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Central America Group Travel

How To Visit Tikal From Belize – One Of The Best Mayan Ruins

Isn’t it great when you join a trip to one country and end up in another? That’s what happened on my group tour around Belize, when we popped across the border into beautiful Guatemala to visit the incredible Maya ruins of Tikal.

Although perhaps not as high profile as Mexico’s Chichen Itza, the Mayan ruins of Tikal Guatemala are nonetheless one of the most significant ruins from ancient Mayan civilisation and a highlight for many people who visit the country.

In this post you’ll learn how to visit Tikal from Belize and what to see when you get there. I’ll also share some travel tips to help you get the most from your visit and some suggestions for where to stay should you want to continue travelling in Guatemala.

Image shows Temple II at Tikal. This blog posts explains how to visit Tikal from Belize.

Where Is Tikal?

The ancient Mayan city of Tikal is located in the jungle of northern Guatemala. Tikal is approximately 535 kilometres (332 miles) from Guatemala City by road and 640 kilometres (397 miles) from Lake Atitlan.

The closest town to Tikal in Guatemala is Flores. If you are in Belize, you will likely travel to Tikal from San Ignacio, crossing the border in order to do so.

What Is Tikal Famous For?

Tikal is one of the largest Mayan archeological sites and its structures are both high in number and in stature. Tikal is part of the Tikal National Park. The Park covers 575 square kilometres (222 square miles) of jungle with the centre of the ancient Maya city comprising about 16 square kilometres (6 square miles).

It is believed that the Mayan people inhabited Tikal from about 900 BC. Tikal grew into a hugely significant commercial, cultural and ceremonial city and by the time it reached the height of its success in the 8th century AD, had a population of around 100,000. The city declined in the 9th century AD and was virtually abandoned. Various theories have been offered as to why Tikal and many other Mayan cities in Central America declined. These include famine, war, overpopulation, disease and droughts.

Tikal was reclaimed by the jungle and the ruins not rediscovered until 1848. The site has been partially restored by the University of Pennsylvania and the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology but much still remains beneath the jungle.

Hieroglyphic inscriptions found at the Tikal ruins refer to the ancient city as Yax Mutal. It was not until after the city was rediscovered in 1848 that the name ‘Tikal’ was used.

Tikal is one of the best Mayan sites in Central America and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Image shows what appears to be a hill or mound covered in vegetation however it's an as yet unexcavated structure at the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala
Buried (Unexcavated) Structure

What Can You See In Tikal

Although much of Tikal remains to be uncovered, there are still many structures that are excavated and available for exploration. Overall, you should expect to spend 4-5 hours at Tikal if you are visiting on a day trip.

Both the model of Tikal and the site plan shown below give a sense of scale.

Some of the main sights to see include:

The Great Plaza

Lying at the heart of Tikal is the Great Plaza (sometimes referred to as the Grand Plaza). On its northern side is the North Acropolis and on its south, the Central Acropolis. To its east is Temple I and to its west stands Temple II.

Image shows the Great Plaza at the Mayan Ruins of Tikal. The image is taken from high up on Temple II looking down onto the Great Plaza.
The Great Plaza – Looking Toward Temple I

There are quite a few stone pillars called stelae on the Great Plaza, each one paired with a circular altar stone. You can still see carvings and markings on these commemorating significant deeds and dates in Mayan history.

Temple I

At the eastern end of the Great Plaza stands Temple I, also known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar. It is in this temple that one of Tikal’s greatest leaders, Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, is buried. His tomb was discovered in 1962.

Temple I is 47 metres high with the nine levels of the pyramid corresponding to the nine levels of the Mayan underworld.

Temple II

Opposite Temple I is Temple II, also known as the Temple of the Masks. It stands 38 metres high and was dedicated to the wife of King Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, although her tomb has not been found.

Image is taken at ground level and shows Temple II at the Tikal Mayan Ruins in Guatemala.

It is possible to climb Temple II, although not using the front staircase. You will need to go to the purpose built stairs at the back. It’s a bit of a climb but the views over the Great Plaza and surrounds are worth it!

North Acropolis

Terraces lead up to a large complex of pyramid-shaped temples and royal tombs used as a burial place for early Tikal rulers. It is one of the most studied sites in the Mayan world. In this area you will also see Temple 33, a funerary pyramid erected over an earlier burial. A large stucco mask is located on its substructure.

Central Acropolis

The site of an early palace, the Central Acropolis was expanded and modified over time. The complex overlooks a ball court.

Image shows a ball court at the Mayan Ruins of Tikal as seen on a visit to Tikal from Belize.
Tikal Ball Court with Central Acropolis in the Background

Temple IV

At about 70 metres tall, Temple IV is the tallest temple at Tikal. It’s also thought to be one of the tallest structures ever built by the Mayan people. There’s a long climb to the top of Temple IV but it’s worth it for the views over the surrounding jungle. Temple IV is also the spot where a scene from the first Star Wars movie was filmed!

Image was taken from the top of Temple IV at Tikal and shows a view across the jungle and toward 3 other temples.
View from Temple IV

The Lost World Pyramid

Built in around 1 AD, the Lost World Pyramid is the largest structure within what is known as the Mundo Perdido complex. Standing at around about 30 metres high, the Lost World Pyramid has stairways on all four sides and a flat top.

Nearby is the Talud-Tablero Pyramid, the second largest structure in the Mundo Perdido complex.

Temple V

The second highest temple at 57 metres high, Temple V is a mortuary temple for an as yet unidentified ruler.

East Pyramid, Complex Q

The East Pyramid is part of a twin pyramid complex. These were built at Tikal to host celebrations for the end of the 20 year k’atun cycle of the Mayan calendar. The pyramid has stairways on all four sides and a flat top.

How To Get To Tikal From Belize

In order to visit Tikal from Belize you will need to cross the border into Guatemala. There are two options for getting to Tikal from Belize – by air and by land.

Air

The closest airport to Tikal is located in the Guatemalan town of Flores. You can fly from Belize City to Mundo Maya airport in Flores, however these flights are via Guatemala City and not direct. You can search all available options and prices here:

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On arrival in Flores, you will need to get to Tikal by catching a shuttle bus, taking a taxi, hiring a car and driving yourself or joining an organised tour.

For car hire options, check here:

For organised day tours, check these options:

If you are staying in Flores, it will be worth liaising with your accommodation provider as they may be able to arrange transport.

Land

The most likely mode of transport to get from Belize to Tikal however is by vehicle. The border cities for those crossing into Guatemala by land are Benque Viejo del Carmen on the Belize side and Melchor de Mencos in Guatemala.

Getting from Belize City to Benque Viejo del Carmen

To get from Belize City to Benque Viejo del Carmen you will need to catch the bus. I understand that the bus does not go all the way to the border however and therefore you need to walk or catch a taxi for the remaining distance.

Note – it is also possible to catch the bus from Belize City to San Ignacio in the Cayo District in Western Belize. Alternatively, you may want to consider pre-booking this transportation from Belize City to Flores.

Getting from San Ignacio to Benque Viejo del Carmen

The most popular departure point for the border in Belize is the town of San Ignacio. As I mentioned at the outset, my visit to Tikal was included as part of a group tour of Belize and we did depart from San Ignacio. I did not need to organise any additional transportation on either side of the border.

For those not on a group tour of Belize however, you can get to Benque Viejo del Carmen from San Ignacio in the following ways:

  • by rental car – if you decide to rent a car from San Ignacio in order to cross into Guatemala, then be sure to make clear to the rental company that you will be travelling across the border as some companies do not permit this
  • by taxi – journey time to the border is about 20 minutes. You will need to cross the border on foot and catch a Colectivo (minivan/minibus) or taxi from the Guatemalan side to take you to Tikal
  • by bus – journey time is 15 – 30 minutes for these bus options. As with the taxi option, you will need to cross the border on foot and catch new transportation on the Guatemalan side
  • by joining an organised day trip such as this one from San Ignacio:

Crossing the Land Border

The border crossing process was fairly simple:

  • On arrival at the border at Benque Viejo del Carmen I changed a few US Dollars (USD) for Guatemalan Quetzals
  • I then proceeded into the immigration office where I was required to first pay a departure tax of $40 Belizean Dollars ($20 USD)
  • Next I proceeded to a Belizean border official and received an exit stamp in my passport
  • I then walked to the Guatemalan border, handed over my passport and previously completed immigration form before my passport was stamped and I was in Guatemala (again – I had previously spent A Day in Antigua and loved it!)

If you are returning to Belize following a visit to Tikal, then the reverse process will take place. There is no fee to pay on leaving Guatemala however and no fee payable on entering Belize.

Overall, the border crossing process was straightforward and not unduly protracted. I wouldn’t let it put you off visiting Tikal from Belize.

If you are joining an organised day trip to visit Tikal from Belize, it is likely that the exit fee payable at the Belize border will not be included so make sure you have cash on you to cover this.

Once through the border, the trip to Tikal is about a two hour drive.

How Much Does It Cost To Visit Tikal?

Tikal National Park is open daily from 6am until 5pm. Current ticket prices are as follows:

  • Adult – 150 Guatemalan Quetzals (GTQ) (about $20 USD)
  • Children – under 12 are free.
  • Sunrise tour – 250 GTQ
  • Sunset tour – 250 GTQ
  • Tickets purchased after 3pm are also valid for the next day
  • visiting Uaxactun (Mayan ruins accessible from Tikal) – an additional 50 GTQ

You can purchase tickets online.

Guatemalan citizens enjoy free entrance to the Park on Sundays. You may want to factor this in when planning your visit as Sundays will no doubt be busier than other days.

Obviously, the cost of visiting Tikal will be higher if you choose an organised day trip or hire a tour guide.

Sunrise and Sunset Tours

Although this was not an option for me, it is possible to visit Tikal for sunrise or for sunset, although given timings this will only really be practical from inside Guatemala.

Do keep these points in mind however if you are travelling to Tikal independently:

  • Sunrise Tour – you will need to buy your ticket the day before as the ticket office opens at 6am; prices are slightly higher than at other times during the day (see above).
  • Sunset tour – prices are slightly higher than at other times during the day (see above); you will need to check last bus times as the Park usually closes at 5pm.

If you prefer a guided tour with transport, then consider this Flores – Tikal Sunrise Tour or this Flores – Tikal Sunset Tour. Note that for each of these tours you will need to buy an entrance ticket (see above).

Animals in Tikal

Tikal is part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, a nature reserve covering over 21,500 square kilometres. The Reserve was created in 1990 to protect the forest and is divided into several zones, including national parks and wildlife preserves.

Tikal National Park is one such area and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Keep an eye open for trails of leaf cutter ants (being careful not to step on them), coatis, spider monkeys, howler monkeys (you’ll hear them!) and all manner of birds including toucans. Also living in Tikal National Park are jaguars and pumas although I suspect you’ll be very lucky to see them as they are known for being elusive.

Despite its protected status, the Reserve remains at threat from human activity including, amongst other things, illegal logging, farming and looting of Maya artifacts.

Is Tikal Worth Visiting?

Yes, visiting Tikal is absolutely worth it! The structures built by the Maya people are so enormous and so impressive, they are worth seeing. The fact that many are still standing is a testimony to skills of the Maya people. This, combined with the jungle location and likelihood of seeing various animals, make a Tikal tour from San Ignacio or elsewhere in the country definitely worth adding to your Belize itinerary.

Best Time to Visit Tikal

Guatemala, like the rest of Central America, has 2 seasons, the dry season and the rainy season. The dry seasons runs from November to April and the rainy season from May to October. Although it will be hot and humid whenever you go, the dry season is still the best time to visit Tikal. You want to avoid being outside during the downpours associated with the rainy season.

I visited in March and the temperature was feeling upwards of 40°C (104°F). Whilst it was hot and humid, I still managed to climb the tall temples without melting completely! If you really don’t enjoy the heat and humidity, then the months of November to February are cooler at around 24/25°C (75-77°F).

In terms of when to visit during the day, arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the midday heat. My group was on the move into the Park by 10.30am and finished by around 2.30pm.

Where to Stay in Tikal

If you are planning to visit Tikal from Belize but wish to stay on in Guatemala afterwards, the most popular places to stay are in Tikal National Park itself or in the town of Flores.

In Tikal, there are only three hotels available – Hotel Jungle Lodge Tikal, Hotel Tikal Inn and Hotel Jaguar Inn Tikal – however staying in any one of them will make accessing Tikal at sunrise or sunset much easier.

For available options in Flores, check here:

My visit to Tikal was a day trip from Belize so following our visit we returned to our accommodation at Midas Belize in San Ignacio.

Visitor Tips

Ahead of your visit to Tikal, here are a few tips to help you prepare and to get the most from your visit:

  • before crossing into Guatemala, consider exchanging a few US dollars at the border for Guatemalan Quetzals. You may need money to pay the entrance fee or buy a drink. There are no ATMs at Tikal
  • Tikal can get very hot and humid so apply sunscreen and stay hydrated
  • dress in lightweight, cool clothing
  • wear a hat – the added shade will be very welcome
  • wear comfortable shoes and watch out for uneven surfaces
  • wear bug spray
  • birdwatchers will want to take their binoculars
Image shows the author of this blog post on top of one of the Tikal pyramids

Final Thoughts

The opportunity to visit Tikal from Belize was one I greatly appreciated and I would encourage all those travelling through Belize to grab. Awe-inspiring pyramids, thick jungle surrounds and a profusion of wildlife make it an experience like no other and one I would highly recommend. I hope this Tikal travel guide has convinced you to go!

Whilst border crossings can sometime being trying, my experience of visiting Tikal from Belize was straightforward and I would not allow it to put you off visiting.

If you are looking for more things to do in Belize, then be sure you read my posts on creating your own awesome Belize Travel Itinerary, visiting the unmissable Lamanai Mayan Ruins, how to spend time in that Caribbean paradise Caye Caulker and touring the astonishing ATM Cave.

If you need any general assistance with planning a trip to Belize then check out my Resources page.

Image shows some of the jungle within which the Mayan Ruins of Tikal are located. These can be visited from Belize.
Tikal Jungle

Disclaimer – Information correct at the time of writing but do check before visiting

Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book something using them, I will earn a small commission but you will not pay anything extra. Thank you for supporting my blog.

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