The Ultimate Guide to Tikal National Park in GuatemalaKollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Once a powerful empire with 120,000+ inhabitants at its peak, Tikal remains one of the largest and most iconic Maya ruins in Central America. Whether you’re a history junkie or Star Wars fan (or just an average Jane/Joe), I think it’s safe to say that nobody travels to Guatemala or mainland Belize without visiting Tikal.

Located in the Peten Region of Guatemala, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is very close to Belize. It made sense for Tikal to be our final stop in Guatemala before crossing the border.

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

on top of Temple 4, which is the filming location for Yavin 4 in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope

What to bring when you’re visiting Tikal

  • Water
  • Comfortable closed-toe shoes
  • Flashlight
  • Mosquito repellent with DEET
  • Clothes with breathable fabric
  • Binoculars for wildlife

We visited our local travel clinic to consult a doctor regarding Zika risks and precautions.

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

our 6am Avianca flight from GUA to FRS

Getting here; visiting Tikal from Guatemala City or mainland Belize

From Guatemala City

BY LAND: If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hop on a chicken bus (and pray that you’ll arrive in one piece after a rough 15hr+ ride). Otherwise, take the comfortable, air-conditioned buses operated by Linea Dorada. This journey will take you around 10 hours for $30USD+.

Tip: Take the ‘luxury’ overnight bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

BY AIR: We chose to fly instead because of my sciatica. Avianca and TAG offer daily hour-long flights from Guatemala City to Flores ($120USD+, one way). The airport is another hour, by car, to Tikal.

From Belize

BY LAND:  The easiest way is to ask tour operators in San Ignacio if you can catch a ride with their day tour groups to Tikal. We did the reverse; border crossing was easy peasy and the whole trip took 4 hours from our hotel in Tikal to San Ignacio town center. If you’re coming from Belize City, take the local bus to San Ignacio first.

Tip: There are tons of tour operators in San Ignacio and they’ll quote you anywhere from $25-45USD per person, one way. Shop around and haggle. We had a very pleasant experience with Sergio from Explore Inland Tours who bent backwards for us at the very last minute. 

BY AIR: You can fly to Flores from Belize City via Tropic Air ($190USD+, one way). This flight is 45 minutes and again, you’ll have to arrange a ride to Tikal once you land. Ask your guide to include this in your tour.

READ MORE: Eating like a local in Belize – cheap eats and where to find them

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Where to stay when visiting Tikal

Stay in the Park

To get the most out of your Tikal experience, stay in one of three ‘hotels’ located in the park: Jungle Lodge, Tikal Inn, and Jaguar Inn. Rates start at $40USD for something very basic and $120USD+ for nicer rooms. Chances are, you’ll hear howler monkeys and see coatimundi roaming around. You’ll also be the first ones to enter the park and the last to leave. Little to no crowds is always a bonus!

We stayed in one of the newly renovated rooms at Hotel Jungle Lodge. It was clean and spacious but service was nonexistent and the overpriced food sucked. My fettuccine alfredo was more like a noodle soup and AS’s steak was so rare that we could still smell the hay the cow fed on.

Tip: Food is slightly better at Jaguar Inn.

Electricity is only available from 7-10am and 5-9:30pm, but an emergency generator keeps the ceiling fan running through the night. Even though we were there in the dry season, it was hella humid and the sheets felt damp. Multiply this discomfort by over 9000 if you’re visiting Tikal outside of the December to February period.

Stay in Flores

If you want to save some money (who doesn’t!), there are lots of affordable options in Flores. Shared dorm rooms at hostels start at $10USD (80GTQ) per person and basic private rooms range between $30-70USD. A major setback is the travel time; it takes more than an hour by car to reach Tikal which complicates things if you’re interested in the sunrise tour.

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Visiting Tikal for the sunset vs sunrise

It’s rare to actually witness the sunrise. Because of the high humidity, a thick layer of fog usually covers the forest canopy. That said, the sunrise tour is still magical as you listen to the jungle wake up to the first light of day.

We opted for the sunset tour instead. We entered the park at around 1pm, visited all the temples and complexes, and ended our day at the Grand Plaza with a quiet, beautiful sunset. Dusk rolled in quickly and soon it became pitch black. There couldn’t have been more than 4 others with us at the time. It was a phenomenal experience!

READ MORE: Chasing sunrise at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Choosing a tour guide

Because anybody with a highschool diploma can become a National Tour Guide in Guatemala, you’ll find that many tour guides lack proper knowledge and/or are only in it for the money (see below: the ugly side of Tikal).

Two names stood out when we scoured the net for reputable guides: Roxy Ortiz and Marlon Diaz. The former was unresponsive but communication with Marlon was excellent. Having done this for 18 years now, he is very well educated and extremely passionate about Tikal. His English is near perfect and we were able to appreciate not only Tikal, but also Guatemala and Maya history that much more because of his wealth of knowledge.

Marlon’s the real MVP- he’s pretty much a walking encyclopedia. We tip our hats to this dude for recognizing the importance of sustainable tourism and striving for the preservation of these ruins. He’s the owner of EM Guatemala Travel and we highly recommend his service!

The ugly side of Tikal National Park

Bribery and corruption. Some tour guides collude with guards to let big groups into the park without paying the proper amount and taking a cut. Others bribe park rangers to enter restricted areas (i.e. the Great Pyramid).

Ignorance and disrespect. We saw people, tourists and incompetent guides included, feeding animals, climbing restricted areas, and being obnoxiously loud. These actions were even encouraged by so-called ‘licensed guides’!

Please don’t be like these idiots. Respect the ruins as well as the animals that live in the park.

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

brontosaurus or coatimundi?

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

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Eating like a local in Belize – cheap eats and where to find them!Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

wPigging out is a huge part of traveling for us. I’m a picky eater so I was worried I’d only be eating rice and beans in Belize, but boy was I wrong! Because of the blend of ethnic groups in Belize, Belizean cuisine features the same mix of flavours and ingredients. A sprinkle of Mexico, a dash of El Savador, a tablespoon of Guatemala, and a few drops of the Caribbeans. Heck, they even had bubble tea! We’ve put together a list of things to eat in Belize without breaking your wallet, and where to find everything.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Know before you go:

  • Both Belizean Dollars (BZD) and US Dollars are accepted; the currency conversion is 2BZD = 1USD
  • Menus are in BZD; tipping is not mandatory but it’s nice to round up
  • Seafood and chicken are a lot more common than beef and pork
  • San Pedro = Ambergris Caye
  • Caye is pronounced ‘key’, not ‘kay’
  • Lobster fest takes places every July
  • Rum & coke and Belikin beer are the cheapest boozie options

Cheap local things to eat in Belize

Chocolate. Chocolate everything

We all know that Guatemala produces some of the world’s best chocolates, but did you know Belize’s chocolates are just as good as its neighbour’s? Chocolate was invented by the ancient Maya, who ruled the lands of Guatemala and Belize thousands of years ago. Belizean cacao, or raw chocolate seeds, are of superior quality as most of the cocoa trees here are grown organically.

AJAW Chocolate & Crafts in San Ignacio and Belize Chocolate Company in San Pedro both offer chocolate-making classes and a bunch of legit chocolate goodies. It’s pretty much chocolate heaven for those who love dark chocolate- the real deal. Stock up on cocoa nibs, raw chocolate bars, chocolate teas, and chocolate treats.

Tostada

These are crunchy open-faced tacos. Do not miss the shrimp tostadas at Pupuseria Salvadoreno in San Pedro. Each order costs 20BZD and comes with 4 delicious tostadas.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize - Tostada

shrimp tostadas from Pupuseria Salvadoreno

Pupusas

One of the most common things to eat in Belize is actually a traditional Salvadoran dish. These are handmade corn tortilla cooked on the grill; with or without beans, meats, and cheese. Load it up with some pickled slaw and hot sauce and you’ve got yourself a delicious quick bite.

The pupusas at Pupuseria Salvadoreno are 2.50BZD each and you can choose from a wide selection of fillings. Another place for pupusas is in San Ignacio at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. For 2BZD each, you can find them at all the food stands.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize - Pupusa

pupusa (left) and quesdilla (right) at Pupuseria Salvadoreno

Quesadilla

Lots of restaurants in Vancouver serve chicken quesadillas with sour cream and salsa, but nothing compares to the quesadillas we tasted at the San Ignacio Farmer’s Market. It was so simple- no sour cream, no salsa, no fillings. Just straight up cheese and tortilla, grilled to perfection. We got 2 huge pieces for just 3BZD!

Ceviche

Ceviche with conch, shrimp, or lobster? The choice is yours. Seafood is Belize’s forte, especially on the Cayes. You can find ceviche everywhere but prices vary quite a bit depending on where you go.

The best bang for the buck ceviche is at a beach-front restaurant in San Pedro called ‘Nook’. They have happy hour every day from 5-6:30pm with 50% off cocktails and appies. For 10BZD, their yummy ceviche comes in a huge bowl with freshly fried chips… if you’re lucky, that is. We had fresh chips the first time but they use prepackaged chips on our second visit.

Jerk Chicken

Belize ain’t Jamaica, but Robin’s Kitchen in San Pedro is bomb dot com. I don’t know if Robin’s actually his name but he’s a funny, chatty dude who makes chicken that’s out of this world. There’s no menu- it’s either jerk chicken/fish or curry chicken/fish served with rice and beans, plantains, and coleslaw. Prices are very fair at 14BZD a plate. If there’s smoke from the grill, it’s open. They get super busy, so go early before everything sells out!

Burrito

The burritos in Belize are massive! Stuffed with beans, rice, and your choice of protein, they’re bigger than your average dinner plate. Our favourite spot is Waruguma in San Pedro, where lobster burritos are 27BZD.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Taco

They’re not the big tacos North Americans are accustomed to. Tacos in Belize are more like taquitos. Neri’s Tacos is where all the locals go, and there’s always a line. For 1BZD you get 3 tacos; yes, that cheap! You’ll see locals with stacks of tacos on their plates. Despite it being so busy and a hole-in-the-wall kinda place, the service here is fantastic.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Fry Jacks

One of the best things to eat in Belize! You can’t leave without trying one. These puffy, deep-fried dough triangles or semi-circles are a Belizean breakfast staple. Some are bite-sized with scrambled eggs on the side; others are as big as your face, stuffed with your choice of fillings.

The best place is a little hut on Caye Caulker: Errolyn’s House of Fry JacksFillings include refried beans, ham, cheese, chicken, and eggs. Prices vary from 1.50BZD to 5.00BZD depending on what you add.

Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce

Of all the things to eat in Belize, this habanero sauce is the best. You can get it in the States but if you’re not American, you need to bring some home! They come in a variety of flavours and in all sorts of sizes. We’re carry-on travelers, which means we had to make room for the hot sauce in our liquids bags. The mini bottles are 1.69oz and we were able to Tetris 9 into a quart-sized Ziploc bag. The cheapest place to get these are at the Chinese grocery markets for 2BZD each.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Marie Sharp’s with a fry jack!

These are our favourite things to eat in Belize! How many have you tried or would like to try?

 

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Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Chasing Sunrise at Lake Atitlan in GuatemalaKollecting Koordinates - Indian Nose sunrise hike

The Indian Nose sunrise hike is an absolute must when visiting Lake Atitlan. I hear ya, who the hell wants to wake up at 4am for a leg workout while on vacation?! Trust me, this one’s worth your time. Plus, the hike ain’t even bad!

It’s named ‘Indian Nose’ because it’s shaped like a side profile facing the sky. You can cheat and end your hike at the mouth (like we did), or you can continue for another 10min to go all the way up to the nose. We hired a guide to take us because we weren’t comfortable navigating in the dark alone, especially after hearing stories about armed robberies in the area. This doesn’t mean a guide will protect you from these situations!

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