Want to visit Tikal? If you want to visit Tikal Ruins in Guatemala and actually enjoy the experience. Then you need to read my guide on what not to do. From the bus ride from hell, I took to get there (see here). To the sleepless night in a hammock in the jungle. I had a disastrous trip to Tikal. So learn from my mistakes and discover how to see Tikal in Guatemala by reading my ultimate guide on what not to do!
Now just to say I do prefer to do things the hard way when I can for the following reasons;
- Doing an organized tour is just that, organized. As a travel blogger, I prefer to do things the hard way so I have first-hand experience of having to work it out for myself. That way when I’m writing about it I can do so from experience.
- I’m always on a tight budget, so the more difficult way is normally also the cheapest
- It almost always makes for a better story…
But for me, Tikal was a nightmare from start to finish which is why I can safely say…
Pay the money and book the dam tour!
Let’s do the maths:
- A standard tour will cost you 250Q which includes transport and guide. If you want to do a sunset or sunrise tour you will pay 350Q
- The tour will pick you up from your hotel and drop you back off there.
Here is what I paid:
- 5Q for a tuk-tuk to the bus station
- 30Q for the public bus (which stopped every 5 minutes and took forever to get there)
- 150Q park entry
- 50Q bus back
So I saved myself a grand total of 15Q but the extra hassle really wasn’t worth it. Even if you don’t want the actual tour. You could just tell the guide you wanted to go alone and find out the time you needed to be back for the transport. Or alternatively, if you tell them you just want transport they will charge you 70Q…so I could have saved myself 5Q.
Don’t think to do two 10 hour bus journeys in one week is going to be fun
I think my state of mind arriving in Flores after two difficult bus rides really affected my rational thinking. I wish I’d spend a few more days in Semuc or taken a day off before visiting Tikal.
Don’t loose your bank card
This was also a huge factor in my Tikal nightmare. I lost my bank card in Antigua and my money was running low. Guatemala has no postal service, so I had no way of getting a replacement. My Dad ended up having to send me money via Western Union and trying to get that money out of a Guatemalan bank was like getting blood from a stone, this is a whole other blog post! So I was over-conscious about how much Tikal and Flores was costing me.
Don’t scrimp on your accommodation book a room at Los Amigos with AC
I spent two nights at Los Amigos and I highly recommend booking in here! You have to do it through email and do let them know what time you will be arriving as they get very busy and will give your room away if you are late. It’s more expensive than other hostels in Flores, but it’s worth every penny. Its only 10Q extra for a room with AC, pay the 10Q you will need it! I didn’t the first night and I didn’t sleep because of the heat.
Don’t do the sunrise tour, do the sunset tour
We spoke to the guides in the park about this. They told us it’s almost always misty in the morning. So if you want to pay the extra 100Q to enter the park after it’s closed so the sunset tour, as you are more likely to get something photo worthy.
Buy the map
Tikal is huge, don’t be tight like me and just pay the 20Q for the map so you know where you are going.
Don’t forget your spare batteries
Yup, that happened. My camera battery died just as I was walking into the main part of Tikal and my spare battery was flat. Wonderful. Always check your spares!
Don’t, I repeat DON’T sleep in a hammock in Tikal
Sounds so romantic and exciting doesn’t it sleeping in a hammock in the jungle. The reality however was it was freezing cold. I was totally unprepared (I didn’t even have my head torch) and I got no sleep because I forgot my earplugs, and those howler monkeys are LOUD! There is also nothing to do after dark apart from drink expensive beer in the hotels. If we had just used the beer money we could have booked a room in one of the hotels…
The cost for the campsite was 50Q this is to use the bathrooms and showers. But in the morning by 6 am they had locked them as there was no water left. So we paid50Q for nothing. The hammock rent cost 40Q making the total 90Q…the same as a bed in a dorm with AC at Los Amigos.
Or even better stay on one of the many hotels in the park. We thought it was a bit out of our budget, but actually, the accommodation is pretty reasonable. Take a read of Inspired By Maps review of his experience including the accommodation he stayed at in Tikal.
Don’t believe everything you read
It’s probably worth saying at this point too that our original plan was to take advantage of the “buy your ticket after 3 pm and you can use it to go back into the part the next day” rule. So we would get there after 3 pm head into the park, sleep in a hammock and then go in early the next morning to see the rest of it. This was so we could avoid the crowds and the midday heat.
We found out on arrival at the park at 3:30 pm that this rule had changed 2 WEEKS AGO and now you would need to pay another 150Q to re-enter the park. We had the public bus full of people waiting for us to get our tickets and then get back on the bus so it could carry on. We were trying to argue our case and decide what to do and the bus is honking its horn for us to hurry up. So we made a decision to just camp and go into the park the next day, this meant we had a long wait until 6 am the next morning and not a lot to do to kill the time…
Don’t forget your passport
To get your ticket to Tikal you will need your passport. I didn’t know this as its another one of those new rules brought in to fight corruption. Lucky for me I always carry photocopies of my passport on me which they did except (phew).
Don’t forget to take food with you, or eat street food
The cafes are pretty expensive and the food isn’t great. Inside the park, you won’t find anything other than chips and candy bars. It’s a long walk round so do bring some food to eat and enough water to last you 3-4 hours. If you do eat at the park if you head towards the campsite there is a small section where you will find 4 street food vendors. The food is great and cost just 10Q for a plate (and I managed to get a veggie meal!).
Wherever you are planning to go to after Tikal book the expensive bus if you can.
There are two main companies operating transport from Flores San Juan and Marlin. I have heard nothing but negative stuff about San Juan so it would recommend paying a few extra Q to go with Marlin. Not only do they have AC, comfy seats and WIFI (yes that’s right WIFI on board a bus. In Guatemala). But they also gave me coffee and toast for breakfast in their office while we were waiting for the bus AND when we finally arrived in Mexico they gave me 2 beers. Honestly, it was the happiest I’d been in days getting that beer in my hand…small things hay!
If you are going to Mexico, don’t forget about the exit fee in Belize
If you are transiting through Belize to get to Mexico you will need to pay a $20 USD exit fee. Make sure you have it as they won’t let you out without it!
Where to stay:
Budget: Los Amigos Youth Hostel in Flores
Mid: Hotel Jungle Lodge
Height: Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel
Getting there and away:
Why you should skip Tikal
I really wish I could say that I loved Tikal and Flores, but I just didn’t. I have been to a lot of Mayan ruins and I must say these are my least favorite for the following reasons:
- It’s so much more expensive and there is no cheap alternative, it’s just as expensive to do-it-yourself as it is to do the tour.
- It’s grand but not well preserved. Tikal is a must see because of its size. It’s hard not to be impressed by its size. But having visited Copan where you can see such incredible detail and some buildings which as just as impressive but slightly smaller for a fraction of the price, I’d rate that over Tikal any day.
- Flores and Tikal are popular tourist destinations and the prices reflect it. Again Copan, and Tulum are not only cheaper to access but it’s so much easier to find budget accommodations and cheap eats.
So if you are on the fence about visiting Tikal my advice would be to skip it and go to Tulum, Coba or Copan instead. That said I’m still glad I went, I just wish It hadn’t cost me so much money and I’d known about the crazy rule changes BEFORE arriving at the park!