The Mayan ruins of Tikal are one of the most special places in the world for my family and me. This is where it all started for us. This where I met my husband. Since then we have been back a few times. We wanted our sons to experience the magic this place possesses.
When we want to visit the park we always stay in the nearby town of Flores. It is an adorable town located on an island in the middle of Peten Itza Lake. It is a great place to stay in because of all the hotels and restaurants. Plus it is fun to walk around with its European feel.
But this time we wanted to experience the park as my husband and I remember it (almost). We were going to stay inside the park.
Tikal National Park is one of the only Mayan Archaeological sites where you are allowed to enter for a sunrise and sunset adventure. This is truly amazing, because it is actually when most of the animals are out and about.
Arriving with kids, before the sun is up, sounded like disaster. So for our visit we decided to go with the sunset tour.
NOTE: Waking kids up at 3:30am isn’t fun for anyone. It can be extremely hard, so I recommend the sunset tour for families.
Staying at Jaguar Inn Tikal – Why It Is a Great Choice
Back when my husband and I met, we were staying in the park. We were on the camping ground and not in a hotel. But this time we were here with small kids, they were begging me to camp but I thought that beds and a bathroom with showers was the best option.
I was looking for a good place to stay when I found Hotel Jaguar Inn.
It was the perfect find. The hotel is right in the park. The room we stayed at had four comfy beds, a bathroom and the hotel had a restaurant. There is also plenty of vegetation to keep the boys excited about staying.
NOTE: When staying in the park there are a few restrictions and limitations such as lights out by 10 pm (including all electricity altogether).
When we weren’t exploring the jungle, our porch and hammock also got plenty of usage.
Best Way to Explore Tikal Ruins
Entrance Fee – It costs $25 for foreigners and $4 for Guatemalans. The price is good for all day. If you get there late, at around 3:30pm, you get the next full day included in that price.
Sunset and Sunrise Fee – A new price was added last year for people interested in these tours. $12 extra for foreigners and $3 for Guatemalans.
Recommendation – If you plan on coming to the park with kids, it is a much better idea to hire a private tour. That way you can go as fast or slow as they need without bothering anyone.
What You Will See In Tikal Guatemala
1. Ceibas – These are huge trees, the sacred tree of the Maya and national symbols of Guatemala.
2. The Market Place or Group F
3. The Main Plaza – This is the most famous sight of the whole park.
4. Lost World – The largest ceremonial compound in Tikal.
5. The Bat Palace – A two story structure also known as the palace of windows.
6. The Tallest Structure of Tikal – Temple IV – you can climb to the top and get a bird’s eye view of the jungle.
7. Visitor’s Center
Wildlife We Saw on our Tikal Visit
Ruins are great fun and even educational. But for my family, the most fun is searching for wildlife.
1. Porcupine – We have never seen one before.
2. Monkeys –We saw a troop of spider monkeys.
3. Coati Mundi – We also saw a whole family playing and eating in front of us.
4. Tarantula – Did you know that Tarantula’s are the least scary spiders? They don’t have venom and they rarely bite. With help of the tour guide my oldest was daring enough to play with it.
5. Wild Turkeys – These birds run around here like peacocks at other parks.
A Quick Bit of Tikal Maya History
• The Maya was a powerful culture that once lived in the northernmost countries of Central America.
• Tikal was one of the largest and mightiest cities of the Maya.
• Tikal was a superpower in constant conflict with its neighbors, mainly with Calakmul, located in the present-day Mexican state of Campeche.
• Archaeological records near Tikal go back to about 1000 B.C. and by 300 B.C. it was already a thriving city.
• First major structures were built in Tikal between 400 and 300 BC.
• Tikal was ruled by a powerful dynasty. This unnamed family ruled Tikal for generations until 378 A.D.
• In the 5th century the power of the city reached as far south as Copán Honduras, whose founder K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ was clearly connected with Tikal.
• Copán itself was not in an ethnically Maya region and the founding of the Copán dynasty probably involved the direct intervention of Tikal.
• In 629 Tikal founded Dos Pilas 110 kilometres to the southwest, as a military outpost in order to control trade along the course of the Pasión River.
• As Tikal reached peak population, the area suffered deforestation, erosion and nutrient loss.
• By 950 A.D. the city was essentially abandoned.
• This archaeological gem is located over 222 square miles of jungle.
• Tons of structures have been found, but there are still tons to be excavated.
• Many of the lumps and tiny hills that you see are most likely unearthed buildings.
• After 1000 years of being abandoned, there was only the legend of a great city lost under the jungle.
• Tikal was discovered in 1848 by Ambrosio Tut while collecting gum from trees.
• In 1955 it became the first National park in Guatemala.
• in 1990 it became a biosphere reserve.
• Lots of international universities helped during excavations. Currently Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala is in charge.
More Fun Facts About Tikal
• It was the first place to be declared Human Heritage site by UNESCO in 1979 for two things. Its archaeological and its ecological value.
• We all know it as Tikal but what its name really means is “Lugar de Las Voces” (place of voices).
• It was used as the scenario for one of the ‘Star Wars’ movies and used as a model for one of Mel Gibson’s movies: Apocalypto.
• Its population is estimated to have been of around 90,000 at its highest point making it one of the biggest cities of its time.
• There are 410 species of birds in Tikal alone.