Once in Flores and after visiting this beautiful city (go read my article what to visit in Guatemala: Flores to find out more about my arrival there) it was time to explore the remains of the Maya civilization in the area.
Of course, I'm talking about the Tikal and Yaxha sites: two of the most impressive places I've visited in my life as a traveler. Here is an article to trace my experience there and give you all my good plans.
The Mayan civilization
Let's start with the beginning : what is the Mayan civilization? Because if we all know their name, we sometimes confuse Mayas, Incas, Aztecs … and it is often difficult to locate the geographical and temporal limits of the expansion of this complex civilization.
The Mayan civilization is located in Central America on a territory that stretched from Mexico to Guatemala via Belize, Salvador or Honduras. It is one of the oldest civilizations of the continent, it would have been present from 2600 BC before dying in the sixteenth century with the Spanish conquests. It remains very mysterious and we know very little about its functioning, in particular because many documents of the time were destroyed during the centuries of European colonization. Only a handful of books have been found to help archaeologists and anthropologists understand this missing civilization. The Mayas operated according to a complex culture and possessed the most advanced writing of the region, it saw astronomers, mathematicians and architects go far ahead of their time.
Maya territory has been able to gather up to 11 million people according to some studies and several cities could have several thousand inhabitants.
In short Mayan culture has surely been one of the most powerful and one of the most prolific in the world and yet we know little about the latter. The sites like Tikal or Yaxha are surrounded by mystery and we still discover new ruins today that allow us each time to know a little more about the people who built these majestic temples hundreds of years ago .
How to get there ?
To get to Tikal, the easiest solution is to take a bus from Flores. There are a large number of travel agencies in the city so you can enjoy the competition and get away with a good price. Personally, I had to pay the 70 Quetzales ticket for the go. The journey takes about 1h30.
Agencies usually offer to bring you to the site in the morning and bring you back in the evening. Once there, the bus makes a stop at the park entrance (which is huge) so you can buy your ticket at the official shop before heading back to the temples. There is one last check before you can visit the rest of the site. So you have to buy a ticket at the entrance of the park (you can not do it later and you may be stuck at the controls).
Tikal can be visited during the day but also for sunrise or sunset. All tickets do not guarantee entrance to the venue at different times. If you want to visit the site and admire the sunset, you have to pay the entrance to the day and the supplement to stay at the sunset.
I really advise you to do the sunset! The price difference is not huge and the experience is magical. You must go to the meeting point to be guided by guides and the end of the day is done every day at the top of the same temple. But I can assure you that it's really worth it.
I would have liked to do the sunrise to be really alone on the spot but in the morning, the site is covered with fog and some guides and travelers told me that we saw nothing (a guide assured me that on the last 10 sunrises he had done, he had only seen the sun once). It's up to you depending on the weather but if you have the courage, I think it's worth a try.
- 150 Quetzales: 1-day ticket (without sunset or sunrise)
- 250 Quetzales: 1 day ticket with sunset
- 250 Quetzales: 1 day ticket with sunrise
- 350 Quetzales: 1 day ticket with sunrise AND sunset
As a reminder 1 euro = 8.5 Quetzales
There are no on-site vending machines, so be sure you have withdrawn enough money before you go.
Opening hours: the park opens from 6h to 18h. You can go there before or after opening hours to see the sunrise and sunset but you have to pay extra (see prices above).
Tikal has been part of UNESCO World Heritage since 1979.
What to do in Tikal?
As I said in the introduction to this article, Tikal is surely one of the most incredible sites I've ever visited in my life. It really reminded me of Machu Picchu (yes, you read that well, I compare Tikal to Machu Picchu).
First what surprised me was the attendance of this place: there was really no one when I went there the first day! It is probably the most tourist attraction in Guatemala and I found myself completely alone on a temple.
When I returned the next day, I met more tourists, especially because of the arrival of several buses. The advice I can give you is simply to go in the morning! You will be less likely to meet other tourists and you can enjoy for a few hours a Mayan site practically alone.
Then, I was also struck by the size of the place. Tikal is over 576 km² is the equivalent of 5 times the size of Paris. If you really want to take the time to visit everything, I advise you to do like me and to come two days.
See this post on Instagram
HELLO GUATEMALA 🇬🇹 Fuck, I'm so happy to be here. It all started a few weeks ago in Story on Instagram, I asked you what destination YOU wanted me to show you … Of the 16 preselected, it was Guatemala who won. So I left for 3 weeks here, I do not know much about this country but I'm sure we will take nice slaps all together … We start with the heavy with Tikal, one of the largest Mayan archaeological sites 😍 By the way, Guatemala, what does it mean to you? 🙏🏻 #tikal #guatemala # guatemala🇬🇹 #tikalnationalpark
You can visit Tikal with or without a guide, I personally decided to make the tour without a guide to get lost on its many paths and go exploring each temple at my own pace. As much to say that I feasted, I felt like Indiana Jones (a little less handsome anyway). Difficult to describe the feeling of freedom, adventure and discovery that emerges from this place. I could have spent hours just wandering around and imagining what this impressive city looked like when it was still inhabited. Only you will also have more chances to cross one of the many small wild animals that abound on the scene.
Of course I recommend you to go through the central square and explore the central acropolis (on which you can climb freely) to find the best view of the central temple. Then lose yourself by starting with the North Zone (the temples are smaller, so it is difficult to watch the sunset from below).
Sleep on site
There are several hotels on the spot to sleep, I personally stayed at Tikal Inn. It is quite convenient if you want to visit the place in 2 days or you want to do the sunrise on the spot. I stayed here for one night and found the hotel very good. It is just a bit pricey by Guatemalan standards but that is reasonable.
Many tourists travel to Guatemala and visit Tikal but forget about Yaxha, a smaller but equally impressive neighbor city for my taste. What a mistake you would make if you missed such a place!
How to get there ?
As Tikal, the easiest way to get to Yaxha is to go through an agency in Flores (it's up to you to see them one by one and make your choice, overall they are equal). You will also make a stop at the entrance of the park to pay for your ticket before taking the bus to get to the site.
The price of the entrance to the park is 80 Quetzales.
You can stay for the sunset.
What to do in Yaxha?
The city of Yaxha was smaller than that of Tikal, it still gathered thousands of people (the kingdom of Yaxha had at its peak over 40,000 people). Today you will find on the spot some groups of tourists and wild animals but that's about all. I found myself completely alone alone in this magical place.
The city of Yaxha consists of a central square with a trio of temples that you can climb if you have the courage (calves heat but believe me it is worth it) and other temples scattered all over the city. site. Apart from the central square, I advise you to go through the “Grupo Maler” and the East Acropolis (Templo de las manos rojas) which are magnificent.
It's pretty impressive when you're there, they make a real noise and you'll hear them constantly, whether it's close up or echoing off. And I think you will be surprised by the type of sound they can produce, I let you discover it on the spot or in my vlog directly.
Just like Tikal, you can see the sunset on the spot. The majority of tours offer to stay until nightfall before you get back by bus and most of the people on site advise you to go to admire the show from the highest temple of the place (the East Acropolis). Although I think the view is beautiful there, I advise you to do otherwise. I have indeed found the show much more pleasant in the central square, the view is less good but you will be totally alone. Yes only on a Mayan temple to admire the sun go down, there is still worse as a situation to finish his day right?
I made a vlog on my experiences in Tikal and Yaxha, I invite you to go see him if you want to know a little more about these 2 Mayan cities:
This article is part of a series of articles I write about Guatemala, you can find them here:
- What to visit in Guatemala: Flores
- Semuc Champey & Chichicastenango (coming soon)
- Lake Atitlan (coming soon)
- Antigua & the Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes (coming soon)
I say it and I say it again: Tikal and Yaxha are probably 2 of the craziest places I have had the opportunity to go on a trip. I can hardly put the words in writing to explain how much I was amazed during the few days spent there. What I did not know at the time was that I was just at the beginning of my surprises, I was going to discover many more beautiful things in Guatemala …