetzales (about $20 USD) per person, while kids under 12 can enter free. If you do a sunrise or sunset tour at Tikal, there’s an extra fee of 100 Quetzales per person.
Sadly there’s no way to buy tickets online yet, although you can buy your Tikal tickets up to 30 days in advance at Banrural bank agencies in Guatemala. Remember to bring enough cash (in local currency), because they don’t accept credit cards and there’s no ATM at Tikal.
IMPORTANT: A passport is required to buy your Tikal tickets. They won’t let you buy tickets without showing a passport for each person. I’ve heard of people using a photocopy of their passport and that was fine.
Opening Hours At Tikal National Park
The Tikal National Park is officially open daily from 6 AM to 5 PM, although you can enter outside of these hours if you do a sunrise or sunset tour.
Other Tips For Tikal Guatemala
- What To Wear: Shoes are ideal if you plan on climbing temples. Some of the footing would be sketchy with sandals. You’ll also want a hat and summer clothing. Tikal is hot!
- What To Bring: Water and snacks are a good idea. You can buy them in the park, but the prices will be higher.
- Guides: If you haven’t arranged a Tikal tour guide in advance, you can hire one at the entrance to the national park. However, I think it’s better to book a guide in advance that way you can read reviews and know what you’re getting.
- Facilities: There are a couple of small cafes in Tikal that sell snacks and drinks, plus you can find maps, bathrooms, picnic spots, and souvenir shops at the entrance of the park. There are no ATMs at Tikal yet.
- Credit Cards: Everything at Tikal is cash only, including the entrance tickets, cafes, and souvenir stands. They don’t accept credit cards for anything yet.
- Mosquitoes: Our group saw some mosquitoes at Tikal, so I would definitely recommend wearing bug spray with DEET. Malaria is not a significant issue at Tikal nowadays, and cases are rare in Peten. There isn’t much risk of dengue or Zika virus in the area either, although those can’t be ruled out completely, so it’s a good idea to use bug spray and protect yourself just in case.
- Cell Service: I had a little bit of cell service/phone reception while walking around in the Tikal area with Claro and Tigo via my T-Mobile roaming package, but it wasn’t very dependable. If you have any important texts or emails to send, best to do it before going to the park.
- Drones: Flying a drone is not allowed anywhere at Tikal National Park. According to the signs at the park entrance, they’re worried it might disturb the birds and other animals.
History Of Tikal
Tikal was once one of the most important cities for the ancient Mayan civilization in Central America, and at one time it had over 3,000 buildings and a population of up to 100,000 people! Some of Tikal’s rulers were also buried in the temples you see today.
During the 6th and 7th centuries, the history of Tikal was characterized by lots of bloody fighting with rival Mayan groups from nearby places like Caracol and Calakmul. Tikal was defeated in the 6th century, but rose to power again in the 7th century under the ruler Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, who led the people to military victory and built some of the best temples in Tikal.
For unknown reasons, the Mayan civilization (including Tikal) started to collapse in the 9th century, and the once great city of Tikal was completely abandoned by the 10th century. Everyone deserted the city.
Tikal was slowly consumed by the jungle, and it became a lost world for the next 1,000 years. It was finally rediscovered by the governor of Peten Guatemala in 1848, who reached it after several days of hiking through the rainforest. Over the course of many years, archaeologists were able to excavate the ruins and restore them to their present condition.
Today, the lost city of Tikal is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its outstanding artistic value and history, as well as the wonderful rainforest and animal species in the area. It’s one of the prime sights of Guatemala, and it receives more than a million visitors per year!
Best Time To Visit Tikal Guatemala
The best time to visit Tikal Guatemala depends on what you’re looking for, although you can visit all year round.
The dry season for this part of Guatemala runs from December to April. During these months, it’s more sunny and there’s less rain, and the daytime temperatures are slightly less hot than normal. Dry season is generally the best time to visit Tikal.
The wet season for Tikal basically runs from May to November. During these months, there’s more rain and clouds on average. You can still visit in the rainy season, but you might want to bring a poncho in case of bad weather.
The best time of day to visit Tikal is in the morning. With an early start, you can avoid some of the heat and crowds. Sunrise is also nice because you can hear the animals awakening and the Mayan jungle coming to life.
If you’re a photographer and mainly wanting to take pictures without crowds, try to avoid weekends and holidays, when there are a lot more Guatemalan locals visiting the park. However, overall Tikal is a huge park so it absorbs crowds quite well!
Is Tikal Guatemala Safe?
As you might know, Guatemala is not the safest country in the world, and there were some armed robberies at Tikal in the past. However, it seems like safety has improved now, and I haven’t heard of any crimes like that happening here in at least 10 years.
If you want some extra peace of mind, you could also bring a hidden travel belt (like this one) and put some of your valuables in it, such as cash and credit cards.
With that said, our group had a great visit to Tikal and we didn’t encounter any crime issues at all. Even though Guatemala doesn’t have a very good reputation on safety, I think it’s improved a lot in the last 20 years, and still seems to be getting better.
Is Tikal Worth It?
Yes, Tikal is absolutely worth visiting! It’s undoubtedly one of the best sights anywhere in Central America or South America.
The Tikal pyramids are every bit as amazing as they look in pictures, and it’s a good chance to see wildlife too. You shouldn’t travel to Guatemala without seeing this place.
More Guatemala Travel Tips
Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed this Tikal travel guide and map for visiting the Mayan ruins on a day trip from Belize or Guatemala.
If you’re looking for epic hikes in Guatemala, don’t forget to check out my guide for the Acatenango Volcano Hike before you go!