If you find yourself planning a trip to Tikal, here are eleven helpful tips to make the visit comfortable:
Tip #1 - Travel by Air
The most comfortable way to travel to Tikal is by air. For around $200 you can make the round trip flight from Guatemala City to Flores any day of the week. The plane ride lasts a minuscule 30 minutes (amazing compared to the 12 grueling hours it takes to get there by car). From Flores either hire a guide or rent a car and drive yourself the remaining hour to Tikal. The “Ways” app is very helpful if you choose to brave the roads for yourself. It is possible to access Tikal from Belize as well. I have heard that this trip takes 4 hours in car.
Tip #2 - Ojo! Watch out!
Watch out for tumulus (Guatemalan inverted speed bumps). There are many of these speed controls en route to Tikal. They can ruin your car if you are not careful.
Tip #3 - Choose Lodging Close to the Park
If you plan to overnight near the ruins, there are two main cities people choose to stay: Flores & El Remate. Both are lovely towns. We chose El Remate because it is a 1/2 hour closer to the ruins than Flores and because we had heard from family that it was a great place to stay. (See my review of the hotel we stayed in, La Casa de Don David to learn about this simple and wonderful hotel.) Please also note: if you are uninterested in swimming in the lake and only care to go to the park, the closest place to stay for the night would be at the hotels that are actually in the park like the Camino Real, Tikal.
Tip #4 - Avoid the Heat - Go Early
Go to the park early in the morning to avoid the heat and to have the best chances of seeing the wildlife. Sunrise and sunset are also prime times to see the jungle at its best and you will get the added pleasure of hearing the animals wake up or signal the end of the day. Their howls, screeches and general buzz will be a vibrational experience you will never forget!
Tip #5 - Wear Mosquito Repellant!
Mosquitos. This is mosquito country so I want to underline the importance of wearing mosquito repellant with DEET. Dengue Fever is nothing to mess around with (I know, I’ve had it) so to prevent yourself from getting it (or zika or chikungunya) buy a decent amount of repellant with DEET.
Tip #6 - Bring Good Walking / Hiking Shoes
Plan to do some hiking and climbing while at the park. The temples are spread out so you will need to amble from one to the next. It was not difficult but definitely more walking than I had expected and there were many tree roots that created bumps and crevices along the pathways.
Tip #7 - There is Assistance for those with Disabilities
There is assistance for those with disabilities. We took my husband’s 95 year old grandmother on this journey. She was a real trooper during the car ride, but because of her age, she was unable to hike around Tikal to visit the different sites. Thankfully, for those who are unable to hike, the park has a special make-shift pickup that will transport them to the Jaguar Temple Plaza. It is a pleasant way to see the main attraction. We hired a guide to sit with la abuelita and explain the history of the ruins. She loved the experience and learned about the history of Guatemala, the Mayans and in the end, made friends with the guide himself.
Tip #8 - LifeStraw
Staying hydrated in the heat and humidity is very important. Filtered water is a must due to the poor sanitation conditions in Guatemala. Instead of lugging around a large quantity of bottled water, we have found that it is easiest (and most budget-friendly) to carry a water-filtering system with us. The best, and I mean best, discovery we have made is: Lifestraw. It was created for children in developing countries who have no access to clean water. It is now sold as an accessory for campers and travelers. The straw inside filters 99.9% of bacteria. We used the straw inside the park and all over Guatemala and neither myself, my daughter nor my husband got sick. It is a godsend for people like me who have extremely sensitive stomachs!!!
Tip #9 - Take Time to Observe the Wildlife
Do anticipate the possibility of encountering gorgeous plant and wildlife. The jungle is dense and it is possible to focus so much on the ruins that the wildlife goes unnoticed. I wish we had more hours to just sit and observe. On this trip we encountered spider monkeys jumping through the trees, heard howler monkeys, watched several coatamundis walk right past us, saw parrots, and carpenter birds, and we enjoyed unusual butterflies flittering from one tree to the next. We were cautioned about snakes, but thankfully did not encounter any. See more about the animals we encountered here.
Tip #10 - Expect Rain, this is a Rainforest!
Rain may happen. If it does, you will get wet, have soggy shoes and trek through mud. There aren’t a lot of covered areas to take shelter when the rain comes, besides the canopy of the trees themselves, so it’s good to make peace with the possibility / probability of rain beforehand. Just saying.
Tip #11 - ENJOY
Enjoy seeing the world from atop the ruins of one of the world’s most fascinating ancient civilizations. Bon voyage!
ESSENTIALS FOR TIKAL