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Guatemala and Central America's Best Kept Secrets

Updated on January 1, 2015

The Ultimate Mayan Experience: Tikal

The ancient Mayan city of Tikal is one of the world's most stunning historical sites. The fact that it's not included on any "Wonders of the World" lists is astonishing. If you absolutely need a reason to visit Central America, Tikal is it. There are not many places left on our planet where you can literally get lost in ancient city, so this is an absolute necessity for every traveler's bucket list. The easiest way to get to Tikal is to fly into Belize City and take a bus across the border into Guatemala. You can also fly into Guatemala City and take a connecting domestic flight to Flores, a small town near Tikal, but that's a much more expensive route.

One of many temples in the ancient city of Tikal.
One of many temples in the ancient city of Tikal.

Staying in Flores During Your Tikal Adventure

Flores is a small town near Tikal, and unless you are staying at one of the hotels located within Tikal, you'll need to stay here. It's a very charming little "island" town on Lago Petén Itzá that offers good food and spectacular views over the water. Getting from Flores to Tikal is easy; there are many tour vans and buses that make the trek daily. Tikal is best experienced without a tour group, at least for the first time, so you can marvel in solitude at the impressive city, but you may have to hop on a tour bus to get there initially.

Sunrise over Lago Petén Itzá as seen from the Hotel Mira Longa in Floes, Guatemala.
Sunrise over Lago Petén Itzá as seen from the Hotel Mira Longa in Floes, Guatemala.

Staying in Tikal

There are a few options to stay within the park of Tikal which are a bit more expensive than staying in Flores, but it's well worth the price. The Hotel Tikal Inn is probably the best choice, but beware, it's a true "jungle" experience. The Inn is walking distance to Tikal, so no further transportation is required if you stay here. Electricity is limited so flashlights are needed for any reading after about 8:00 pm. Be prepared for the howler monkeys to wake you at the early hour of 3:00 am (expect to hear your neighbor's terror at these sounds in the early morning too). Pizotes (related to the raccoon) run in packs through the inn's grounds and are a comical sight, so be on the lookout. At night, just after dinner, you'll find a sea of fireflies around your cabin, which is not to be missed. It's also worth it to stay out after dark to look at the stars as there's very little light pollution in Tikal.

Pizotes at Hotel Tikal Inn.
Pizotes at Hotel Tikal Inn.

Hiking Tikal

Tikal cannot be seen in it's entirety in only one day. Wander around on your own the first day and take it all in. Get a feel for the city. Even if you are adverse to taking tours, sign up for a sunrise tour of Tikal. Hotel Tikal Inn offer a complementary tour for it's guests which meets at 4:15 am in the lobby of the hotel and enters the park at 4:30 am. This may seem really early, but the howlr monkeys aren't going to let you sleep, so suck it up and just go. You won't be disappointed. It can be a little scary stomping through the park in the complete darkness (there are lots of bugs hanging from the trees), but it's a once in a lifetime experience. Seeing the silhouettes of the towering temples by starlight is chilling. You'll hike up to Templo IV, the tallest temple in Tikal, to watch the sun rise over the ancient city. There's nothing else quite like it.

Tikal, Guatemala.
Tikal, Guatemala.

Look out for Spider Monkeys!

Besides the wonderful temples, sunrises, and astounding history, Tikal offers a wealth of incredible wildlife. Spider monkeys can be found very easily if you simply look up! They travel in groups, so if you spot one, you're likely to see many follow, including youngsters. For the bird watcher, keep your eyes peeled for toucans and macaws. They're all over the place if you look carefully, or if you know their calls.

Tikal is one amazing place. And the best part is, is that it's not overrun with people snapping photos. You can get lost in an ancient city and marvel at it's wonders in complete peace- something that is extremely rare.

Temple 38, only partially excavated.
Temple 38, only partially excavated.

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