With apologies to the gleaming metropolis of Guatemala City, Tikal National Park is probably Guatemala’s best known attraction. It’s a massive Mayan city in the middle of the jungle in the state of Peten. It’s easily accessed from Flores or San Ignacio, Belize. The ruins are spread out over a large area in the jungle, connected by easy to manage foot paths. I would highly recommend wearing at least sneakers to explore the ruins since some of the paths can be a bit rough and/or slippery. And bring at least a litre of water, it can get really hot!
From Flores, I got a return shuttle bus to the ruins for 80Q (~10 USD) and did a self guided tour. A guided tour usually runs around 150Q. It was easy to see all the main ruins and most of the smaller ones in a little under 3 hours. They range from 100+ metre high temples to playing fields to wider structures. It’s incredible to think that people built these structures out of stone with sheer manual labour and simple tools. Definitely a testament to the power of human intelligence.
At temple IV, it’s definitely worth climbing the wooden staircase up to the top for a beautiful view of the jungle and the temples poking up above the tree line. We got there around lunchtime and were treated to lunch with a view.
In addition to the ruins, Tikal boasts a wide variety of native flora and fauna. Jaguars are common sightings at night in the park. During the day however, little raccoon-like critters called pizotes roam the park in large packs looking for food. We got to see nearly 100 of them in several different groups combing the grounds for food. And at one point, one of them let out a whistle (presumably a warning call) and all of them scurried up into trees. It was pretty awesome to see the communication and coordination of the group.
Most people base themselves in Flores or in San Ignacio to visit Tikal. The drive from Flores to Tikal takes about 1 hour. From San Ignacio, it’s about 1.5 hours. There are also a few hotels located right at the entrance to the park, although unless you’re a massive archaeology buff, I can’t imagine exploring the ruins for several days.