There are a few things you should know before visiting Tikal. The following advice should make your stay more enjoyable.
STAY IN FLORES
Flores is a really quaint island town and a popular place to use as a base when visiting Tikal. Stay at Los Amigos. I was travelling with three others at the time and we shared a four-bed dorm in a separate building from the main reception. It was really spacious and much quieter than the party base. Make time to look around the town and ask one of the boatmen if they’ll take you out on the lake or across to one of the beaches where the water’s much cleaner. If the streets are flooded, be very careful paddling over the cobblestones, as they get extremely slippery.
FIND ACCOMMODATION DEALS
I’ve recently started using HotelsCombined to search for accommodation as I travel. It’s become one of my favourite tools because it aggregates the results of online searches from over 40 travel sites to bring you the best deals much faster than if you had to look them up to compare them separately.
CONSIDER VISITING TIKAL EARLY
If the guidebooks are to be believed, then pretty much every World Heritage site should be visited before dawn. In my experience, so many other people have usually had the same idea that there’s no real advantage to messing up your sleeping pattern. When visiting Tikal, getting the earliest hostel-run minibus really did allow us to beat the crowds. We were among the first on the site and had a chance to explore some of the main structures by ourselves. This enabled us to imagine what it might have been like to exist in pre-Columbian times – an illusion that’s soon broken once the hoardes of map-yielding tourists show up with their high-tech electronic gear.
PICK UP A MAP OF TIKAL
Being one of those stereotypical tourists with a map and high-tech electronics is par for the course. You wouldn’t want to miss the chance to capture this incredible site on film and, without the map they hand you at the entrance you’d have little hope of covering all the temples without getting hopelessly lost.
DON’T TRUST THE ARROWS…
Things aren’t helped by the fact that there are some very confusing signs around the site. Take it from us, this huge white arrow on the floor led absolutely nowhere.
…OR THE SIGNS
When visiting Tikal, take directions with a pinch of salt. Some of the more comprehensive signs were just lying around on the footpath, which of course wasn’t particularly helpful either – although it did give the boys a chance to goof around.
LEARN HOW TO TIME YOUR GROUP JUMPS
If you’re keeping ahead of the crowds, you should take the opportunity to get a few snaps of just you and the incredible temples. Some of them have wooden steps to enable you to see over the treetops and across to the other pyramids. The Plaza Mayor is a great spot to simply stand in one place and admire all of the imposing buildings that surround you. It’s also a great photo op, but you might want to think about practising those timed jumps.
TAKE TIME OUT FROM THE RUINS
While there’s no shortage of things to see at Tikal, it can be quite rewarding to wander away from the most worn paths and get lost in the jungle for a bit. We came across some interesting wildlife from iridescent millipedes and huge spiders to coatis and howler monkeys, whose calls echoed through the park.
MAKE THE TOP OF TEMPLE V YOUR LUNCH SPOT
Given that you’ll probably have arrived at around 4 am, lunch will be your 9 am meal. Although there are one or two pop-up vendors selling snacks, drinks and beers on site, it’s best to take your own sandwiches and find a quiet spot with a cool breeze. The very top of Temple V should do just fine if you’ve managed to stay ahead of the hoardes.
TAKE THE TIME TO ADMIRE THIS VIEW
Not only is this view spectacular in its own right, it’s also featured in one of the most iconic movies of all time – Star Wars. Whether you imagine you’re Luke Skywalker or king of an ancient Mayan civilisation, there’s no denying this is a moving experience that will stay with you for many years to come.