What to do

What to do in Tikal

Tikal is a huge archeological site that was once one of the largest and most important Mayan cities, and is the largest excavated site in the American continent. 

It’s a remote site set amongst lush jungle, which makes it all the more mysterious and you’ll be dying to explore the ancient ruins that are still being uncovered today.

If you think that Tikal looks like it’s been plucked straight out of a movie set, you might be thinking of the rebel base on Yavin IV in the first Star Wars film. The site was famously used in the shooting of this movie so it’s pretty recognisable!

Tikal history dates back as far as 1,000 BC according to ancient agricultural traces that have been found on the site. The first construction is thought to have been between 400–300 BC, when some of the major pyramids of the city were erected. 

Archaeological expeditions began in the late 19th century when the ruins were discovered, and today they are some of the most iconic in Guatemala. You’ll recognize the towering pyramids, typical of most Mayan cities, but the setting in the vivid green jungle makes Tikal stand out from the rest.

The vastness of the site means it’s an archaeologists dream, and you may even get to see some archaeologists at work during your visit as they continue excavation works to unfold more tales of the Mayan peoples past.

Why is Tikal famous?

More than 1,000 years ago during the Classic Period, Tikal was a prominent and prosperous power amongst the Mayan civilisation. It is set within a huge rainforest (known as the Maya forest) that spreads as far as Belize and Mexico, in which the Tikal National Park is encompassed, covering 575 square kilometres of lush rainforest and thousands upon thousands of ruined structures.

Tikal is so impressive that the cultural and natural preserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, attracting thousands of visitors each and every year.

The Tikal ruins are made from limestone and amongst the buildings you’ll find here are royal palaces, temples, administrative buildings, living quarters and plenty of stone monuments and figures.

Possibly the most famous monuments – and those most iconic of any Mayan archeological site – are the pyramids. The highest of the Tikal pyramids is 213 feet, or 65 metres, and the structure dominates the ancient city.

Can you climb the pyramids at Tikal?

Yes! In fact, it is encouraged.

For unparalleled views across the whole of Tikal National Park and the tops of the other pyramids that peek through the forest canopy, we absolutely recommend taking the trip to the top of one of the remaining pyramid structures.

If you get there early, you can make the ascent in time to watch the sunrise over the jungle and the Tikal Mayan ruins – it’s a magical experience so it’s worth getting out of bed before daylight.

If you have a guide during your visit, you’ll be given a detailed explanation of each Tikal temple, how it was used in ceremonies and rituals and its significance within the city, before having the opportunity to climb to the top for some of the best views you’ll see in Guatemala.

Is it safe to travel to Tikal Guatemala?

As you know, Tikal is a huge archaeological site and first things first, it’s not wise to attempt to see it all in one day, even if you’re in peak physical condition!

As an extremely popular tourist destination, unfortunately this means that pick-pocketing and robberies can occur – it’s kind of an opportunists dream. We recommend travelling in groups if possible, and sticking to the highlighted trails without deterring down some lesser-trodden paths. It can be tempting given the magic of TIkal, but try your best to stay with the crowds!

As always, try to limit the valuables on your person where possible and carry bags on your front rather than your back if you can. If you’re travelling by taxi, make sure it’s been pre-booked and don’t just flag one off the street. Buses are generally safe as long as they leave on time – that means there will be a police presence looking out for you.

As long as you remain alert and aware of your surroundings, it is perfectly safe to travel to Tikal!

For more information check our guide on: Scams in Guatemala

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