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10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Tikal in 2021

5 Things to Know Before Visiting Tikal Guatemala in 2021

When we embarked on our ambitious 2-month journey through Central America in early 2021, we knew things wouldn’t be exactly as before. Our experience in Tikal was the perfect example.

Once a fully-functioning megapolis of over 200,000 people, Tikal is amongst the most impressive work from the Maya era. And it alone is a good enough reason to visit Guatemala.

Though our experience didn’t go as planned, we still managed to fully enjoy the vast beauty of Tikal. Here’s how we adapted and what you should know before your visit to Tikal in 2021.

In This Article:
Getting Tikal Tickets in 2021
Tikal Hours in 2021
The Crowds Are Back!
Buying Tikal Tickets Online
Tikal Pre-Sunrise Tours in 2021
Sanitary Measures in Tikal
Getting to Tikal, Guatemala in 2021
Can You Climb the Temples in Tikal?
How to Enter Guatemala Without a Covid Test
Best Places to Stay Near Tikal

#1) You Can Only Get Tikal Tickets At the Entrance

This was something that we learned, unfortunately, after passing through the main gates. How did this happen?

Well, we wanted to be at the park at the crack of dawn. So we smartly (or so we thought) planned to stay overnight at the Jungle Lodge in Tikal. It’s basically a fancy hostel situated at walking distance from the park.

Our flight arrived in the evening, so we made the drive up around 9PM. The drive was nice, and about half of it is in the jungle reserve past the Tikal security gate. The gate officer was very friendly and just needed to check our reservations at the hotel. Nothing else was mentioned.

Tikal Guatemala tickets in 2021: must buy at the main entrance.
If you make the same mistake we did, it’s a 20+ minute drive to and from the main Tikal ticketing office.

The next morning, we got up nice and early and headed for the park. At the entrance, the guard sent us to another booth. We thought that they’d have tickets there. We thought wrong. It was the “bracelet” stand.

The bracelet stand worker sent as back 18km to the entrance. 18km takes a long time when the limit is 35km/h. It takes longer when you have to do it twice.

When it was all said and done, we were way past sunrise. So try and plan ahead. I’m not even sure you can buy tickets after 5PM, though sometimes the Tikal Lodge has extra tickets. In our case, they did not….

#2) Tikal Hours Are Different Than Before

Tikal Guatemala hours in 2021
Tikal’s hours of opening aren’t what they used to be. They’ve been reduced for 2021.

The hours are now 6AM-5PM. This presents an issue for buying tickets, especially since it can’t be done online anymore. I have NO clue why.

If you’re flying up, book a morning flight. If you’re taking a bus, take an overnight bus that arrives in the morning.

#3) Crowds Are Returning, Especially Locals

It’s BUSY. I mean it.

An interesting phenomenon that has been occurring because of Covid-19 is people exploring their own countries. It makes sense for those who aren’t savvy or the travel restrictions.

This means that locals are flocking to the sites they normally wouldn’t have the chance to see. It’s actually kind of refreshing to be surrounded by locals enjoying their own country. Just be aware of it.

For this reason, I recommend starting as early as possible. I noticed the crowds starting to enter by the flock as we were leaving, right around 10-11AM.

#4) You Can’t Get Tikal Tickets Online in 2021

Unfortunately, your options for buying tickets are pretty limited; go the main ticketing office or hope for your hotel to have some leftovers.

From the Tikal National Park website. Read: “as of today, you can’t purchase tickets online.”

At the dawn of Covid-19, Tikal shut down completely. Well, for the second time since the Mayans were pushed out. When the park was re-opened, the option to purchase Tikal tickets online did not return. I guess they want to be truly authentic to the technology levels of the Mayans.

This pared with the limited hours of the ticketing office may mean you need to plan ahead. Staying an extra day is the best way to ensure you will get to see everything.

#5) It May Be Harder to Start Pre-Sunrise Tikal Tours

Temple V, Tikal, Guatemala. Photo: Arian Zwegers.

Ah, the joy of waking up before everyone else. Except for 75% of the animals here, who are mostly nocturnal. Pre-sunrise tours are a great way to see the Temples shine and twinkle under the light of the full moon, take those amazing long exposure nighttime shots, or just enjoy the park with peace and quiet.

There’s just one holdup: pre-sunrise tours require special tickets – tickets you have to purchase ahead of time, and as you now know, not online.

Once again, make sure to plan ahead. Stay 2 or 3 nights to maximize your potential. The Tikal Jungle lodge is optimal since you are right next to the park, and can return for a nap without having to drive an hour back to town!

#6) Social Distancing, Mask Wearing, and Sanitary Measures Are in Place

I’m not sure the Mayans could have predicted this one….

Though Tikal is an outdoor sanctuary, Guatemala takes health and safety very seriously. Get ready to throw on hand sanitizer 3 times or so before entering the park. Masks are required, even outdoors, though they are loosely enforced once deep in the park.

Bring a comfortable face mask that you can wear in the heat. Cloth masks may not be the way to go here – I recommend medical masks.

#7) Shuttles and buses to Tikal are running, but less frequently in 2021

Try grabbing a chicken bus up to Tikal for a more authentic Guatemalan experience! They are running in 2021.
Try grabbing a chicken bus up to Tikal for a more authentic Guatemalan experience! They are running in 2021.

We’ve encountered this issue SO many times in our travels across the world during the pandemic. Shuttles and buses aren’t running anywhere near their normal schedules. Worse yet, many of their websites haven’t been updated since the beginning of the pandemic.

Our recommendation is to call/contact the bus and shuttle companies directly. If you’re not able to reach them, contact hotels and hostels in the area – they’ll usually have the latest information.

We personally took a flight on TAG Airlines up to Flores (FRS – Mundo Maya International Airport) and rented a car. It was more expensive, but it maximized our time at Tikal and minimized our chances of getting stuck.

#8) You can’t climb the main acropolis of Tikal

5 Things to Know Before Visiting Tikal Guatemala in 2021
5 Things to Know Before Visiting Tikal Guatemala in 2021

In the past, it was possible to take awe-inspiring pictures from the top of the Acropolis – the main square of Tikal. Nowadays, you still can!

You just can’t climb the actual temple. There are stairs and a viewing deck on the northern Temple of the Acropolis – which is where I took the above picture. So while you can’t climb the Temples in Tikal in 2021, you can still attain the same gratifying views of the amazing complex.

9) It is possible to enter Guatemala without a Covid test in 2021

If you’re vaccinated, you can enter Guatemala without even needing a Covid test! Covid survivor? You too can enter Guatemala without a Covid test – as long as you meet these restrictions.

The full entry requirements for Guatemala are very easily to find and even easier to accomplish.

10) Where to stay near or at Tikal in 2021

Though we enjoyed the Tikal Jungle Lodge in early 2021, especially for its ultra-convenient location, we highly recommend opting for a more expensive room with a private bathroom.
Though we enjoyed the Tikal Jungle Lodge in early 2021, especially for its ultra-convenient location, we highly recommend opting for a more expensive room with a private bathroom.

You basically have two choices: staying close to Tikal (not as much to do, less food, but closer to the main attraction) or down in Flores (bigger city, on a beautiful lake, lots of food).

In Flores, our favorite hotel is the Bolontiku Botique Hotel. This 5-start hotel integrates naturally into the jungle, providing a quiet stay on the shore of a mystical Lake of the Itzá.

For Tikal, there isn’t much choice. That being said, you won’t go wrong with the Jungle Lodge Hotel and Hostel. It’s pretty basic – but it still has everything you need.

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