Tikal National Park is one of the most amazing and fascinating destinations in Central America, located in the northern part of the country, in the heart of the Peten Department.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to one of the largest and most important archaeological complexes of the ancient Maya civilization, Tikal Mayan Ruins.
But Tikal is not only about ruins and history. It is also a place where you can experience the rich and diverse wildlife and nature of the tropical rainforest, the culture and history of the Maya people, and the adventure and fun activities that the region has to offer.
In this article, we will explore some of the best things to do in and around Tikal National Park, and give you some tips and recommendations for making the most of your visit.
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Explore the ancient Maya city of Tikal National Park
Of course, one of the main reasons people get to Peten and visit the Tikal National Park is for the Mayan ruins of Tikal, which is undoubtedly the main attraction of the area.
I have a complete guide about traveling to Tikal Mayan Ruins that covers all you need to know about it, but here’s a sneak peek.
The Mayan ruins were inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 10th century AD. At its peak, Tikal was the capital of a powerful kingdom that dominated the region and had a population of up to 100,000 people.
Today, you can marvel at the impressive temples, palaces, pyramids, plazas, and monuments that the Mayans left behind, and learn about their complex and sophisticated society, religion, art, and science.
Some of the most impressive structures in Tikal include:
- The Temple of the Grand Jaguar (Temple I)
- The Temple of the Masks (Temple II)
- The Temple of the Double-Headed Serpent (Temple IV)
- The Temple of the Inscriptions (Temple VI)
- The North Acropolis
- The Central Acropolis
- The Lost World Complex
One of the best ways to see the city and the jungle is to climb to the top of some of the temples and enjoy the panoramic views of the canopy and the horizon. Make sure to ask which one you can climb to beforehand.
You can also walk along the trails and causeways that connect the different groups of buildings, and immerse yourself in the sounds and sights of the forest.
Keep an eye wide open since you might even spot some animals and birds that live in the park.
Some of the tips and recommendations for visiting the Mayan Ruins are:
- Plan to spend at least one full day in the park, there is a lot to see and do there. You can also stay overnight in one of the hotels or lodges near the park entrance, or camp inside the park, to experience the sunrise and sunset over the ruins.
- Hire a guide or join a tour to learn more about the history and culture of the Mayan people, you can find guides and tours inside the park, or book them in advance online (highly recommended).
- Bring enough water, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and comfortable clothes and shoes for your visit. The park is large and hot, and there are not many facilities or services inside. You can also buy some souvenirs, books, and refreshments at the visitor center near the park entrance.
- Respect the rules and regulations of the park, like not climbing on the structures that are not allowed, not littering, not disturbing the animals, and not taking any artifacts or plants from the park. Remember that Tikal is a sacred and protected site, and you are a guest in it.
Enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of the Maya Forest
Tikal National Park is not only a cultural and historical treasure but also a natural and ecological one.
The park is part of the Maya Forest, which is the largest contiguous tropical forest north of the Amazon and covers parts of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. The Maya Forest is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.
It’s also part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, which is a network of protected areas that aims to conserve the forest. its resources, and the Mayan ruins while promoting sustainable development and livelihoods for the local communities.
Some of the animals and plants that can be seen in the park include:
- There are five species of wild cats that live in the park: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, and jaguarundis, they are among the most elusive and endangered animals in the region.
- Spider monkeys, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and squirrel monkeys, are the four species of primates that inhabit the park, and are often seen swinging from the trees or feeding on fruits and leaves.
- The park is a delight for birdwatchers and photographers, some of the colorful and diverse birds that fly and sing in the park are toucans, macaws, parrots, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, trogons, motmots, and many more.
- Some of the beautiful and varied plants you can find in the park are orchids, bromeliads, ferns, palms, mahogany, ceiba, and many more, those provide food, shelter, and medicine for the animals and people.
- Coatis, agoutis, peccaries, tapirs, deer, raccoons, anteaters, armadillos, and many more, are some of the other mammals that roam and forage the area and are sometimes seen along the trails or near the ruins.
To enjoy the nature and wildlife of the park, you can do various activities like hiking, birdwatching, camping, and night tours.
You should also be aware of the conservation efforts and the challenges that the park and the forest face, such as illegal logging, poaching, and climate change.
Some of the conservation efforts and challenges in the park include:
- The protection and management of the park and its resources is done by the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) of Guatemala, in collaboration with other governmental and non-governmental organizations.
- The research and monitoring of the park and its biodiversity is done by various national and international institutions, like the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, the University of Pennsylvania, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Geographic Society.
- The education and awareness of the park and its importance is done by various programs and initiatives, like the Tikal Visitor Center and Museum.
- Deforestation, poaching, illegal logging, fires, climate change, invasive species, and human-wildlife conflicts, are some of the threats and challenges that the park and its biodiversity face, which require constant vigilance and action to prevent and mitigate.
Discover the culture and history of the Maya people
The Maya are one of the oldest and most diverse indigenous groups in the Americas and have a rich and complex heritage and traditions that span thousands of years.
They are also resilient and dynamic people, who have faced and overcome many challenges and changes throughout history, and who have contributed to and influenced the society and development of the country.
Tikal National Park is a good place to discover the culture and history of the Maya people (both ancient and actual), who are still living and thriving in the region.
Museums and cultural centers:
- The Tikal Stelae Museum is located near the park entrance and displays a collection of artifacts, sculptures, stelae, and models that illustrate the history and culture of Tikal and the Maya civilization, as well as the archaeological and conservation work that has been done in the park.
- The Sylvanus G. Morley Museum is also inside the park and exhibits a collection of ceramics, jade, obsidian, and other objects that were found in Tikal and other Maya sites, as well as the personal belongings and photographs of Sylvanus G. Morley, who was one of the first and most influential archaeologists to study Tikal and the Maya civilization.
- Museo Regional Del Mundo Maya, is located in the town of Flores, about 65 kilometers from the park, and offers a variety of activities and services to learn and experience the Maya culture and spirituality, as well as several artifacts.
Another good way to learn more about the actual Maya people living today in the region is by assisting or learning more about their especial events or festivals, like the Mayan New Year, which is celebrated on the first days of April, or the Maya Solstice.
On the other hand, you can interact with the Maya communities, there are several ways to do this and a popular one is to do a Community Tour or take a language course. You will also find, spiritual guides workshops offered by Mayan people.
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Visit the nearby lakes and waterfalls
If you want to cool off and relax after exploring the ruins and the forest, you can visit some of the nearby lakes and waterfalls.
Lake Peten Itza
One of the most popular and beautiful places is Lake Peten Itza, which is the second-largest lake in Guatemala and has clear and calm waters.
You can swim, kayak, fish, or boat on the lake, and you can also visit the island of Flores, which is the capital of the Peten department, and has charming colonial architecture and a lively atmosphere.
Another option is Lake Yaxha, which is smaller and quieter than Lake Peten Itza, and is also surrounded by another archaeological site, Yaxha, which is worth visiting.
You can also see some of the wildlife and plants that live in and around the lake, such as crocodiles, turtles, and orchids.
This is another lake that is located in the south of Peten, it’s located close to El Remate town, and it is a shallow and marshy lake, where you can see many birds and fish.
You can swim, kayak, fish, or boat on the lake, and you can also enjoy the tranquility and nature.
Las Cataratas Calzada Mopán
A third option is Las Cataratas Calzada Mopán, which is a hidden gem situated in Finca Las Delicias, and which has a refreshing and scenic cascade.
You can swim or picnic at the waterfall, and you can also explore the nearby village and the Mopan River.
Enjoy the adventure and fun activities in the region
Whether you are looking for some adrenaline-filled or relaxing and leisure activities, you will find something to suit your taste and budget in and around the park.
The Peten Deparment (where the park is located at) is one of the most remotes areas in the country, but it’s a lot to explore nad top-tier attractions to explore.
Outdoor and adrenaline-filled activities:
- Ziplining, you can find several ziplining operators and courses in and around the park, like the Tikal Canopy Tour, and the Ixpanpajul Natural Park.
- Kayaking, there are countless places where you can rent a kayak in Flores, as well as tours, like the Lake Peten Itza Kayak Tour.
- Caving, which is an activity that allows you to discover the secrets and mysteries of the Maya underworld. You can find several caving operators and sites in the area, like the Actun Kan Cave Tour, the Naj Tunich Cave Tour, and the Candelaria Caves Tour.
Relaxing and leisure activities:
- Swimming, cool off, and refresh yourself in the clear and calm waters of the lakes and pools that are found in the region, there are several swimming spots around the Peten Itza Lake, like Playa Chechenal, an Playa Kukulkan, as well as pools.
- Shopping, buy some of the souvenirs, handicrafts, and products that are made and sold by the local artisans and vendors in the region, your best option is to head to Flores Island, and walk around Flores Handicraft Market.
- Spa, there are several places to pamper yourself in the area, you can find several spa services and options in and around the park, like the Bless Spa, and the ones offered by hotels and eco lodges like the Bolontiku Boutique Hotel Spa.
Experience the local culture and cuisine
You can experience some of the cultural and culinary attractions and experiences that the region has to offer, for example, you can visit the markets in Flores or Santa Elena, where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and try some of the local street food.
Try some of the local cuisine, which is based on corn, beans, rice, meat, and vegetables, and has a variety of flavors and spices.
Some of the typical dishes that you can try are pepian, kakik, and rellenitos. You can also drink atol, which is a hot corn-based beverage, or horchata, which is a cold rice-based beverage with cinnamon and sugar.
Discover the other ancient Maya civilizations in the area
One of the main attractions of Peten is the ancient Maya civilization, which was the heart of the Maya world for centuries.
In Peten, you can discover other of the most impressive and famous archaeological sites, besides Tikal, that showcase the achievements and the mysteries of the Maya.
Some of these sites are:
This is another important and beautiful site near Tikal National Park, and it is also part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Yaxha was a major city in the Maya world, and it covers an area of about 9 square kilometers. It has more than 500 structures, including temples, palaces, plazas, acropolises, and ball courts.
It is also located next to a scenic and refreshing lake, where you can swim, kayak, or fish.
To visit Yaxha, you will need to pay an entrance fee of 80 quetzals (about 10 USD) per person, and you can also hire a guide for an additional fee.
This is another ancient and interesting site, Uaxactun was one of the oldest and longest-lived cities in the Maya world, and it covers an area of about 12 square kilometers. It has more than 300 structures.
Uaxactun is also known for its astronomical observatory, where the Maya studied the movements of the sun, the moon, and the stars.
You must pay an entrance fee of 40 quetzals (about 5 USD) per person to visit Uaxactun.
This is one of the most remote and adventurous sites by far, El Mirador was one of the earliest and largest cities in the Maya world, and it covers an area of about 26 square kilometers. It has more than 800 structures.
A must-see is the Danta Pyramid, which is the largest pyramid in the country and one of the largest in the world.
El Mirador is also known for its mural paintings, which depict scenes of mythology, history, and daily life.
You need to join a guided tour to visit this site, which can last from 3 to 6 days, depending on the itinerary and the mode of transportation. You can either hike or take a helicopter to reach the site, and you will also need to camp in the forest.
How do I get to Tikal National Park?
You can get to Tikal National Park from Antigua or Guatemala City by plane, bus, or car.
The fastest and easiest way is by plane, since there are daily flights from Guatemala City to Flores, which is the nearest town to the park. The flight takes about an hour; from Flores, you can take a shuttle bus or a taxi to the park, which takes about an hour and costs around 10 USD.
Alternatively, you can take a shuttle or a taxi from Antigua to Flores, which takes about 8 hours. Another option is to rent a car and drive to the national park.
Where can I stay?
If you want to explore the Peten department and Tikal National Park, your best option is to stay around the lake. You can find a lot of accommodations in El Remate and Flores, but I highly recommend you stay on Flores Island.
It’s the best option since you will also find more services and amenities, like shops, banks, pharmacies, and restaurants.
Another option is to stay inside the archaeological site, Tikal Mayan Ruins, in one of the hotels or lodges.
These places offer basic but comfortable rooms, with private bathrooms, hot water, electricity, and Wi-Fi. They also have restaurants, bars, pools, and gardens.
- Lakeview restaurants
- Walking tour of the colorful city
- Visit Arcas Wildlife Refuge
- Boat tour of Lake Peten Itza
- Biotopo Cerro Cahua
- Kayaking or Canoeing on Lake Peten Itza
- Swim in Lake Peten Itza
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What is the best time to visit Tikal National Park?
The best time to visit the national park is from November to February, the dry season in Guatemala.
I always recommend the dry season since the weather is drier, the skies are clearer and it’s sunnier, but it can get really hot. This makes it more pleasant and comfortable to explore the attractions and activities in the area.
However, this is also the peak season, which means that there will be more tourists and higher prices.
You should avoid visiting the area during the rainy season, the weather is more humid and wet, and the rains are frequent and heavy, making traveling around hard and unpleasant.
Tips to Visit Tikal National Park and its Surroundings
Some of the safety tips and precautions for visiting Peten are:
Protect yourself: wear sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, and insect repellent, as the sun and the bugs can be harsh and harmful.
Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, as the climate can be hot and humid, and dehydration can cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
Clothes: Wear comfortable shoes and clothes, as the terrain can be uneven and rough, and the temperature can vary.
Be respectful: Follow the rules and signs, and if you’re visiting a Mayan site do not touch or climb on the structures, they are fragile and sacred, and you may damage them or injure yourself.
Don’t mess with the animals: Do not feed or approach the animals if you’re doing outdoor activities, as they are wild and unpredictable, and they may bite or attack you.
Keep your trash with you: Do not leave any trash or litter, as they can pollute and harm the environment and wildlife.
Don’t go around by yourself: Do not wander off the trails or the marked areas, as you may get lost or encounter dangerous situations.
Respect the locals: Be respectful and courteous to the local people and the other visitors, as they are your hosts and your fellow travelers.
How long do I need to visit Tikal National Park?
It depends on your interests and preferences, but I recommend spending at least one full day in the park, to see the main attractions and enjoy the atmosphere.
Staying overnight in or near the park is highly recommended too, that way you can experience the sunrise and sunset over the ruins, and explore other sites and activities in the region.
Do I need a guide to visit Tikal National Park?
It is not mandatory, but I highly recommend it, since a guide will give you valuable information and insights about the history and culture of Tikal and the Maya civilization, and will also help you access some areas of the park.
What should I bring and wear to visit Tikal National Park?
You should bring enough water, snacks, sunscreen, comfortable clothes, and shoes for your visit, and an insect repellent is A MUST since there can be a lot of mosquitoes and insects around.
You should also bring a hat, sunglasses, a raincoat (if you decide to go during the rainy season), and a flashlight.
Is Tikal National Park safe to visit?
Yes, Tikal National Park is safe to visit, as long as you follow the rules and regulations of the park, like not climbing on restricted structures that can be inestable, or not disturbing animals since they’re wild.
If you’re in the towns around the lake you should respect the local people and their culture, and avoid any political or sensitive topics.
You should also be aware of your surroundings, and keep your valuables and documents with you at all times, it’s safe but theft is still an issue in the country.
Tikal National Park is a destination that has something for everyone, whether you are interested in history, culture, nature, or adventure.
By visiting the park, you will not only witness the greatness and legacy of the ancient Maya civilization, but also the beauty and diversity of the Maya Forest, and the culture and history of the Maya people.
You will also have the opportunity to enjoy the fun and exciting activities that the region has to offer, and to taste the delicious and varied cuisine that the region has to offer.
If you are planning to visit Tikal National Park, here are some practical information and resources that you might find useful:
- The park is open every day from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, and the entrance fee is 150 Quetzales (about 20 USD).
- The park is located about 65 kilometers from the town of Flores, which is the main gateway to the region, and has an international airport, and a bus terminal.
- It is located about 20 kilometers from Uaxactun, which is another important archaeological site. You can visit Uaxactun from Tikal.
- The park offers various accommodation options, ranging from hotels and lodges to camping and glamping.
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Last Updated on December 12, 2023