Why You NEED To Do A Tikal Tour In Guatemala

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Want to visit Tikal in Guatemala? It’s one of those not to be missed places. But many people (like me) decide to skip the Tikal tour and instead go it alone. Well, I’m here to advise you NOT to do that.

In this blog post, you will learn how you can visit Tikal without a tour (like I did), and why that’s NOT what I would advise you to do, and why. I’m also going to make some recommendations for trusted Tikal tours you should consider booking and suggest a few nice hotels in Tikal and Flores you can stay at.

Need to know how to get to Tikal? Read this.

Did You Get Travel Insurance Yet?

If you are planning a trip right now then you NEED to thing seriously about insurance. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything!

Travel insurance has always been high on the list of things to get before you travel but now more than ever it should be at the top of your list! I’m pretty sure we have all had travel plans messed up because of COVID and not all insurers covered this. So you need to find an insurer that covers travel disruption due to COVID-19, World Nomads and Safety Wing are the ones to go for. World Nomads is great for incidents that happen prior to your trip, so if you get sick or are unable to travel due to travel restrictions some of their policies will cover that as cancellation cover. Safety Wing goes the extra mile and covers quarantine outside your home for up to 10 days, they also have a really handy map on their website showing requirements and restrictions for each country.

If you are doing shorter trips or a onger backpacking trip then WorldNomads is the best option. If you are a digital nomad or planning travel of at least 6 months then go for SafetyWing. Alternativly Travel Insurance Master is a great site to do a more general serch for vacation insurance. Just make sure whichever insurance plan you go with will cover you for COVID.

Cheap isn’t always cheerful

If you are backpacking Guatemala I know you will want to do everything on the cheap, I know I did! So it goes without saying that most backpackers will want to save money and skip organized tours. I can honestly say that I had the worst time at Tikal because I was trying to save money. In trying to find the cheapest way to see Tikal I ended up not only having an awful time, but I also spent more money than I I would have just paying for the tour.

From the bus ride from hell, I took to get there (see here). To the sleepless night, I spent in a hammock in the jungle. I had a disastrous trip.

But don’t worry, you get to learn from my Tikal tour avoiding mistakes by reading my ultimate guide on what not to do when visiting Tikal Guatemala!

Why I didn’t want to take a Tikal Tour

  • 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
How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do - the cheapest way to see Tikal

Why I recomend Doing a Tikal Tour

Let’s do the maths:

  • A standard tour to Tikal will cost you 250Q which includes transport to Tikal and guide. If you want to do a sunset Tikal tour or sunrise Tikal tour you will pay 350Q
  • The Tikal 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
How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do
The public bus to Tikal

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 Tikal 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 and a whole load of stress and agro.

Book the Tikal Tour before you get to Flores

Booking a tour to Tikal can be a bit of a nightmare, people will jump on the bus trying to sell you tours. My advice is either to book the tour through your hotel or hostel when you arrive at Tikal or book before you arrive with GuateGo. You will pay more booking with them as you can pay with your card, but if you prefer to pay online than with cash it’s worth the extra fee.

Be warned certain tours also need to be booked at the bank. It can get really confusing and you won’t know who to trust. My advice is that if you are traveling from Antigua then if you have the budget book a tour with heart of Travel. They will give you the option to fly to Tikal or go in their transport (which WII have AC). They will plan and organize EVERYTHING and all you have to do is pay and show up. Click here to learn more about my partnership with Heart of Travel and to book your Tikal tour with them.

Don’t think Doing 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. Or just flew to Flores from Antigua. It’s actually not that much to fly and if you are in a rush it’s worth it.

Don’t lose 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 were costing me.

Don’t scrimp on your accommodation and get 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.

It’s a bit of a party place though so if you want something a little more low key try one of these:

Hotel Jungle Lodge

Tikal Inn

Hotel Jaguar Inn

Don’t do the Tikal sunrise tour, do the Tikal sunset tour 

We spoke to the guides in the park about doing a Tikal sunrise tour. 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. But this isn’t the cheapest way to see Tikal as this will add on quite a bit more to your budget.

How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do

Buy a map of Tikal

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 camera 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!

How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do

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…

How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do

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.

How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do

Don’t believe everything you read about Tikal in Guatemala

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 thought we had found not only the cheapest way to see Tikal, but also the best value as we could go in twice… Wrong.

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…

How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do

Don’t forget your passport when going to Tikal

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

If you are looking for the cheapest way to see Tikal, one place you can save money on 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 around 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!).

How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do

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!

Book your bus through GuateGo here.

 

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 in Tikal Guatemala:

Los Amigos Youth Hostel in Flores (not on booking.com). If you do stay in here then you will find lots of things to do in Flores.

Hotel Jungle Lodge

Tikal Inn

Hotel Jaguar Inn

How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do

Getting there and away:

Coming from Antigua read this, coming from Semuc Champey read this. Heading to Mexico, read this.

Why you should skip Tikal

I have been to a lot of Mayan ruins and although Tikal was amazing to see and I’m so glad I went. If you are struggling for time or on the fence about going, here are a few reasons why you might want to skip it:

  • 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.  
  • Tulum is not only cheaper to access but it’s so much easier to find budget accommodations and cheap eats.
  • There are other sites like Yaxha Mayan Ruins that are still in Guatemala and get a lot fewer visitors and are far cheaper. I didn’t go, but I wished I had!
How to see Tikal in Guatemala - The ultimate guide to what not to do

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! Sadly the cheapest way to see Tikal wasn’t the best way.

The Cheapest way to see Tikal in Guatemala

Camille

Tuesday 19th of March 2019

We are going to be traveling from Semuc Champey to Flores/Tikal, then on to Belize City. The original plan was to arrive and stay the night in Flores via that nightmare transport you have written about

(which will never be worse than the Zimbabwe overnight train estimated to be 9 hrs and lasting 14 hrs. All while having food poisoning!)

Do sunrise at Tikal and head to Belize City.

I'm finding that the times for leaving Flores for BC will be before the tour would get back from Tikal, and we would have to stay another night. We also hate guided tours and just want to go for sunrise then leave.

Thoughts? Advice?

Would have emailed but app is being funny right now.

michael

Tuesday 13th of November 2018

Well, i recently arrived to tikal hitchhiking from the border (got a colectivo from san Ignacio to the border for 2,5usd) to El Remate (took me 5min, busride was offered once for 25q), then hopped on a bus for 30q to the 2nd entrance of tikal. Paid 100 (2x50) for the hammock and slept like a baby - i thought bringing an inlet and a torch are a nobrainer. You do not need to book a sunset ticket, as sunset will be around 5.30pm and the park closes at 6pm. In my opinion its just a massive tourist Trap. Booked the sunrise ticket though, and after the first bus from flores arrived i asked the Tourguide if he can pretend that i was a member of his group which he did (Had to buy him a coffee though). And although i didnt see the actual sunrise it was still mystical walking around completely on my own listening to the incredible howler monkeys. At 11am i paid 45q for transportation to flores. Side note: If you do the sunrise tour, you do not need a daypass for that very day, the ticket of the day before is sufficient. Also, i was never checked in the park, although i was back at the entrance once at 6.15pm and the day after around 10am (sunrise ticket is officially valid till 7am). So it doesnt have to be a bad thing to organize everything on your own, i actually prefer diy and getting the reward.

Fernanda

Thursday 20th of July 2017

I am glad I read this, because I have been planning to visit Guatemala for a while now, and I am 100% sure I would not take the tour to Tikal either. As a traveler on a budget too, sometimes we realise it is just not worth the ordeal.. Thinking on the bright side of things, at least you ended up with material for this great guide. ;) thanks for sharing your experience

Archana Singh

Thursday 20th of July 2017

Two difficult bus rides in a day can put any one out of order. Kudos to you for doing them. Your tips are very practical and useful. And I agree to get an authentic experience you really don't need to put yourself through hell :P

Swati & Sam

Wednesday 19th of July 2017

Great post and great tips. Will bookmark this page. It sucks to be in a situation where you find out that some rule has been changed just sometime ago. Love the pic of the tree.

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