A Road Trip to Tikal, Guatemala

The day after Christmas, we piled into the car and began our 10+ hour road trip to Tikal. Tikal is the location of the ruins of an ancient Mayan City. Nestled in the rainforest of Guatemala, it’s located about 8-10 hours from Guatemala City. It is one of the largest archaeological sites of Pre-Columbian Mayan civilization and was the capital city of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Maya.

Currently, only about 30% of Tikal has been uncovered and restored. It was partially restored by the University of Pennsylvania and is maintained by the government of Guatemala. Our tour guide told us that the government does not want to uncover more of the site because it would cost too many resources to both uncover and maintain. For each temple or pyramid that is uncovered, they would need to cut down numerous trees and then burn even more to produce the stone needed to restore the structures.

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We began our tour by walking through the forest and learning a bit about the vegetation. We also climbed a small temple, which was only a tiny example of what was to come later on!

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Eventually we made our way to Temple IV, also called the Two-Headed Snake Temple. It is the tallest temple-pyramid in Tikal. Currently, it is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas. It was built in 740 AD and stands at 230 feet (70m) tall. You can climb to the top of the temple by using their wooden staircase, which feature 196 steps to get to the top. Temple IV offers the best views, in my opinion, as you can see temples I, II, III, and the Lost World.

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After a bit of rest, we made our way to Plaza de la Gran Piramide (Mundo Perdido), which is also called the Great Pyramid Plaza or Lost World. It is the oldest and largest building in Tikal. The Lost World name comes from its different architecture from the rest of buildings in Tikal. Similarly to Temple IV, you can climb to the top via wooden staircase. From the Lost World, you can see the top of Temple IV.

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Our tour concluded at the Gran Plaza, which is the center of Tikal. The Gran Plaza is where Temple I and Temple II are located. It’s considered the most important part of the park because its buildings show the impressiveness of Tikal’s architecture.

Temple I, also known as the Big Jaguar, is 154 feet high (47m) and was built in 700 AD by the governor Jasaw Chan K’awil. His tomb lies beneath the pyramid.

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Temple II, also known as the Mascarones Temple, is slightly shorter, standing at 38m in height. It was built by the governor Jasaw Chan K’awil for his wife. The best way to see Temple I is to climb Temple II and look across the Gran Plaza.

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We spent about 5-6 hours in Tikal all together and climbed up many, many temples and pyramids. We even had a wild animal sighting!

If you’re thinking about making a visit to Tikal, here are some tips:

  1. Hire a tour guide. We were told that it would be cheaper to negotiate before you get into the park, which is what we did. Make sure you only hire official tour guides!
  2. If you or someone in your party is from Guatemala, make sure they have their ID on them. X didn’t have his ID or passport and had to pay the tourist price (125 quetzales instead of 25 quetzales).
  3. Wear very comfortable shoes and bring lots of water. They sell water, soft drinks, beer, and snacks in shacks around the park, but it’s more expensive than if you bring your own from outside the park.
  4. Don’t speed inside the park, as you might run over wild animals. When you leave the main area, they give you a timed ticket. If you reach the outer gate too quickly, they’ll know you drove too fast. They will catch you.

We stayed at the Hotel Camino Real Tikal, which was such a beautiful place. Our balcony overlooked the lake and sunrise and sunset were a real treat.

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Plus, they have a pool and a hot tub, which felt amazing after a long day hiking up temples and pyramids!

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