Exploring the Tikal Ruins

There are countless Mayan ruins scattered throughout Central America to choose from. But based on the recommendations of others, we opted for the Tikal ruins of Guatemala. We undoubtedly made the right choice…

The Grand Plaza of the Tikal ruins

The Grand Plaza of the Tikal ruins


The Tikal Ruins


The Tikal ruins are the remains of a Mayan civilisation in northern Guatemala. In its prime, it was a large city, with anywhere from 10,000 to 90,000 inhabitants. Today, it is one of the largest archaeological sites in Central America.


Parts of the site date back to an incredible 3,000 years ago. The main pyramids and structures were built around 400BC. The city continued to be developed throughout the centuries, and Tikal became an important Mayan urban centre, with its political and cultural influence stretching throughout what is now Guatemala and the surrounding countries.


Tikal (12 of 19)


The city of Tikal fell into decline during the 10th and 11th centuries, when its population migrated to other areas. The structures were gradually taken over by the rainforest, and fell into decay, forming the Tikal ruins we know today.


Tikal (11 of 19)

A small temple in the jungle

Visiting the Tikal Ruins


The Tikal ruins spread over a massive 16 square kilometres in the Tikal National Park in Guatemala. Though the area around the entrance is loaded with souvenir stalls and crowds, the ruins feel wonderfully uncrowded and untouristy, due in part to their spread-out nature and the peaceful surrounding jungle.


Tikal (13 of 19)


If you are exploring the Tikal ruins without a guide, there is a map on display near the entrance which shows the available routes and sights. There are plenty of ruins to clamber through and over, exploring inside and out. There are also several stepped pyramids to climb- these can be tiring, but offer great views.


The map at the entrance to Tikal

The map at the entrance to Tikal


Some pyramids, such as those in the Great Plaza, are off-limits due to a couple of visitors falling to their deaths. The steps throughout the Tikal ruins are narrow, so try to climb in a zig-zag fashion, go slowly, and don’t attempt it if you’re afraid of heights!


The temples rising from the jungle

The temples rising from the jungle


During our day here, we explored the Great Plaza, with its impossibly tall stepped pyramids, ballgame arena, and assorted ruins. The buildings throughout Tikal include former residences, palaces, administrative buildings, and what is thought to be a jail.


We then walked to the Plaza of the Seven Temples, which was far less crowded and made for some great photos. Next, we headed north to climb the pyramids that we had seen in Star Wars Episode IV. From the top, we saw just how far Tikal spread, with various temples rising from the jungle throughout the surrounding area.


Stepped pyramid at the plaza of the seven temples, tikal ruins

The Plaza of the Seven Temples


Getting To and From the Tikal Ruins


We took a shuttle from Antigua to the town of Flores, which is where most travellers base themselves for a visit to the ruins. The town is quiet and scenic, set on a lake where where we went swimming with others from our hostel.


Tikal (17 of 19)

Our new friend Jelle on top of the ruins


From Flores, shuttles run the 70km distance to the Tikal ruins. Various companies offer shuttles at different times, and tickets can be bought in Flores the previous day. A return ticket costs roughly Q100 (£10/ $13), and the journey takes around an hour each way. Combination shuttle and guide packages are available, though we opted for just a shuttle (if you do this and change your mind, there are guides available for hire at the entrance to the Tikal ruins). It is possible to visit the ruins at sunrise or sunset, for a steeper price, and it is even possible to stay overnight at the ruins.


Adam and I on top of a pyramid

Adam and me on top of a pyramid


Looking for more ruins to explore in Central America? Head to the wonderful country of Honduras and check out the beautiful Copan Ruins, following it up with a day at Macaw Mountain!





2 comments on “Exploring the Tikal Ruins”

  1. Gabriela says:

    Hi, we are traveling to Flores (and Tikal) soon and wandered if you can recommend the hostel in Flores where you stayed?

    1. ailish_kc@hotmail.com says:

      I think it may have been Casa Amelia, but I’m not certain. There are a few hostels in town, I’m sure you’ll find something good. Enjoy Tikal!

Leave a Reply