Thinking what you can do in Tikal, Guatemala under 12 hours? If you’re in Belize and you have the freedom to move around the country with a car like we did, then Guatemala is going to be on your list.
Tikal National Park
The best place you can visit in Guatemala if you have a short time is Tikal National Park for these reasons:
- It is the closest significant tourist destination to the Guatemala/ Belize border
- You can cover the majority of the sites in the park in this time
- It is listed on the UNESCO heritage list
- This is achievable with public transport
- Time for getting processed at the Guatemalan-Belize border customs has been included in the 12 hours.
I was excited that Tikal, Guatemala was going to be one of our destinations on this trip. Guatemala is west of Belize, located in Central America. I was excited that Tikal, Guatemala was going to be one of our destinations on this trip. Guatemala is west of Belize, located in Central America.
Tikal is an ancient Mayan city located in the middle of the largest rainforest in Central America, with its area extending more than 580 km². It was declared ‘Tikal National Park’ in 1966 and became a protected site.
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It is one of the biggest Mayan sites Pre-Columbian times and some temples can be seen towering above the canopy of the rainforest. The Tikal Park dates back to 400BC and was high in activity between 200 AD and 850 AD.
Tikal is found on the list of Seven Alternative Wonders of the World and listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
When you get to the Park, there is an entrance where you will need to get off the vehicle you came in to purchase your tickets. Once you purchase the tickets, you can proceed to drive down further to another entry where they will register the tickets.
By this point, it was time to feed our 9 month old baby and two year old so we found a spot to mix some formula and change diapers.
While we were doing this, we spotted an animal in front of us in the grass, just nibbling away. We couldn’t work out what the animal was as it was brown in colour, resembled a mongoose to some extent and had a very long tail that was held straight up as the normal position. It was on its lonesome and we approached it as close as we could without disturbing it to show our little ones, but neither us of us knew what to call it.
A Coatimundi is from the raccoon family. It is found in large geographical areas covering anywhere from South America to the top of Mexico. In the last century it has moved into US and can be found in parts of Arizona (Source). A Coatimundi is an omnivore with its diet ranging from ground litter, fruits, large spiders, crocodile eggs, small birds and lizards.
It is a very intelligent animal with a keen sense of smell that assists in digging and unearthing invertebrates. The distinct upright tail mentioned earlier helps the Coatimundi with balancing itself. Its average weight is 4.5 kgs and is very active during the day and retreats to treetops in the night, which explains why we saw it in an open space in broad daylight.
Following that, we walked up the wide pathway towards the sites of Tikal ruins. You will find yourself walking through the middle of the jungle with dense foliage at times and other times uneven surfaces that turn your ankle the wrong way if footing is placed incorrectly, so appropriate shoes are definitely important for this journey.
On our way up, we heard a lot of shuffling high up in the trees. When we tried to take a look, it was hard to see anything as it was quite dense and the wind had picked up around that time so any specific movement was not easily obvious to track.
Earlier in the trip, when we were at Mountain Pine Ridge in Belize the owner at the accommodation told us about Howler Monkeys in the area and sounding like a couple of big cats mustering and coughing up furballs and swinging it at each other in a fight and the sounds we heard soon after were not far from that description.
At that time we weren’t sure what these monkeys were capable of and we picked up our pace to avoid a face-off with a group of these howler monkeys while we had two minis in tow and noone else in sight if the situation was to take a wrong turn.
As we hurried up the path, who should be bestowed upon with some good luck (bird poop) but my husband on the back of his elbow and soon after as we turned a corner on my left hip (don’t ask me how that aim was taken). To be honest at this point, I was counting my lucky stars that none had landed on our heads or hair as that would have been a lot of fun smearing it off for clean up while we were in the middle of the jungle.
There are a few ruins in this park and each one has its own story all relating to the Mayan period.
Toilets are available on the way to the ruins in an open area, which we took advantage of since this was the first opportunity we had for the day and it was 3pm by then.
Once we got to the ruins, each time at each place you wonder and imagine what it was like to live in this area and what life was like back then. The Mayans relied on farming and agriculture, but ceramics and pottery were also discovered in sealed chambers that date back to 700BC.
There are drawings on walls of structures that depict humans being disembowelled which leads to the thinking that human sacrifice was practiced as part of Mayan rituals.
This site was developed to the point that there was a hospital, sports stadium, school and a library of which only four books remain today.
To this day, noone knows what caused the demise of the Mayan civilisation but researchers are pinning it down to drought, deforestation and overpopulation which meant the resources from the jungle were no longer sufficient to sustain its people.
I was so amazed that we were able to capture some special photography with a backdrop of something that existed from 200AD. How often do we get to do something like that?
Catch a local bus
To include catching a local bus as one of the things to do in Tikal, Guatemala under 12 hours might seem counter-productive in a country when the locals speak only Spanish and the rest of us mostly only speak English, but catching and riding a local bus can really open your eyes to the people in Guatemala.
The trip takes about 2 hours one way, and there are multiple stops along the way. These spots have women who come up to the bus to sell food and souvenirs. There will be a stop at the T-intersection of El-Cruce where you will have to get off and wait for another bus to arrive and pick you up to head to Tikal.
Before we went, I read warnings on some online sites to be wary of Guatemalan people and to not expect people to help you when you need assistance, but I found this to be completely untrue.
Firstly, the shop assistants at the local petrol station immediately helped us when we asked about the bus after crossing the Guatemala-Belize border. Even though they didn’t speak a word of English, they still tried their hardest to communicate with us.
Secondly, when we were on the bus, a middle-aged lady helped carry a backpack on her lap for me on the bus, while I struggled to fit in the small seat carrying a sleeping baby and a backpack, sandwiched between two people while slouching over to the left to help accommodate the excess passengers on the door side on the right.
By the way, the bus will allow as many people inside the bus as space will fit, rather than the allowed capacity. For us, since this was a mini-van there were at least 4 people in excess, all crouched over the passenger seats.
Those locals love babies. 4-5 of them kept looking, cooing and making faces at our 9-month-old. They were also speaking a local language to our daughter and she was captivated. She just kept staring intently, like she understood every word and was processing all of their stories.
Thirdly, we almost got into the wrong bus (going in the opposite direction) on the way home, but a man stopped us and told us to wait for the next bus. Lucky he did this or we would have had to go back a long way in the dark too.
After we explored the park, we headed back quickly to make it back in time for the last bus departing the entry gate at 4.30 pm. We made it in time but this time the bus was already filled up to the front leaving only two seats. Lucky us! At least we didn’t have to stand.
With me carrying our eldest son and my husband carrying our daughter, we were all hot and sweaty from the swift walk back and they both drifted off to sleep. Who could resist sleep with the constant rhythmic bounce softened by the nestling in our arms and the whirring of the engine from the bus? It was the perfect white noise and rocking motion combination and we achieved it while we were on the road! There’s a travel hack that you can use on your next trip with babies!
That’s how we did Tikal, Guatemala in under 12 hours.
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Tikal National Park