Tikal: How to Visit without a Tour Guide

Tikal is without a doubt a place you can’t skip when visiting Guatemala. Exploring the ruins hidden in the jungle was definitely an experience of a lifetime that I wouldn’t want to miss out on. In this guide, you’ll find different ways to visit the archaeological site, including a solo trip where you can enjoy the jungle without a bunch of people around.

Why Should You Visit Tikal?

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What is Tikal and why are people willing to travel halfway around the world to see this wonder? Tikal is an ancient Mayan city hidden in the jungle in the north of Guatemala

Nicknamed the Capital of the Mayan Civilization, the oldest settlements are over 3,000 years old, and it reached its greatest glory about 1,500 years ago when it dominated the entire region politically, economically, and militarily. It was already abandoned around the 10th century, probably due to long periods of drought.

The ancient city was then abandoned for a long time and escaped the attention of the colonizers thanks to its secret location deep in the jungle. The first modern expedition was put together with the natives, who never forgot the ancient city, only in the middle of the eighteenth century. Since then, many other expeditions have set out to map and uncover dozens of ruins.

A huge national park has been created around the city and nowadays Tikal is Guatemala’s main tourist attraction as well as one of the most interesting places to explore the remains of the Mayan culture.

Where Is Tikal?

The Mayan city of Tikal can be found in the Petén region of northern Guatemala. It is hidden in the middle of the jungle, usually visited from the town of Flores, located about an hour and a half from Tikal. Btw. Flores can be reached in about ten hours by public transport from Palenque, Mexico; Flores and Tikal are thus an ideal starting point if you plan to continue your journey from Mexico through Guatemala.

Tip: Do you want to go from Mexico to Guatemala on your own and save about 75% of the price of a tourist shuttle? Check out our guide on How to cross the border from Mexico to Guatemala.

Not in the mood to read? Check out our YouTube video!

The Best Accommodation in Flores

We recommend Los Amigos hostel for accommodation. It has a convenient location, a great vibe, nice staff, vegetarian food, and bunnies running around the garden! You can choose from a wide range of rooms, from shared rooms to simple private rooms with shared showers to deluxe rooms with air conditioning. You can also book a tour or transport to Tikal directly at the hostel.

Flores is famous mainly for Tikal, but don’t forget to spare some time to walk around the city as well. You can also go for some more trips to nearby ruins or rent a canoe and explore the lake. However, we didn’t have that much time since more interesting places in Guatemala awaited us.

Tikal Admission Fees and Opening Hours

Note: The prices in the article are given in Guatemalan quetzals (10 Q = €1.2) 

The entrance fee to Tikal for an adult costs 150 Q, and children under 12 can enter for free. The national park is open from 6 am to 5 pm. You can also go here outside the opening hours, but only with a guide as part of the Sunrise or Sunset Tour, for which you pay an additional 100 Q for the entrance. Read more about organized tours later in the article.

You need to buy the tickets through Banrural. They have a website or you can stop by the office in Flores or at the entrance in Tikal (in case of the Sunrise/Sunset tour, the office at the entrance is closed and you need to have the entrance paid in advance).

tikal ruins by bus

Camping in Tikal

Do you fancy spending a night in the jungle? That is also a possibility. The campsite is right at the entrance to the park and you pay 50 Q per night there. You can bring your own hammock or tent, or pay Q50 or Q75 respectively for them.

If you want to go to the park in the afternoon/evening and in the morning, you have to pay the entrance fee for both days, plus any surcharge for the Sunrise or Sunset Tour. Even if you spend the night on the spot, you can only get on these special tours with a guide.

As for the sunrise tour, it should be possible to arrange it on the spot, but the price can get really high. Therefore it’s better to make the arrangements before you leave Flores. Just let the guide know you don’t need a ride and you’ll join directly in the park in the morning. If you want to explore the park yourself, just wait until 6 a.m.

All this information is pure research, as we ourselves did not camp at the site. You can read an article about personal experience with camping in Tikal here, but beware, it’s from 2016, so doublecheck the information.

Note: Previously, you could use a ticket purchased after three in the afternoon for the next day, unfortunately, this no longer applies.

How To Get from Flores to Tikal?

The three main ways to get from Flores to Tikal are:

  • By public transport
  • By tourist shuttle
  • As part of the tour

Tikal from Flores by Public Transport

If you want to take a bus, from Flores you must first get to the bus stop in Santa Elena. Depending on where you will be staying, you can go on foot or by tuk-tuk (it is about two kilometers from the Los Amigos hostel).

Once you arrive at the terminal, someone will surely ask you where you are going and guide you to the right connection. The route from Flores to Tikal is usually covered by minibusses, not the iconic chicken buses. They should run about once an hour, the price is around 30-40 Q and it takes more or less two and a half hours to get to the gate.

However, the disadvantage of public transport is that it does not run as early as shuttles. Since we wanted to be in Tikal as soon as possible and enjoy the awakening jungle, we chose a different option this time.

Tikal from Flores by Tourist Shuttle

Guatemalan public transport is really specific, which is why a much more expensive but also more suitable option for many tourists – tourist shuttles – was created. They are basically minibusses that run between all the main attractions around Guatemala.

You can book a shuttle at any travel agency, at a hostel, or from resellers on the street (be careful with this option though). Some agencies offer only the transfer with one of the tours, which is exactly what we did at the Los Amigos hostel.

Tikal from Flores with a Tour

Dozens of tours go from Flores to Tikal every day. Most agencies and hostels offer four options (the prices in parentheses are approximate prices from the Los Amigos hostel)

  • Sunrise Tour (250 Q + entrance fee 250 Q ≈ €60)
  • Early Bird Tour (130 Q + entrance fee 150 Q  ≈ €34)
  • Day Tour (130 Q + entrance fee 150 Q  ≈ €34)
  • Sunset Tour (165 Q + entrance fee 250 Q  ≈ €50)
  • + Bonus: Transport only (100 Q + entrance fee 150 Q  ≈ 30€)

Sunrise and Sunset Tour

During the Sunrise Tour, you will enjoy the beautiful sunrise over Tikal, while during the Sunset Tour, you will watch the sunset. There aren’t that many people in the park during this time, which enhances the jungle experience. On the other hand, as I wrote above, at these times you can only get to Tikal with a tour and the entrance is 100 Q more expensive (a similar price difference is for the tour itself).

Early Bird Tikal Tour

The Early Bird Tour starts early in the morning, so you can have the site almost to yourself. But without the extra charge for the Sunrise Tour. The guide will pick you up at the hostel at 4:30 in the morning and you will arrive at the entrance just before six.

There aren’t many tourists in Tikal this early and the jungle is very alive. You can see and hear a lot of animals, such as coatis, toucans, and various monkeys (you will definitely hear howler monkeys and you can also see spider monkeys). If you’re very lucky, you might hear a cougar or a jaguar.

Transport to Tikal without the Guided Tour

That’s why we chose the Early Bird option as well, although only the transport. We were picked up at the hostel at 4:30 in the morning and went to the gate together with the tour, where we paid for the entrance (don’t forget your passport!). We agreed with the guide when and where to meet again and were free to continue on our own.

If you stay on the tour, you will learn more about the history, but due to the size and noise of the group, you won’t be able to enjoy the jungle and animals as much. We took a different route than the rest, wandering through the jungle and seeing dozens of animals. It depends on whether you are more interested in history or nature and how much you want to enjoy the peace and majesty of Tikal. As you can see, the price difference is minimal.

Tip: If you go to the park without a tour, be sure to go to the main square (Plaza Central) first since many people gather here later.

Tikal Day Tour

The last option, the Tikal Day Tour, is just a classic tour during the day. Departure from Flores is usually at six, eight, or ten in the morning, and arrival back at one, three, or four in the afternoon.

In case you’d like to join a tour, you can easily book one in Flores, or you can arrange a guide in advance, for example with GetYourGuide.

What Not To Miss in Tikal?

We had five hours in Tikal, so we managed to go through the entire archaeological site and enjoyed wandering through the jungle. But even if you don’t want to walk that much or if you plan to spend more time in individual places, try to visit at least these places:

Main square

The main square, or Plaza Central, is located right in the middle of the park. You’ll find the famous temples I and II here with their 47 and 38 meters. Since this is the main part, it is definitely worth visiting it right at the beginning, especially if you go for the Early Bird tour, since there are fewer people.

Temple IV

Temple IV, nicknamed the Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent, is the tallest structure built during the Mayan era. It is 65 meters high and after climbing dozens of steps you will be greeted with a breathtaking view of the surrounding jungle with the peaks of other temples.

tikal guatemala on our own

Seven Temples Square

The Square of the Seven Temples, or Plaza de los Siete Templos, together with Mundo Perdido, is particularly impressive for its size. The temples are not that tall, but there are more of them here, and they are also in exceptional condition. By the way, the architecture of this part was influenced by Teotihuacán and one of the pyramids is even a copy of the Citadel in Teotihuacán.

FAQ: The most frequently asked questions

Last but not least, here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about Tikal.

Can you climb the pyramids in Tikal?

Yes! Unlike the Mexican ruins, you can easily climb the ones in Tikal, Guatemala. At the highest ones, you can reach above the tree line and admire the park in all its beauty.

How much is the entrance fee to Tikal?

The entrance fee to Tikal costs 150 Q (about €18) or 250 Q (about €30) if you go for a Sunrise or Sunset tour.

Is it possible to camp in Tikal?

Yes, you can camp in Tikal. In addition to the entrance fee, you pay another 50 Q (about €6) per night, plus the rental of a tent/hammock if needed.

What to take with you to Tikal?

Most importantly, don’t forget your passport, which you need to buy a ticket, but also to prove your identity if you have a ticket bought in advance.

In addition, sunscreen and repellent, plenty of water, a camera, and proper shoes are definitely useful. You won’t be able to move comfortably around the trails or the pyramids in flip-flops. But you don’t need hiking boots either, any sneakers will do.

If you want to buy something (food, drink, souvenirs), remember to bring cash. You cannot pay by card in the park.

Is it possible to go to Tikal from Flores by bus?

Yes, from the stop on the mainland, you can catch a public bus that will take you to Tikal in about two hours. See section From Flores to Tikal by public transport.

If you found this guide helpful and want to thank us, there is nothing easier than buying us a coffee. You can support us with as little as €1, but even mention on your social media, follow, or comment as feedback is most appreciated! 🖤

How Much Was the Tikal Trip?

Transport from Flores to Tikal100 Q
Tikal Entrance fee150 Q
Map of the site20 Q
Very needed morning coffee10 Q
Total per person280 Q (€33.1)
visiting Tikal

Well, that’s it! If you’re interested in anything else, please ask in the comments. I would just like to add that we really enjoyed our visit to Tikal and it is definitely a place worth to go. Let us know how you liked it and take a check out the rest of the articles on the blog.

Love,
Lea

6 responses

  1. Great guide .

    The one thing I don’t understand about the tikal national park is does it have a walking trails in the jungle? Or only the main plaza and the temples ?

    1. Hey Ran, thank you and thank you for the great question! Only the part where the ancient city is located is open to public BUT it’s really big and you can walk between the temples through smaller jungle trails. You can check our YouTube video, we tried to capture some of the paths as well as the expanse of the park. 🙂
      Lea

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment! 🙂 This is what I mean by the shuttle and is described in the post as the “Transport to Tikal without the Guided Tour”. It’s also what we did.

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