During our trip to Belize, we took a little detour to Guatemala to see one of the most famous Maya Ruins in the world: Tikal. They are really worth the trip but the experience was a real adventure for us!
Honestly this part of our trip to Belize and Guatemala wasn’t very well thought out on our part. We planned it at the last-minute (the night before!) and didn’t realize what were the costs involved. But most of all how slightly complicated things were going to be!
Our trip to get to Tikal
The only part of this trip that we booked from the United States was the hotel! Very innocently, we thought we could simply drive there from Belize. Well, as soon as we got our rental car we found out that you are strictly forbidden to cross the border. If something happens, the insurance won’t cover it. There is only one company that allows it but of course it wasn’t the one we were using!
We spent a few days in San Ignacio, which is very close to Guatemala. There we left the car in a secured parking lot for $10 a day (this was not too bad) right at the border. We waited for a while in line to get our visa, which cost $40 per adult and kids under 12 were free. Then we were finally in Guatemala! However as soon as we set foot in Guatemala we had to go to another office to have our passports stamped and of course the line was pretty long there!
It is a 2 hour drive to Tikal. Luckily the night before we had booked a car to come pick us up and drive us to the hotel. We had agreed to $110 each way, but if you try to find someone at the border the prices can be much higher! Oh, and just so you know, make sure you have a tip for the driver, they do expect it!
Once we arrived at the entrance to Tikal Park (which is about 30 minutes from the actual ruins) there was an entrance fee to pay of $150 quetzal (about $20 each) for each adult (kids are free). Stupidly we had not changed any money for Guatemala and they wouldn’t accept US dollars! Fortunately we found an ATM! What were we thinking, right?! I have no idea why we were so unprepared for this part of our trip.
Once we finally got to the hotel, I must admit it was a bit of a shock. The atmosphere was completely different from the one we had stayed at in Belize. It was a very simple hotel (just like the other one), but the people were not as friendly. The concierge tried to trick us twice by giving us different prices on a tour we asked about. We were not at all impressed and decided not to book anything. Who knows what other prices he had raised just because we were tourists!
We also found out that in this area, electricity is on only from 6 pm to 9:30 pm and in the morning from 6:30 to 8:30 am. Other than in that time frame you might as well just go to sleep! Not that we had anything planned but there was no information about it anywhere.
The sky was getting cloudy just as we headed out to see the ruins. Of course as soon as we reached the entrance a huge storm started! Luckily they don’t last too long, so after waiting it out, we got some huge leaves to cover us and started off on our exploration……
As I said before the ruins were definitely worth the trip! The park is huge, it is in the tropical rainforests of northern Guatemala. The vegetation is amazing, you can find tropical cedar, big leaf mahogany, and giant kapok. There are also a variety of animals, such as howler monkeys, spider monkeys, falcons, parrots, gray foxes, and the white-nosed coatis.
Tikal, was city and ceremonial centre of the ancient Maya civilization. It flourished between 300 and 850 CE. First settlements began clearing away areas in the jungle and building monumental architecture in the period up to 100 CE. The city’s prosperity was based on exploitation of natural resources such as cedar wood, dye from brazil wood, copal resin, flint, and cultivating maize in cleared areas of rainforest and fertile swamp areas.
In 378 CE Tikal was invaded by forces from Teotihuacan and influences on the cultural practices started, from clothes to art and architecture. From the late 4th century CE, Tikal was able to conquer long-time local rivals Uaxactún and Rio Azul, and the city formed alliances. At its height the population of Tikal, including the scattered urban settlements around the city, was over 50,000.
The Tikal National Park was established in the 1950s and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The site’s major structures include five pyramidal temples and three large complexes, called acropolis. Presumably they were temples and palaces for the upper class. Pyramid I is topped by the Temple of the Jaguar and rises to 148 feet (45 metres). Instead Pyramid II, is 138 feet (42 metres) above the jungle floor and supporting the Temple of the Masks. Lastly Pyramid III is 180 feet (55 metres) high. Near the Plaza of the Seven Temples stands Pyramid V (187 feet [57 metres). The highest of the Tikal monuments is Pyramid IV, 213 feet (65 metres), which is the westernmost of the major ruins and the site of the Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent.
Thoughts about Tikal
The Gran Paiza is pretty breathtaking! Once the tourist start leaving you feel a peacefulness and powerful energy that you just cannot ignore. We stayed there a long time and at one point a bunch of coatimundis (raccoon family) came running across the grounds. Tourists where running after them trying to snap a shot, but beware they look cute but they do bite! Of course Luca was trying to catch them too. I was right behind him, since a couple of times it looked like they were going to attack him!
At the entrance it says that the park closes at 6pm, but I’m not sure how they can actually check if everyone is out. It is the jungle and it is such a large park. We decided to head back mainly because it was getting dark and there were no lights. Honestly I was getting a little scared that we might also have some unwanted encounter. At one point a worker was driving down the road (road access is only for authorized personnel). He offered us a ride back and I stopped being worried but was only 100% grateful!
Tikal on our own or with an organized tour?
In the end, I don’t think we actually saved any money doing it on our own, but we had much more freedom. We weren’t on a tour schedule. This gave us the chance to stay in the spots we liked the most as long as we wanted and skip through the ones that weren’t as fascinating to us. Our kids enjoy the place without having to worry about other people. So for our family of 5 it most defiantly was better on our own!
What was the worst part of the trip?
Getting back to Belize! We waited in line 2 hours under the sun! Once it was our turn they realized that they had put the wrong exit date. Mass had to walk back to the office and have them fix it. By the time we were back in Belize we had no more patience!
If you go with a tour they usually have a person keeping the spot in line so you don’t have to wait all that time standing under the sun or the rain. Someone does it for you! We enjoyed the line just because we had the chance to chat with a very friendly Belizean guide who gave us many great tips!
Click here to see more of our posts from our travels in Belize!!!
Check out the hotel we stayed at Hotel Tikal Inn!!!