Tikal National Park in Guatemala
The ancient temples found in Tikal National Park are arguably the most impressive in all of Central America. The park is one of the largest and most impressive archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It’s estimated to have had a peak population of 100,000 to 200,000.
Tikal National Park is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage sites that’s listed under both natural and cultural criteria for its extraordinary biodiversity and archaeological importance.
Needless to say, it’s a playground for history buffs and cultural travelers looking to walk in the footsteps of one of mankind’s most fascinating societies.
Our visit to Tikal National Park
During our visit, the original plan was to stay in town of Flores and take a day trip to explore Tikal National Park. Flores is a popular lakeside town that’s located about an hour bus drive from the park.
However, after further research, we decided to stay two nights at a jungle lodge located just outside the park entrance (here’s where we stayed). This allowed us to experience two sunsets and one sunrise inside Tikal National Park. It also meant we would have the opportunity to explore the park when the big tour buses are long gone.
We arrived during one of the slowest months for tourism, which meant that we had the park, and hotel, virtually all to ourselves! We visited in the month of May. This is said to be the best time to visit Tikal. The busy season is said to be December to April and the rainy season is June to October.
Here are photos that will inspire you to visit Tikal National Park.
Sunset at Tikal Temple 1
This is Tikal Temple 1, also is known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar. We did not get the best light during our sunsets inside Tikal National Park. The above photo, captured on the first night, has the best light from our collection of photos from that evening. By the time I had moved to the other side of the acropolis the sunset glow was completely gone.
The walk from our jungle lodge to the North Acropolis took us about 45 minutes. We walked at a slow pace to soak up the atmosphere. It gets dark shortly after the sun sets over the park, and, even though we brought our head lamps with us, we didn’t want to walk back to the jungle lodge in complete darkness.
It’s kinda freaky in the jungle at night!
Above is the backside of Tikal Temple 1. It is 154 feet tall (47 meters).
Jungle panorama from Tikal Temple IV
On the second night, we watched the sunset from the top of Tikal Temple IV. It was built around 741 AD and was one of the tallest and most voluminous buildings in the Maya world. It stands at 212 feet (65 meters) from its supporting platform to the highest part of the roof comb, making it the tallest temple in Tikal National Park.
The panoramic jungle views from Temple IV are incredible. It was a little hazy during our visit and the sunset didn’t really happen – there were no clouds in the sky – but it was still a magical moment. The above photo was the best one from that evening. You can see a bit of the pinkish glow on the pyramids.
Shortly after the sunset, we were told by a park ranger that we had to leave the park and return to our lodge. You’re not allowed to be in Tikal National Park at night. It was about an hour walk from Temple IV to the jungle lodge. By the time we arrived back at the lodge it was pitch black.
North Acropolis in Tikal National Park
To the right of Nicole is the North Acropolis, a complex that served as a royal necropolis and center for funerary activity for over 1,300 years. This acropolis is said to be one of the most studied Mayan architectural complexes.
We captured the above photo from the platform on top of Temple 2.
The wooden stairs on Temple 2. The stairs are steep, so we walked down facing backwards.
Exploring the North Acropolis. That’s Temple 2 in the distance. It faces Temple 1.
Frontal view of Temple 2. Notice the perfect symmetry.
Above is a different angle of Temple 2. Notice the steep wooden stairs on the left.
Can you spot Nicole? We felt like we had the entire park to ourselves. That evening, we encountered one organized tour of 10 people and about 4 or 5 couples. It was such a cool experience.
The north side of Temple V
Temple V stands at 187 feet high (57 meters), making it the second highest structure in Tikal National Park. It’s located south of the Central Acropolis. You can climb the wooden stairs to the left of the temple to a platform that serves up amazing jungle views. See below photo.
This is Temple 5. Can you spot us?
Big thanks to the German couple who waited for us to climb up and down these steep stairs so that we could get this awesome photo. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our camera with us at the top, so we were unable to capture the amazing views.
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Another temple in Tikal. I’m not sure what this one is called.
Taking a break in the shade. We spent several hours exploring Tikal. It’s huge.
Many of the archaeological sites in Tikal National Park have yet to be uncovered.
Read the last sentence of this sign, found at the entrance to the park. Be careful when howler monkeys are swinging above. They may ‘defecate on the heads of people below to show their presence’.
Don’t go swimming in the lake at Tikal National Park. There be caimans in these waters!
Things you should know before you go
- Tikal National Park is open daily for visits from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
- Adult admission for foreigners is 150 GTQ (about $20 USD). Children under 12 are free.
- Bring plenty of bottled drinking water and sunscreen. Bring cash, too. There are no ATM’s inside the park. Wear proper hiking or running shoes. The trails are well marked but the terrain is uneven. You will do a lot of walking inside the park.
- We stayed at the Jungle Lodge Hotel. There are 4 lodges near the entrance to the park. Here’s a link to the other properties. Prices are actually quite reasonable.
- You can stay in Flores and take day trips to Tikal National Park. It’s about a one hour bus drive. There are several tour companies that offer transportation, entrance fee and guided tours.
- We did not hire a tour guide. The park is easy to navigate on your own. However, we had to rely on our Guatemala guide book for info on the temples. There’s a lot to take in, so it may be worth hiring a guide if you’re interested in the history of the archaeological sites.
- We entered Guatemala from San Ignacio, Belize. It was not expensive to take a shuttle transfer from San Ignacio to Tikal National Park. Crossing country borders in Central America can be sketchy, so it was worth the extra dollars to have a tour company take us door-to-door. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the company we used.
- Don’t forget to get travel insurance before you go. Find a plan that works for you here.
- If you’re looking for an organized tour, Intrepid Travel is currently offering 15% off South and Central Americatours.
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