Exploring the Park
Many visitors come to Tikal National Park on day trips from Belize, Flores, and Guatemala City. While a day at the ruins is adequate for seeing some of the archaeological highlights, staying at the park allows you to enjoy its equally splendid natural setting.
After the crowds have departed, you’ll be free to wander about the ruins unhurried, and at times you may feel as if you have the site all to yourself. The sunset from the top of Temple IV is truly inspiring, but is now only an option in the winter months when the sun sets earlier as park rangers make sure everyone is out by 6 p.m.
For movie buffs, the view from Tikal’s Temple IV can be appreciated in Star Wars: Episode IV, as the site of the rebels’ secret base. The Great Plaza also made an appearance in the movie 2012.
The park’s main gate is found along the road from Flores and El Remate, where there’s a checkpoint. From here, it’s another 17 kilometers to the main entrance, parking lot, and visitors center. Entrance to the park costs $19 ($3 for Guatemalan nationals) and is collected at the booth just opposite the parking lot. The park is open 6 a.m.–6 p.m. daily. If you arrive after 3 p.m., your ticket should be stamped with the next day’s date, allowing you to enter the ruins the next day at no additional cost.
Tickets are checked at a second booth on the trail between the first gate and the entrance to the ruins proper, opposite an oft-photographed ceiba tree gracing the side of the road. Sunrise tours, once a popular activity, are no longer an option, as no one is allowed inside the park before 6 a.m.
The visitors center is at the main entrance to the park on your left. There are a scale model of the site, the Museo Lítico, an overpriced eatery, and a few small shops selling books, souvenirs, snacks, and sundries, including color print film, bug spray, and sunscreen. Nearby are the park campsite, police substation, and a post office. The other museum is farther along, near the airstrip next to the hotels.
The park website is www.tikalpark.com and has lots of very useful information for planning your visit.
Guided tours of Tikal are best arranged with one of the recommended Flores guide companies, though you can also hire the services of a certified freelance guide at the visitors center near the park entrance for $40 for up to four people, plus $5 for each additional person.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com