Mayan ruins of Tikal

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
10
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
6
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
7
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
75 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
North America
country
Guatemala
Length of time
1-2 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 200
Time of year visited
June
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
76th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 30% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

Tikal is the premier Mayan site.  Giant monuments spread amongst a vast complex cleared in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle make this a must if you have any interest in Mayan or pre-Colombian civilizations.  Being in the jungle also offers an array of wildlife where you can often see monkeys, agoutis and a variety of tropical birds

Two main tips – #1 Wander round and get lost on your first visit, especially when heading out on some of the paths to the farther temples, and then go with a guide to have them piece it all together.  This makes sure that you don’t miss out on that great feeling of wonder, discovery and adventure as you first make your way around the complex and soak it all in

#2 – go when it is raining (which it often does at this time of year – June).  You’ll get wet, but just wear a waterproof and this way you will largely have the place to yourself.  We, for example, were the only ones in the Gran Plaza for an hour or so, which was magical.  Plus, once the rain drops off, it still takes 30mins or so for visitors to join

highlights

#1 Looking across the vast network of Tikal's ruins from one of the lookout points, with the tops of the temples poking out in the distance (and also the view that was used in the very first Star Wars movie)

#2 Those wonderful moments when you have some of the temples completely to yourself (and easy to do if you visit when it is raining)

#3 Wandering through The Gran Plaza temple area and imagining what it must have been like in its pomp

#4 Enjoying the jungle all around you, complete with the wildlife living in the trees all around you

Other Travel Tips

  • It makes most sense to stay in the park overnight as that way you can enjoy the site in the early morning and late afternoon when the hoards of tourists haven’t arrived yet / have already left.  Plus, you’ll be doing quite a bit of walking, so not having to do the drive from Flores and back each time will help with energy levels.  We stayed for one night in the Jungle Lodge and was would recommend
  • If staying outside of Tikal in Flores, I would really recommend Las Laguanas Boutique Hotel – a gorgeous series of lodges on the lake.  We stayed here for a few nights to relax after what had been a busy few days and was heaven
  • If you’ve developed a taste for Mayan ruins and keen for a bit of adventure, I would highly recommend the one day helicopter trip to El Mirador which is 70km / 45 miles to the north of Tikal.  El Mirador was at its height in the pre-classical period of 600BC – 100AD (far before the classic Mayan period 150AD – 900AD of Tikal), has only seen excavation start relatively recently and has, it is now being realised, some of the most massive pyramid complexes in the world.  La Danta, for example is 72 metres tall and is built on a platform that is 180,000 square metres and 2.8 million cubic metres, making it the biggest pyramid structure in the world.  See Helicopter ride to El Mirador in the heart of the Guatemalan Jungle for my tips on this unforgettable experience
  • Books – if you have an interest in Mayan history or Pre-Columbian American civilisations in general, I’d recommend reading 1491 by Charles Mann. It gives an insight into what these civilisations were like before Europeans arrive and the level of their sophistication.  Great introductory read
  • If staying a bit longer in Guatemala, see my Itinerary for 10 wonderful days in Guatemala and generally for useful tips for your time there

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone