Hola! Welcome to my article on Tikal National Park in Guatemala. My name is Andrea Pinto. I’m a 30 year old architect from Guatemala. I love to travel, experience new things and learn about different cultures around the world.
I love new adventures and stepping out of my comfort zone. For me, travel is the starting point when I lack inspiration. My work requires creativity and lots of inspiration and so I try to travel often. And it doesn’t need to be a big trip out of my country. I can travel within Guatemala and be inspired!
Capturing photos along the way gives me so much joy. I love looking back on moments and remembering the experiences I had. I live in Guatemala and as such have been in quarantine for almost a year! For many months, we haven’t been able to travel between provinces.
It wasn’t until December, 2020 that we could travel domestically. That means I was living in the city for almost a year which is a lot of time for me. Due to this, one of my friends decided to plan a trip to Tikal – in northern Guatemala. The trip was a way to celebrate her birthday. For sure, I was in!
Why Tikal National Park is Great
My trip to Tikal National Park was a short trip for the weekend. For first time visitors, I suggest a week. This was my second time visiting the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. A quick weekend getaway was perfect for me.
The first thing I recommend doing before you go is learning as much as you can about the ancient Mayan civilization. Tikal is located in northern Guatemala in the province of Peten. This department is home to a large forested area which exceeds two million hectares of forest.
You can get here from Guatemala City by plane or by car (10 hours). Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre due to its biodiversity and archeological importance. And there are many amazing things to do in Tikal!
First of all, visit Tikal National Park. The park gives you an ideal introduction to the genius of the Mayans. If Tikal is your first experience with Mayan architecture then you will be blown away! Some of the temples at the park tower over 70 metres in height with majestic limestone materials.
Mayan Ritual Ceremonies in Tikal
One of my favorite experiences from my trips to Tikal was the Mayan ritual ceremony. These are traditional fire ceremonies where a shaman opens a portal to communicate with spirits from another dimension. Offerings are made to the fire and to the gods in this incredibly authentic experience.
During our ritual, we asked the gods for good fortune for our friend who was celebrating a birthday. One of the most amazing things about visiting Guatemala is getting to learn about this unique Mayan culture and heritage. They are so connected to the earth, sun, moon, sky and spirits.
My Favorite Places of Tikal: Temple II & Temple IV
My favorite temple at Tikal is Temple II. This temple is iconic because it’s located on the main plaza (the one in all the photos). Another amazing temple is Temple IV. The sunrise and sunset from here is epic! Temple IV was used as a filming location in Star Wars, Episode IV A New Hope.
Within the park, you will also see amazing birdlife and hear (maybe lucky enough to see) monkeys. There is so much to talk about when it comes to this national park. However, this is not the only place to visit and experience in Peten. Below I will outline my top five highlights near Tikal.
Top 5 Things To Do near Tikal
- Visit the Yaxha Mesoamerican Archaeological Site: Another amazing city of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. You simply can’t miss out on watching the sunset from the top of the Yaxha temples with the Yaxha Lake in the background. Such a wonderful and enchanting setting.
- Relax at El Remate Village: El Remate in Spanish means “the end”. This village is situated by Lago Peten Itza. It has a hippie vibe where you can relax, disconnect from technology and immerse yourself in nature.
- Go Swimming at Crater Azul: Just google this place! You will fall in love with its crystal clear waters, beautiful rivers and lush nature. If you are an Instagram hidden gem finder, then this is the right place for you!
- Spend a Few Days at Flores Island (Isla de Flores): A gorgeous little island with lots of tiny and cute restaurants, and also a fantastic nightlife. The island has lovely colonial architecture with amazing colors.
- Explore the Lost City of El Mirador: If you are an adventurous person then visiting El Mirador is a no-brainer! Here you can discover one of the largest pyramids in the world. Morgan Freeman even visited this site when he was shooting the Nat Geo series: “The Story of God”! To get here, you can take a five day Mayan jungle hiking expedition which is quite the experience. Doing this with locals is highly recommended!
Where to Stay in Peten
My favorite tour operator in Guatemala is Guateadventours. You can use them to book tours to the aforementioned places. Logistically, you need to figure out how to move from site to site. The hotels can help with that.
Both times I visited Peten, I stayed at Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel. Not only are you situated on the lakefront but you will also be surrounded by the property’s own 300-acre private reserve. The hotel runs trips to Monkey Island where you can see monkeys and give them bananas!
Other fantastic hotels in Peten, Guatemala are: Bolontiku Hotel Boutique, Hotel Gringo Perdido (located in El Remate for a more hippie vibe), Hotel Isla de Flores, Hotel La Lancha, Hotel La Casona del Lago (located in Isla de Flores) and Los Amigos Hostel (the perfect backpacking and party hostel).
Need to Know Before you Go
In Guatemala, the rainy season lasts for almost six months. So make sure you check the weather before going. The dry season normally runs from late-November to mid-April. This is the best time of year to take a trip.
Read about the Mayan culture and learn some of the history of Guatemala. You will fall in love with their worldview. If you can, attend a Mayan ritual ceremony in Tikal. This will give you firsthand experience with the culture.
Peten is far away from Guatemala City. You should make time for a road trip to this department. But please know – the roads are not the best along the way! Or you can always book a flight (one hour). It’s totally up to you.
This region of Guatemala has tropical weather. Pack light with comfortable clothing and good quality sneakers. Don’t forget your jacket for the night time. Please also note that drones are not permitted in Tikal National Park. This is to preserve the rich birdlife and wildlife of the national park.
Lastly, make sure you try some of the typical dishes of this region. Especially the white fish dish that can only be found in Peten. All in all, you will fall in love with Tikal, Peten and Guatemala as a whole. Thanks for reading and enjoy traveling through my country. Everyone is welcome 🙂
If you need any tips, don’t hesitate to ask me on Instagram. I would love to help you! Here, I will leave you with more amazing places to visit: Lake Atitlan, Antigua Guatemala, Semuc Champey, Pacaya and Acatenango, and Huehuetenango (Laguna Brava & Sierra de los Cuchumatanes).