If we’ve learned anything from the Mayans

it is that not finishing a project isn’t the end of the world.


How to reach Tikal from Flores

The only city of Guatemala obtaining a domestic airport which is close to Tikal is Flores. To be correct, Flores consists of two parts, one on the shores and another part on an island within Lago Petén Itzá. I’ve already heard that Flores is only the island and the part along the shores is Santa Elena. There is no clear border between Flores / Santa Elena and San Benito, it feels like one city.

No matter where you come from within Guatemala, from Mexico or Belize, there are shuttles or flights available to Flores. Flores counts as the gateway to Tikal, so the touristy infrastructure is very well maintained. Multiple agencies offer different options for Tikal, so walk around (the island of Flores is not big) and check different options and prices. The best options are transportation + guide, the entrance fee always has to be paid separately at the site (Q150 currently). Tikal is the only Mayan site which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (in 1979).

If you consider staying in Flores, be very careful, as Flores is covered by fake tour organizations with plenty of scams. You might go with more expensive options through your hotel which actually work, you might book all transport online, or you might simply stay somewhere else. I relied on TripAdvisor and the experience of other travelers I met before, which was good.


I recommend booking an early morning tour with a guide. Depending on the season and weather forecast, it might be worth going on a sunrise tour, which departs from Flores at 3:30am. I took the first “day tour” departing at 4:30 am. Considering the 1.5 hrs drive, 6am is already too late for sunrise. However, it was the perfect time to both experience the animals waking up and leaving their shelters, as well as fewer people strolling around. If you go without a guide, you miss out on much detailed information on the history and animals. Moreover, since Tikal covers quite a large area, you shouldn’t get lost following a guide.


Staying in Flores

There are multiple hotels and hostels available in Flores. I chose a hotel which had some dorm rooms, so I had the price and context of a hostel with the benefits of a hotel like a swimming pool, breakfast included, directly facing the lake and more. I highly recommend the Hostel Petén Express / Hotel Petén. The staff took really great care of me and the other guests, I got great food-boxes provided for the two days when I had to leave before breakfast.

The island of Flores is tiny enough to walk all streets in less than half a day. Similar to the Lago Atitlan area and Antigua, the houses are covered in different colors, which fit quite well. I walked many streets of Flores just to check out the houses. These colors are one of the aspects which I really like in or about Guatemala. Some streets facing the lake were flooded, I am not sure if this is standard or season-dependent. Pallets were used to build paths on the water to reach one or the other place.

If you want to check out Tikal, you do not necessarily have to stay in Flores, there are indeed nice other places around. You might even stay in a hotel within the Tikal National Park area.


There are many places to go out dining, however, not all served food is good. I’ve been told that you need to be really careful, so I mostly relied on experiences of other travelers. I preferred the restaurant Maracuya, they have excellent food, a great location and also options to plug in your laptop if you consider to work remotely. A quite relaxing atmosphere where I met other travelers with interesting stories. Moreover, there is a tiny butterfly sanctuary.


Experiencing Tikal

There are a few transportation companies which are booked by different travel agencies. That’s why it’s important to compare rates, in the end you’ll most likely use the same bus and guide anyway. After getting up early and napping in the shuttle, we arrived at the ticket office just before 6am, when they opened the park. After payment (there is no reduction with a disability, it’s the same rate for all internationals) we drove a few minutes more to reach the park entrance. If you decide to only book the shuttle without a guide, this will be the pickup point a few hours later.

Wildlife in the jungles of Petén

Shortly after entering the park, even before we saw the first ruins, we encountered the first animals. Our guide Luiz was amazing, he spotted so many animals. I couldn’t remember the names, though, since I have not heard any of them before. At first, he woke up the howler monkeys. Honestly, howling is an understatement! Luiz knows how to talk to them, the monkeys responded.

After passing the first temple, Luiz saw a hole and explained he stared into the eyes of a spider the day before – and activated it to come out of the whole. Damn, this spider was huge. In the early morning, there were not many people, but families of coatis were strolling around.


The Mayan ruins

I won’t write up the Mayan history related to the site. You might as well read through it on Wikipedia or other sources. Instead, I’m sharing some impressions of my visit. I have to admit that it was cloudy all day, so you won’t see blue sky on my pictures. When I booked the transportation, I was surprised about the length of more than 5 hours in Tikal. Honestly, this time was well invested, I never felt bored.

The entire area of temples in the Tikal National Park is huge, it feels huge, one time we even walked like 20 minutes to get from one temple to the next. Our guide showed us on the map which route we were about to take. The tour consisted of parts when we followed Luiz and listened to his explanations, as well as other parts when we had the chance to climb temples and check out areas on our own. We followed a route which was beneficial in terms of not meeting many other tourists at the spots at the time. 

Whereas climbing was not allowed in Chichén Itzá, it was rather difficult in Palenque because the stairs were quite steep. However, I really appreciated that many temples had wooden stairs with a handrail attached. This made climbing up and down so much easier. Moreover, the restorations within Tikal are kept in a rather natural state. So the stones are not purely clean, there are still moss or other plants from the jungle on them. Yeah, visiting Tikal was truly a jungle experience.


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