Guatemala Guides | The Cheapest way to see Tikal in Guatemala

Guatemala Guides | The Cheapest way to see Tikal in Guatemala

Want to make sure you find the cheapest way to see Tikal? If you want to visit Tikal Ruins in Guatemala and enjoy the experience then you need to read this guide. 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 month than I should have.

From the bus ride from hell, I took to get there (see here). To the sleepless night, I spent sleeping in a hammock in Tikal. I had a disastrous trip. But not to worry, just learn from my mistakes, and discover the best and cheapest way to see Tikal by reading my ultimate guide on what not to do!

 

Why I didn’t want to take a tour of Tikal

  • 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

But for me, Tikal was a nightmare from start to finish which is why I can safely say…

The cheapest way to see Tikal – Pay the money and book the dam 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 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
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 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.

Book the tour to Tikal 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. 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 to book through GuateGo. They are the only company I recommend for booking transport and tours in Guatemala (other than the individuals and companies I have named) is GuateGo. They are a Guatemala owned company who have painstakingly brought together all of the transport and tour options in one easy to use website. You can book transport in Guatemala with them here and Guatemalan tours with them here.

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 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 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. 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 of 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 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.

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.

Claire's Itchy Feet Email Signature - Love Claire x

Looking for things to do in Guatemala? I have a who load of ideas for you here.

Things to know before visiting Antigua

How to Spend the Weekend in Antigua, Guatemala

How to get from Antigua to Semuc Champey

Guatemala Guides | 5 tours not to be missed in Guatemala

Is it safe to visit Guatemala? Guatemala Safety Advice for Solo Female Travelers

 

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13 Comments

  1. July 18, 2017 / 1:54 pm

    Great post. Thanks for sharing these tips. Mexico is number one on my travel list, and i want to visit the ruins. Great info to find out on Tikal.

    • July 18, 2017 / 5:35 pm

      My pleasure! This one is actually in Guatemala 😉

  2. Lisa
    July 18, 2017 / 3:18 pm

    This is a brilliant and funny post Claire! I’m not laughing at your misfortune, because I remember having a similar experience in Mexico as I was trying to experience everything. Sometimes, we can still have an authentic experience without taking a 2 10-hour bus rides! Oh, and I’ve encountered those howler monkeys, they’re a real pain!

    • July 18, 2017 / 5:36 pm

      I have to laugh too! It was a nightmare. But makes for a funny story!

  3. July 19, 2017 / 6:57 am

    Guatemala is on my wish list for such a long time! I hope one day your detailed post will be helpful 😉

  4. July 19, 2017 / 9:10 am

    Had a wee chuckle at this – heheh! Great guide on what not to do at Tikal. It’s so easy to research ‘things to do’ rather than ‘what not to do’. I’ll keep this post in mind if I ever visit Guatemala.

  5. July 19, 2017 / 11:59 am

    Aww shame! It sounds like quite an ordeal that wasn’t quite worth the effort. Thanks for all the tips though. At least we can learn from it! 🙏🏻👌🏻

  6. July 19, 2017 / 12:13 pm

    Love the post Claire. Quite an extensive guide I must say. Guatemala is definitely on our list and will remember all your tips and tricks while planning our trip 🙂

  7. July 19, 2017 / 10:06 pm

    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.

  8. July 20, 2017 / 11:22 am

    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 😛

  9. July 20, 2017 / 9:18 pm

    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

  10. July 22, 2017 / 4:39 pm

    I learned my lesson about booking tours / guides in Morocco. I wanted to do the Medina on my own but I was extremely overwhelmed, day AND night. I should have simply paid for a guide to get me through and I wouldn’t have spent most of my time hot and lost. But, you live and you learn.

  11. michael
    November 13, 2018 / 4:39 pm

    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 (2×50) 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.

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