The Mayan ruins at Tikal are fascinating and inspiring. We highly recommend a visit for anyone with an interest in history, archeology, or nature. The ruins of the Mayan capital of Tikal cover over 16 square kilometers. Seeing each ruin in any degree of detail will take many long, tough days. For most people one or two long days should impress. In the rest of this post I'm going to outline a route through the ruins that will bring you to all of what I thought were the highlights in one ten hour day.
If you like guided tours, there are plenty of tour guides and they are inexpensive, about $10 per person.
Before I begin, I highly recommend some preparation. Before you leave exercise walking up and down stairs for an hour every day, taking breaks. Bring snacks, shorts, a hat, a compass, sunscreen, insect repellant, good walking shoes, and 2 liters of water per person.
When you arrive:
- Use the washrooms.
- Get your ticket (q150, about $18).
- Walk down the path to the ranger who checks your ticket.
- Go straight (west) towards group F (400 m), but turn south on the trail to temple 38 (600 m).
- Temple 38 is largely covered by soil and plants, it is a fair representation of what the temples looked like before restoration. Don't climb temple 38, you aren't supposed to and much more impressive and safer opportunities will soon present themselves
- Take the path south to group G (200 m).
- Group G is a palace and some nearby buildings. Walk through/on the ruins.
- Take the path north to the east plaza (300 m), the sign is labeled Grand Plaza.
- The clearing with the cut grass is the east plaza, along its south side is the beginning of the central acropolis. Walk up the first (south east most) ruin and note it well preserved carvings. Once on the top of the rise you are in the central acropolis. The easternmost ruin of the central acropolis has a spiral staircase on its back (eastern) side leading to a balcony. Explore and climb the ruins, slowly making your way west. After about an hour you take a pair of wooden stairs down to the Grand Plaza.
- When you arrive on the Grand Plaza the washrooms and a snack vendor are to the left (west), behind temple 2.
- Climb the stairs to the platform on temple 2, and take a long break with the view.
- Walk across the grand plaza to temple 1, then climb up and through the north acropolis. You can climb the stairs to the top platforms of several of the temples here.
- Return to the grand plaza, pass south of temple 2, and take the left trail south to temple 5 (about 500m).
- Climb the long ladder to the top of temple 5, and take another long break.
- Take the "road" to the south along the east side of temple 5 to the plaza of the seven temples (about 200m).
- Explore the seven temples breifly.
- Follow the trail north, and turn left to the west side of the seven temples.
- Explore the temples of the lost world briefly. If you feel the need to climb a ruin, the smaller, northwest pyramid is an easier climb than the central pyramid, and climbing it is allowed.
- Take the path north and then west to temple 4 (700m).
- Climb Temple 4 and take another break. The last washroom on this route are south of the temple.
- Decision time: you can walk to the exit through the grand plaza or even get a bus ride back to the exit from temple 4. Or if you still have energy continue on. Keeping Temple 4 on your right, walk around the south and east faces until you reach the small road going north east. This is the Maudslay causeway. The sign is complex H (or M?). Walk 1km.
- Walk around complex M.
- Complex H is just east of complex M. You can climb both of the pyramids here.
- Head south 700m on the Maller Causeway. This is the only path out of Complex M without going back the way you came.
- Turn east at the fork towards complexes Q and R, and the exit. Walk 200m to Complex R.
- Complex R is mostly still buried, walk through.
- The central courtyard of Complex Q is completely excavated. Climb to the top of the pyramid.
- Walk east to the entrance (1km).
- If you still have energy, or you have to wait for your bus, see either or both museums. They are both small and you can easily see both of them in an hour. q10, about $1.25, gets you into to both museums, so keep your ticket.
Have a great trip!