Placencia resident Gary Peterson leaves his Caribbean coastal home for a trip to inland Belize and a hop across the border into Guatemala to visit Tikal. This article contains a link (or links) to Amazon, from which, as an Amazon Associate, this website will earn a small commission if you make any purchases. Some other links are also affiliate links, where we will also make a small commission if you purchase anything after clicking, at no extra cost to you.
Many come to Belize for the beaches, warm climate, excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, and laid-back lifestyle.
But another reason to visit this small country is for its Mayan history.
I recently spent time in San Ignacio on the Guatemala border, a location I visited before, but felt needed more exploration. San Ignacio is a perfect base for exploring Mayan ruins, with many sites scattered through the jungles of Cayo District. It’s also a great jumping point into Guatemala and the ruins of Tikal, the most famous Mayan site of all.
I stayed at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, a great decision. The staff was friendly and super-helpful, and the location was breathtaking.
The hotel restaurant was excellent as was the poolside service, which I found most relaxing.
But I came to visit Tikal.
A local travel/adventure company, Mayawalk Tours, who picked me up at the hotel lobby the day after my arrival. When we arrived at the Guatemalan border, the tour guide said he’d escort me across the border where I’d meet my Guatemalan tour guide, which came as a surprise. I assumed I’d have the same guy all day.
He explained that Belize tour guides cannot run tours on the Guatemalan side of the border, but Guatemalan tour guides can run tours on the Belize side. He didn’t know why.
On that note, I would soon find out how my Guatemalan guide, who I‘d not hired, worked out. Keep in mind I‘d researched the different guide companies, and read reviews before making my choice, without the knowledge that the guy I hired wouldn’t be my guide.
So once the Belizean guide escorted me across the border, I met my Guatemalan guide.
He seemed like a nice knowledgeable guy, which proved to be an understatement. After about an hour’s drive, we arrived at the Tikal National Park.
Parking in the lot at the entrance, there were no signs of ancient ruins. I soon learned we needed to walk about twenty minutes to them, on a trail.
Our first encounter with a Mayan temple was intriguing because you needed to search the “hill” covered with growth, before identifying the old stones on top.
Further in, I became excited with the view up the trail of a massive Mayan temple through the trees ahead.
My guide knew his history and layout of the Mayan site, and instead of following the normal path most guides did, he took me on shortcuts of small trails.
This saved time, enabling us to cover most of the important sites in one day. You could spend two to three days at Tikal with ease, which I will do next time. I’ll reserve a place and stay in the national park itself.
Tikal is hot and climbing hundreds of steep stairs can take its toll on your body. I brought my own water, but you can buy water in the park, and sodas and the local favorite, Jaguar High Gravity beer.
The journey back to the Belize border and onto my hotel took about an hour and a half.
On the way back we stopped at a roadside store offering Guatemalan wood carvings and cold beers.
We’d stopped here for coffee on our way in earlier and I‘d fallen in love with a particular piece.
This stop rewarded me with a cold Jaguar, actually two, and a better price on a “Mayan Gods Vessel”, which is now in my home.
A day trip to Tikal is one of many excellent examples of the Mayan culture available when visiting or living in Belize. The discovered history is fascinating and mesmerizing.
The most exciting fact I learned was that those large mounds of overgrown forest you pass are Mayan structures, hidden by the jungle.
My guide said there are many more sites hidden in the trees, yet undiscovered, in the forests of both Guatemala and Belize.
So there is still the chance of discovering that one massive Mayan temple containing proof of alien encounter.
Gary Peterson lives on the Placencia Peninsula, Belize, where he writes books about Central America and the Caribbean. Read more of Gary’s work on his blog.