Tikal is enchanting. The Mayan ruins in Guatemala are ancient wonders built between the 6th century BC and the 10th century AD. Reclaimed by the jungle hundreds of years ago, they’ve been partially excavated and stand as reminders of a great civilization. I’ve traveled to Central America from London to see them, and can’t wait to spend time visiting Tikal.

Visiting Tikal

Visiting Tikal

It’s been a journey to get here. I flew from London to Miami and spent the night there. The next day I flew to Belize City and traveled onwards to San Ignacio, a town near the border with Guatemala. I spent another night there, then left early this morning with a day tour on which I booked a one-way, transport-only ticket.

Tikal, Guatemala

The tour gets me across the border and to the entrance of the national park, where I buy my tickets for the day, the evening, and the following morning (I later learn that while you can now only officially purchase them here, the hotels in the park sell them, too).

Grand Plaza in Tikal, Guatemala

Once in Tikal National Park, I head to my hotel and check into my room. Tikal Inn is nicer than I imagined, and I’m happy with both the room and the facilities—the WiFi works well, there’s plenty of hot water, and the staff is friendly. There’s a welcoming swimming pool, too.

Tikal Inn, Guatemala

But I’m not here to sit around in my hotel. The park is vast—the central part of the ancient city has 3,000 buildings and covers 16 square kilometers—and I have limited time for visiting Tikal. I grab my hat, sunscreen, water, and map and hit the paths. This being April, there are no insects and few visitors to contend with, so it’s worth braving hot temperatures to be here now instead of peak tourist season.

Tikal, Guatemala

I pass a number of smaller Mayan ruins before catching a glimpse of the main event: Temple I. This imposing structure sits on one side of the Grand Plaza, the most iconic place in Tikal. I spend time exploring the area, climbing the ruins, and heading up the stairs to take in the views from Temple II. It’s amazing to be here, and more impressive than I ever dreamed.

Temple I in Tikal, Guatemala

From the Grand Plaza I head over to Temple IV, the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas. It’s famous for its view, which featured in Star Wars: Episode IV. Given I spent my childhood playing with Princess Leia action figures, it’s amazing to see one of the filming locations in person.

View from Temple IV in Tikal, Guatemala

Descending the steps, I head over to the Lost World, where the pyramid has stunning views of many of the surrounding temples. Afterwards I walk to the Plaza of the Seven Temples and Temple V, the latter of which I have all to myself. I feel like Indiana Jones.

Temple V in Tikal, Guatemala

I spend the rest of the afternoon meandering along narrow paths, watching howler and spider monkeys swing from the trees, and spotting coatimundis running around on the ground. I make it over to the North Zone and out to Temple VI, one of the more remote temples and worth the long walk.

Coatimundi in Tikal, Guatemala

By the time I make it back to my hotel in Tikal, I’m exhausted. But there’s more to come, as I’ve booked myself on the sunset tour. I had read about how one day in Tikal isn’t enough, which is why I decided to stay overnight so I could go into the park at sunset and sunrise. An hour before sunset, I head off with a guide from Tikal Inn.

Tikal Sunset Tour

There are fewer people around than there were during the day, but that’s not saying much. The sunset is obscured by the clouds, but at least our vantage point at the top of the pyramid in the Lost World allows us to see toucans and parrots flying about.

Tikal Sunset Tour

When we get back to the hotel, I decide not to go on the sunrise tour the next morning. That’s not least because the next morning I don’t exactly have a way to travel back to Belize.

Tikal Sunset Tour

There are several options, but most of them are extremely expensive, logistically complex, or long in duration. Thankfully I manage to catch a ride with a tour group that has booked transport to Belize City, my next port of call. They generously let me go along with them, solving my transport problem and lowering my anxiety levels at the same time.

Tikal, Guatemala

Despite the hectic ending, I’ve had a great time visiting Tikal and am glad I made the trip. I have two more weeks in Central America after this, and the ruins have set the bar high for the rest of my time in the region. Like many people I met while visiting Tikal, I’m off to Caye Caulker next. Stay tuned…

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Visiting Tikal

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