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Tikal National Park

From Belize to Guatemala’s Tikal National Park: Crossing Borders and Unearthing Mayan Sites

Gary Peterson leaves his Caribbean coastal home for a trip to inland Belize and a hop across the border into Guatemala to visit the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal National Park. 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.

Many travelers come to Belize for its beaches, climate, snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities, and laid-back lifestyle. Another reason to visit this small country is its rich Mayan history.

I was recently in San Ignacio, near the Guatemalan border—a place I had visited before but felt warranted further exploration. San Ignacio is a perfect base for exploring Mayan ruins. You’ll find many sites scattered around the jungles of Cayo District. It’s also an starting point for excursions into Tikal National Park in Guatemala, a World Heritage Site and home to the most famous Mayan archeological site of all.

I stayed at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, my ever-favorite San Ignacio hotel. The staff are friendly and the location is perfect helpful. There’s an excellent restaurant and I love the pool there.

But my objective here was to visit Tikal, not hang poolside, and this is where my adventure began.

From Belize to Guatemala

A local travel and adventure company, Mayawalk Tours, picked me up from the hotel the day after I arrived and took me to the border. When we arrived, to my surprise, the guide said he would escort me across meet my Guatemalan tour guide. I had assumed I would have the same guide throughout the day.

Belizean tour guides can’t conduct tours on the Guatemalan side of the border, he said, while Guatemalan tour guides can operate on the Belizean side. He didn’t know this was.

That all said, I was interested in how my unscheduled Guatemalan guide would fare. It’s worth noting that I had researched various guide companies and read reviews before making my choice, all without knowledge of the impending guide switch.

Once the Belizean guide accompanied me across the border, I met my Guatemalan guide, who came across as friendly and exceptionally knowledgeable—an understatement, as I would soon discover. After about an hour’s drive, we arrived at Tikal National Park.

Inside Tikal National Park

Upon parking in the lot at the park’s entrance, there were no immediate signs of ant ancient ruins. However, I quickly learned that we needed to hike some twenty minutes along a trail to reach them.

Our initial encounter with a Mayan temple proved intriguing, as we had to carefully scan the hill covered with vegetation to identify the ancient stones atop it. As we approached, the sight of a massive Mayan temple through the trees up ahead filled me with awe.

My guide had an impressive grasp of the history and layout of Tikal. Instead of following the typical route taken by most guides, he led me on shortcuts along small trails, saving valuable time and allowing us to explore most of the significant sites in a single day. Keep in mind that Tikal offers enough to explore over two to three days, a plan I intend to pursue on my next visit by reserving accommodations within the national park itself.

Tikal’s climate can be sweltering, and ascending hundreds of steep stairs can take a toll on one’s body. I wisely brought my own water, but refreshments, including water, sodas, and the local favorite, Jaguar High Gravity beer, are available for purchase inside the park.

Back to Belize

The return journey to the Belize border and my hotel took approximately an hour and a half. On our way back, we made a stop at a roadside store that featured Guatemalan wood carvings and offered cold beers. Earlier in the day, we had paused here for coffee, and I had become enamored with a particular piece of art.

This stop resulted in a pleasant surprise, as I enjoyed a cold Jaguar beer—actually, two—and secured a better price on a “Mayan Gods Vessel,” which now graces my home.

Whether you’re visiting or living in Guatemala or Belize, a visit to the Tikal National Park is an unmissable experience, even if for only a day trip. The history here is fascinating. Perhaps the most thrilling revelation I gleaned during my journey was that the seemingly ordinary mounds hidden beneath overgrown forests are, in fact, Mayan structures covered by the jungle.

My guide said that countless more sites remain hidden in the rainforest, awaiting discovery, in both Guatemala and Belize. That means there’s plenty of time to discover a hidden Mayan temple holding evidence of alien encounters!

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.

Gary Peterson

Gary Peterson

Gary Peterson has traveled and written about many destinations worldwide. He’s written travel guides for Europe including Italy, France, and the Greek Islands. For the past few years, he’s traveled extensively throughout Central America, publishing two books on Belize. Gary lives on the Placencia Peninsula, Belize, where he continues writing about Central America and the Caribbean.