Mayan Ruins

Tikal National Park Gran Plaza


Visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal and Yaxha National Parks.  These two are the most accessible parks in Northeastern Guatemala.  There are many more that are remote and require 4×4 transportation (see pdf brochure by scanning QR code below).

QR code to download Mayan ruins map

Time of Visit: April 2024

Duration of Visit: Three Nights

Tikal National Park

The first structure most visitors encounter in Tikal – Complejo Q


The park is about an hour away from Maya Mondo International Airport in the town of Flores, Guatemala or 30 minutes away from the village of El Remate at the East end of Lake Peten Itzal.  These are driving times on a rental car.

The park has several Mayan ruins that have been reconstructed.  There are also some that has been left as is where less than half of the original structure remains standing. There are also structures that are no longer visible because they have been reclaimed by the forest.  All there is to see with these reclaimed monuments are huge conical mounds covered by trees.

How To Explore The Park

You can go on a guided tour or see the ruins on your own.


We opted for the self-tour as it was (1) more economical and (2) we just like the freedom of going on our pace.  Besides, we would see what a guided tour would see anyway. The only downside with a self-tour is that we would not know the story behind the different structures and Mayan history in general.  There are signs by each structure that tells something about it in Spanish and English, though not in great detail.

The park is huge.  It took us almost 6.5 hours to see most of the ruins. We skipped a couple because it was either a pile of rubble as shown on the picture on the park map or we were too tired to double back for it.


Park entry tickets can be purchased at the park entrance or on-line.  The ticket website is only in Spanish and navigation requires a little help from locals if you are not fluent with the language.  We purchased at the park and paid in cash.  The cost was 150GTQ pp. 

The park is open 6AM to 6PM. We arrived at 6:00 and there were already about 50 visitors in front of us waiting for the cashier to arrive.  Their tour guide asked them to purchase the on-line ticket after waiting around 15 minutes.  Fortunately the cashier arrived when most of them were done purchasing their tickets.

With physical tickets on hand, we entered the park after being handed a speed control ticket that has our vehicles license number.  The park rangers stressed the 45 kph speed limit.  Hang on to this ticket as you will need to surrender it when exiting the park.

It took around 20 minutes to drive the 17 kms between the park entrance and the Control Point parking area.

Park Map

Posted park map after the Control Point

The Control Point is where we showed our tickets so the park ranger can put on the wrist bracelet.  We bought a park map from the ranger.  It was a folding map that is about 2 feet x 3 feet.  It has photos of most of the ruins with a brief description in Spanish and English.  The cost was 25GTQ.

A park map is a necessity.  You can dowload the park map at (this map also shows the other Mayan ruins park that are accessible by 4X4).  There is also a park map posted on the trail a couple  of hundred feet from the Control Point.  You can take a photo of this map as well if you do not want to buy the paper map.

Walking times between ruins are shown on the map. Not shown are the difference in elevation between ruins.  The walking times are generous in our opinion.

Walking Route

We ran into a park ranger at the first ruins which was Complejo Q.  His recommended route was (see map above):

1.  Complejo Q (15)
2.  Complejo P (14) and Zona Norte (27)
3. Templo IV (9)
4. Palacio Los Ventanas (26)
5. Mundo Perdido (2)
6. Siete Templos (3)
7. Temple V (10)
8. Gran Plaza (1) – Acropolis and Plaza Complex
9. Grupo G
10. Templo VI (11)

Not worth seeing are the following (in our opinion):
Acropolis Sur – reclaimed by the forest
Groupo F – reclaimed by the forest.  Nothing to see.
Temple 3 – though the tallest temple, its base is covered by trees that obscures the view.  Climbing is not allowed.
Temple 6 – the furthest temple.  Climbing is also not allowed and there are trees growing on its base obscuring any photos taken.

Must Not Miss

In our opinion, Mundo Perdido and the Central Plaza should not be missed. The temples at both locations can be climbed except for Temple 1.  Also, there are other ruins that are nearby.

Guided Tours

There are two ways to be on a guided tour.  One is to purchase a tour through one of the tour group companies in town of Flores.  This include transportation and a guide while exploring the park.  The other way is to hire a guide at the park.

Tour Groups

A fellow traveler we chatted with in Antigua said they were able to book a tour from Tikal VIP Tours in Flores for $140 USD pp.  When we went to their website, the cheapest we found was almost $200 USD pp.  This was far too expensive compared to renting a car and hiring a guide at the park.

Hiring a Park Guide

We were approached by guides at the park entrance.  They were wearing IDs and a brown uniform.  They also have a stand on the side of the road before the park entrance that says “Guia” which means guide.

There are also guides at the Control Point.  They were not wearing any uniforms but had IDs around their necks.

I asked the guides at both locations.  One said his rate was 300GTQ and the other was 350GTQ.  These rates are per person and they want at least three people.  Certainly, there would be some negotiation.  They said the guided tour would last about four hours. 

Since it took us about 6.5 hours to see most of the ruins in the park, we think that a guided tour would either be hurried or would not go to all the ruins.  If we had hired a guide at the park, it would have been $200 less than signing on with a tour group plus we had a car for three days.

Other Means of Getting To The Park

We saw collectivos driving inside the park. Collectivos are 15 passenger vans.  Some have a roof rack and a ladder on the side to get to the roof rack.  We do not know how often they run or where they come from.  Better research them thoroughly if you are going to go this route.

Tour company vans and buses have “Turismo” painted on the vehicle’s body.  Collectivos do not have any signs painted on its body.

Where to Eat in the Park

There are places to eat inside the park and at the park entrance. They were still closed when we arrived at 6 AM.

There is a restaurant and a comedor by the Control Point.  We went to the restaurant which is just across the Control Point.  There are souvenir shops there too.  We thought the restaurant menu was a little on the high side (10 to 20 more) compared to restaurants in Flores and El Remate.  Plus they tack on an automatic 15% gratuity.  Expect to spend between 100 to 150 GTQ pp.  They do accept credit card payments, provided the card reader is working.

Across the Control Point parking lot is the comedor.  It is not as fancy as the restaurant as it has tables with umbrellas.  Perhaps the comedor would be the cheaper option.

Another place to eat is at the restaurant by the park entrance. You will have to drive twenty something more minutes to get there to eat after the long walk.

Yaxha National Park

View of Acroposlis Norte from its highest scructure


The park’s name is pronounced yas-ha according to the park ranger.  The park also has several restored Mayan temples though not as many and not as high as Tikal.  The park is more compact and can be walked within three hours.

Getting to the Park

It is an hour drive from El Remate to the park.  Road goes through some villages where there are “tumulos” or speed bumps.  Some are striped and some are not.  Better slow down when approaching a populated area so as not to inadvertenly send your rental vehicle flying.

Keep your eyes on the road at all times too.  Every once in a while we encountered a deep pothole.  We drove slow enough to avoid them.  Deep potholes may damage the tires and give you a flat tire.

There is an 8 km compacted dirt road between the main highway and the park entrance.  Then it is another two kilometers of dirt road to the visitor parking area.  We rented a Toyota Aygo and it made it without any issue though we had to keep our speed under 30kph.

There are no collectivos that go to the park, according to the park ranger.

There are no restaurants in the park.

Purchasing Park Entry Tickets

On-line ticket purchase was not available at the time.  Park entry tickets can only be bought at the park entrance. We had to fill a paper survey first before we could purchase the tickets. Entry tickets are issued as duplicates, separated by a perforation. One ticket is for the the visitor while the other is torn away by the park ranger at the visitor parking area. We paid cash and got a wristband as well.

The park opens at 8 am.

Exploring the Park

Park map at the visitor parking area

We were the only park visitors when we arrived at 8:15 AM on a Sunday.  The ranger said that it was still early and perhaps locals were staying at home because it was a Sunday. We roamed the park for at least two hours before we ran into other visitors.

There is a large colored map by the visitor parking lot.  We took a picture of it and it served as our guide.  The park do provide a printed map but the prints are so small that it becomes useless.

The nice thing about Yaxha is that it is more compact and has a recommended route.  We just followed the directional arrows on the posted map to see the different ruins.

Plaza de los Pajaros (9) has been reclaimed by the forest. We only saw mounds with trees. Twin pyramids (12) have also been reclaimed by the forest.

It is not worth the effort going up the stairs to the Mirador (not shown on the map but you will see it while walking towards Acropolis Norte (8).  The mirador is within the tree line so it does not provide a commanding view.  Better save your legs for climbing Temple 216.

Less Visitors

Yaxha receives less visitors than Tikal.  We only saw four other private vehicles and three tour buses parked the parking area when we got done at around 11 AM.

If we were going to do it again, we would probably do the recommended route in reverse.  This way, we would see Temple 216 first which is the highest temple in the park.  The temple is above the trees and provides a nice view of the lake and mountains.  It was just so peaceful being up there when we had the place to ourselves for about 20 minutes.

Stairs to the viewing platform on Temple 216
At Temple 216’s viewing platform

Tour Guides

There were no guides waiting at the park unlike Tikal.  You would have to sign-up with a tour company to have a guide.

Other Tikal and Yaxha Tidbits

Howler monkeys were loud in the morning at both parks.

No drones are allowed at both parks. 

Watch where you are stepping, especially in Tikal.  There were animal excrement in some places.

Bring your steel knees and good walking shoes.  There are a lot of stairs to climb to get on top of the ruins.

In Tikal, if we were going to do it again, we would head first to the Main Plaza so there would be less people early in the morning.  We would also purchase the ticket on-line prior to going to the park to get a head start. In some maps, Group G is referred to as Las Acanaladuras.

Trails are covered by the forest so there are lots of shade even at high noon. Still hot and humid though.

According to a fellow tourist, she was going to Belize from Flores. So there must a shuttle to cross the border. Inquire with the tour agencies in Flores.


Guatemala is home to several Mayan ruins.  Two of the most accesible are Tikal and Yaxha National Parks.

Tikal National Park is a large park with many restored Mayan temples.  Some of the temples are above the treeline and can be climbed.  It sees a lot of visitors as well.  Guides can be hired at the park and costs a fraction of the price charged by tour companies.  You just have to take care of your own tranportation.

Yaxha National Park is a little difficult to reach compared to Tikal as it is not as popular and involves driving on 10 kms of dirt road.  But its unpopularity is what appeals to others as there are less visitors. The ruins may not be as impressive as Tikal but still awe inspiring nonetheless.  Plus you may get the opportunity to have the park to yourself, except for the loud howler monkeys.

Regardless of which park you visit, you will be left in awe and be puzzled on how these magnificent structures were constructed using ingenuity, perseverance and pre-historic tools.