UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE IN GUATEMALA
Every time someone finds out that I was born in Guatemala the question I hear the most is, have you been to Tikal?
Well, I was ashamed and annoyed by the question. Ashamed because I had never been to this amazing part of Guatemala’s Mayan history. I would get annoyed because it seemed that people only know about Tikal when they hear Guatemala. Guatemala is filled with so many jaw-dropping places including Tikal but please don’t miss out on the rest because the other places were not on the discovery or history channel.
Now I can answer that question pridefully and quick, yes I have spent time in the jungle of Tikal and even stayed in the jungle hotel!
Speaking of hotels in the jungle, no matter what people tell you about not staying in the park DO NOT LISTEN. You will be so grateful that you can take a break from the sweltering heat and go to your room and shower or rest since you can walk back and forth to the entrance of where all the ruins are. We sure did, for lunch, shower and nap, then headed back to see more during the slightly cooler afternoon and of course sunset. The prices were not expensive like some people suggested. We paid $39 per night for two people, most places charge more for an extra person. Not to mention that if you’re only trying to save a little money you will pay for it on the transportation coming and going out of the park. Just from the entrance of the park to where the ruins and hotels are is a long walk/drive. People tried to tell me to stay in Santa Elena or Flores. Flores is even further unless you are flying in, that is where the airport is but a long drive to Tikal. Santa Elena, I didn’t find interesting it just happens to be where the bus terminal is located.
We stayed at Jaguar Inn but there are two other hotels in the park. Now you have to understand that you are not staying at a 5-star luxury hotel but it was cozy, clean and had a shower. You can also sleep in a tent and that is about half the price but I don’t know about you, I like having my own bathroom. The rooms are bungalow style with a hammock right in your little porch. The food in the restaurant was simple but good at decent prices and the staff was beyond helpful.
TIP: I called from Guatemala in advance and received a quote for the hotel price. The prices online on all the hotel websites from the USA showed $100+ per night.
We wanted to arrive as early as we could and we didn’t want to spend all of our vacation budget on the flight to Tikal. I couldn’t understand if it’s such a short distance from Guatemala City to the Flores airport, why the flight was almost the price to get to Guatemala. So we ventured off on an overnight bus trip from Guatemala City to Santa Elena. When I say overnight, I mean you get on the bus at 9 pm and arrive at almost 5 am. There are other schedules by the way. We read great reviews from a lot of travelers that Linea Dorada was the best. Our round trip ticket for two people cost $96 and it would have been cheaper if I would have paid cash. So at $24 a person each way I was good, not to mention I wasn’t paying almost $1k for flights. Don’t believe me? Do a search, I just did and they actually show $1662 which is a lot more than when I was searching in April.
TIP: I didn’t really believe how cold the bus could get. So my advice is to take a warm set of clothes or a warm blanket. It gets REALLY COLD on the bus.
After the long bus drive, I thought we would jump from the bus to a van or taxi to Tikal. Nope. We arrived too early that all the transports were still asleep. When the work schedule starts you will have your choice of transport. There are so many people fighting to get your business. Now get comfortable because it’s a long drive from Santa Elena to the park.
At the park, they don’t let the transportation continue until everyone in the car pays the park entrance fee. Since I’m from Guatemala I don’t pay tourist fee, but Hubby, although married to a Guatemalan, got the tourist price. So don’t get upset if you hear two different prices.
Another bit of a drive and they drop you off at your hotel and tell you what time they will pick you up on the day you are to leave. The price included round-trip transportation for us. It worked out great that we called ahead to get a quote for the hotel because I heard higher prices given to other people, that and brush up on your Spanish.
We dropped off our gear and headed out. You should have seen us like two kids entering Disneyland filled with energy. That only lasted a little bit since the heat kicked our butts and all the walking we did. There are water vendors everywhere, a bottle of water is $1. You go through water like crazy, so make sure you have cash.
About 1 pm I couldn’t handle it anymore, hubby could have pushed on but we went back to the hotel to eat, shower and a cat nap. With some new energy, we headed back to the park closer to 4 pm. The park is now empty, all the tourists are gone maybe because they have the long drive back to their hotels, not in Tikal. We read that you had to pay extra for the sunset view, LIES. We walked in at 4 and stayed until after sunset and shared the park with only a few people who were waiting for the same thing. We did head out right after sunset because it gets dark fast and the jungle is big and I mean it’s a JUNGLE. It felt like the beginning of a scary movie.
We had dinner and had a chance to get to know other people staying in our hotel since we were all trying to take advantage of the WiFi that only works in the restaurant. Although we had a cell phone, no signal I guess since we’re in the jungle. I had to show signs of life if not my family will send a search party out.
We did pay for the sunrise tour which meant they come to get you from your hotel room at 3 am. I know, we paid for this torture. You head out with a group, with a guide in the dark. You enter the jungle and the only light is the tour guide’s flashlight. You hear all the animals making noise, it sounds like dinosaurs live there. You are in complete darkness and you can’t even see where you’re walking or even stepping on. I kept telling hubby this is how horror movies start.
They take you to the highest temple, Temple IV and you climb so many steps. I wish I would have had my breakfast to have more energy but the whole group was in the same boat, so no shame. We arrive at the top and there are already so many people waiting.
After the sunrise, we met with our tour guide again and he took us through parts of the park we had not seen. He took us through hidden trails and he gave us detailed information and history about the park. It was worth the price and waking up early. With that same ticket, you can stay in the park for another day of exploring. Which I KNOW no one can see the entire park in one visit. Unless you’re running through it, you miss a lot, plus I was there for photographs. I got so many good ones. You will have to keep up with my art website to see what I do with them.
We are happy we made Tikal one of our destinations. We will be back in 10 years or so. They’re still excavating and there are more temples being discovered. If you want to see other photographs from Tikal stop by Life with Salsa’s Instagram.
LAST TIP: Take comfortable shoes, sneakers that you have broken in. Its uneven ground and rocks in some places. We saw tourists in flimsy flip-flops and you could tell they were struggling horribly. Don’t forget mosquito repellent and lots of sunscreen.