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When planning your trip to Belize, do not skip over visiting San Ignacio in western Belize. Sure, it’s not the glamorous beaches, unbelievable snorkeling, and tropical paradise that most imagine when they picture traveling to Belize, but western Belize, and in particular San Ignacio, offer ancient caves where Mayan sacrifices took place, Mayan ruins, and simply a completely different, less touristy side of Belize.
One of the main attractions in western Belize, and all of Belize for that matter, is Mayan ruins. While there are countless ruin sites throughout Belize and Central America, Tikal is the absolute best place to see Mayan Ruins.
Luckily, San Ignacio is located on the far western edge of Belize, only about a 15 minute ride from the Guatemalan border, so a day trip to Tikal from San Ignacio is 100% possible and completely worth it.
If visiting Tikal is something you want to do when in Belize, don’t worry about booking everything in advance online as the place you are staying in Belize can typically book it for you at a slightly discounted price. Our Airbnb in San Ignacio got us a 10% discount on our Tikal day trip.
The tour companies in Tikal will have a guide drive you to the Guatemalan border and help you through border control. The cost of this is included in your tour price. You will also have the chance to exchange your Belizean dollars into Guatemalan Quetzals here. It’s probably a good idea to exchange a small amount of money ($5-10), even if you aren’t planning on buying souvenirs, because you might want to buy water or food as it can get very hot when visiting Tikal and you will be walking a lot.
Once you’re on the Guatemalan side of the border, a Guatemalan guide from a tour company that works with the Belizean company will pick you up. They do this because of a Guatemalan law where you need to use a Guatemalan tour company and guide. This helps them employ locals and keeps the money in their country.
After your Guatemalan guide picks you up, you will still have about 1.5 hours until you arrive at Tikal so sleep, relax, or strike up conversation with your Guatemalan guide!
After a total of about 2 hours driving and going through border control, you will finally be at the Mayan ruins of Tikal!
Tikal is the ruins of an ancient Mayan city in Guatemala and one of the largest uncovered Mayan sites. The earliest traces of life at Tikal date back to around 1000 BC, and the last inhabitants left around 900 AD. Its population ranged anywhere from about 10,000 to 100,000 people.
The Mayan civilization was one of the most advanced for its time. Seeing as though Tikal was built in the middle of a jungle away from any major water source, they needed to invent specific ways to collect rainwater for their people and plants in order to survive. They did this by specifically designing the cities to slope slightly to collect the rainwater and divert it using irrigation canals.
The Mayans in Tikal also built pyramids that corresponded with the sun’s solstices and associated growing seasons. When the sun changed and hit a different point on the pyramid, the seasons changed which meant it was time to plant, harvest, or grow different crops. Their innovation and inventions are what kept Tikal thriving for centuries.
During Tikal’s reign as one of the great Mayan cities, there were 33 rulers each of whom had their own structures erected in their memory. In total, there are about 3,000 Mayan structures in the Tikal National Park, but these are only a small number that have been unearthed. There are many more still buried or undiscovered.
While all of Tikal is an unbelievable sight and a must-see when visiting Guatemala and Belize, there are some of the ruins that you must absolutely see when visiting Tikal.
The Grand Plaza at Tikal is arguably the most visited area in Tikal and the most photographed. It’s the highlight of Tikal.
Tikal’s Grand Plaza is surrounded by Temple I, Temple II, the North Acropolis, and the Central Acropolis. If there is only one place you see in Tikal, visit the Grand Plaza.
Temple I is 154 feet tall and is also known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar. Visitors are no longer allowed to climb Temple I.
Temple II stands opposite of Temple I and is just a little shorter, standing 125 feet tall. It’s also called the Temple of the Mask. Visitors are allowed to climb up to a viewing deck on Temple II which has an incredible view of the entire Grand Plaza.
The North Acropolis and Central Acropolis surround the Grand Plaza on the other sides. You can walk around and explore both of them which contained living quarters, courtyards, and recreation areas in Tikal.
Temple IV is the tallest pyramid in Tikal at 230 feet. There is a great viewing deck near the top of it. It was also used as a filming location for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, where it was the planet Yavin.
From the top of Temple IV, you get one of the best views in Tikal. You can see Temple I, II, and III from here.
Mundo Perdido, or Lost World, is one of the oldest parts of Tikal and has been rebuilt many times throughout Tikal’s existence. The structure in Mundo Perdido are all in alignment with the sun, solstices, and equinoxes. It is incredibly remarkable to think that the this was able to be built this exact and precise so many years ago.
There is a pyramid in Mundo Perdido called the Great Pyramid that you can climb. It’s quite steep, but the view, like all in Tikal, is outstanding. The pyramid was originally built in 500 BC and stands 105 feet tall.
Temple III is also known as the Temple of the Jaguar Priest and stands 180 feet tall. It is very steep, and you cannot climb it. In fact, it’s so steep and covered by the rainforest that, while still impressive, it is difficult to see all of it from the base. It’s better seen from other viewpoints throughout Tikal. Temple III is also thought to be the tomb for the final ruler of Tikal.
Tikal is a must-do when visiting either Belize or Guatemala as it is one of the absolute best, if not the best, places in the world to see Mayan ruins. Plus, it is likely to be less crowded and overrun with tourists than in Tulum and Chichen Itza in Mexico…