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  • Writer's pictureDave Jackson

Visiting Tikal for sunrise, best time to visit Tikal Guatemala

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

If you are thinking of visiting Tikal for sunrise or want more information on how to visit and the best time to visit, hopefully, this post will tell you everything you need to know. We thoroughly enjoyed our Tikal Sunrise experience which you can also read about in this post.


Tikal Guatemala, visiting Tikal for sunrise
 

Table of Contents

Best time to visit Tikal

Best time of year to visit Tikal

Best time of day to visit Tikal

Sunrise or sunset at Tikal

What tickets do I need for Tikal?

How to buy tickets for Tikal National Park

Things to note when purchasing your Tikal National Park ticket online

Is it possible to visit Tikal without a guide?

Budget tour company for visiting Tikal

Total cost of visiting Tikal for sunrise

What is the bus to Tikal from Flores like?

Things to pack for Tikal

What to wear when visiting Tikal

 

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Our Tikal Sunrise experience


We were woken at 2 am by that familiar sound of the alarm clock on my iPhone. I’m not sure if it’s that I associate it with work but waking from a deep sleep with an alarm always gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach. On top of that, this alarm is at 2 am, I’m suddenly thinking the sunrise tour to Tikal maybe wasn’t the best idea! Eyes blurry and full of sleep, we get showered and dressed on autopilot, barely saying a word to each other. At least Becca thought to pack the daypack the night before!


We wander through the deserted streets of Flores, noting there were still plenty of signs that it was the early hours of a Sunday morning, as the street cleaners hadn’t been around yet. We make our way to the collection point for the tour. We exchanged a few pleasantries with fellow travellers in equally groggy states of mind, there will be time to make friends later.


After a bit of confusion caused by a couple of French girls not knowing they needed their tickets, we boarded the bus. It seems we were a late pick-up and so only the back seats were left. I give Becca a weak smile and we make our way to the back row.


Becca was nervous about the journey as some had reported the bus to be very bumpy. She put on her trusty pressure point wrist straps and settled in. Our journey into the park was a lot better than we expected & Becca managed to avoid feeling too sick, bonus!


Tikal Guatemala, visiting Tikal for sunrise

Upon arriving at Tikal we joined the queue eager to get into the park. I’m not sure what the delay was, maybe the guards weren’t awake yet, but it seemed to take an age to get into Tikal. When we arrived at the desk, we showed our phones with the tickets on, no need for passports, received our 2 wrist bands and we were in.


We were last to get into the park from our group and when we got through the gate it seemed our guide wanted to be on his way & had already started walking so we had to scurry along to catch up.


The walk through the jungle was amazing, partly helped that we were 15 paces behind the main group as it was pitch black apart from our head torch and the lights from the group ahead. Walking through the jungle to a chorus of crickets and the occasional bird of the night was kind of eerie. Becca said at one point, I hope that a puma doesn’t think about attacking as we would be its target walking along on our own!


The walk through the jungle to Temple IV took around 30 minutes, by this time the howler monkeys had started to rise and we felt the transition from noises of the night to the beginnings of the dawn chorus.


After climbing what felt like a couple of hundred steps we took our place to hopefully witness sunrise over Tikal.


I’m not sure if it was the delays getting into the park or the delays getting onto the bus but unfortunately when we arrived at the top of Temple IV not only were there already around 40-50 people there, but we had missed complete darkness and first light was already upon us. We were, however, greeted with the tree top shrouded in mist.


Tikal Guatemala peering through the trees, visiting Tikal for sunrise

Sitting atop the temple in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle is magical! Listening to all the different birds and the bizarre roars of the howler monkeys was wonderful. Someone close by us said that they used the sound of the howler monkey for T-Rex in Jurassic Park & you can really hear it!


We sat there everyone trying to be as silent as possible just listening as different elements of the forest came to life. The mist rolled in and out giving occasional glimpses of 3 other temples on the horizon.


Being there at that time 100% made getting up at 2 am and paying the premium on top of the normal gate ticket worthwhile. We didn’t get to see the sunrise over Tikal due to the mist, which apparently isn’t uncommon but listening to the jungle wake up was very cool. The tour should really be called ‘Tikal dawn chorus tour’! No one in our group was at all unhappy by the lack of sunrise, simply being serenaded by the jungle’s inhabitants was enough!


After witnessing the sunrise at Tikal our guide collected our group for a tour of Tikal. I use 'tour' in the broadest sense of the word, we did get a small amount of information but not very much. The tour guide did however usher us to all the main points of interest in our allotted time and allowed us to explore each area on our own.


Walking between the different temples and ruins on your own did allow you to let your mind wander, trying to picture what life would have been like during the time the Mayans inhabited Tikal. The reconstructed temples were impressive and you are able to climb quite a few of them which is cool but exploring the part uncovered, ruins were actually my favourite. It’s cliché to say it I know, but you really do picture yourself being on an Indiana Jones adventure. Or maybe swinging through the trees in a Tarzan movie, either way, you get the picture, it’s wild!


Best time to visit Tikal


Best time of year to visit Tikal

Tikal can be visited all year round. Guatemala's dry season runs from November to April with January to March being the quieter months for tourism. However, bear in mind it will be hotter at this time of year. Visiting at the end of March we expected it to be very hot and humid. It certainly wasn't cold but we were pleasantly surprised by how manageable the heat was and how much shade was provided by the jungle. We were out of the park by 11 am though, I imagine visiting after midday would be stickier!


Best time of day to visit Tikal

Visiting for sunrise or sunset comes at a premium and suggests these are preferable times to visit. The park is open to the public from 6 am until 6 pm so to visit for sunrise or sunset you can only do so on a guided tour.


Sunrise or sunset at Tikal


Well here’s the dilemma that we spent hours discussing. We eventually decided on sunrise, to save you a bit of time here is why we think visiting Tikal for Sunrise is the best time;


Pros

  • Visiting at sunrise you get to hear the jungle transitioning from night-time sounds to waking up, which is an unforgettable experience! It is also a noisier one than the jungle settling in for the night.

  • Visiting Tikal for sunrise & the rest of your tour in the morning is much cooler than the afternoon. For the sunset tour, you enter the part at the hottest part of the day. Sweating your socks off whilst exploring the Tikal grounds takes the glamour out of it a bit!

  • Experiencing the jungle for the first time in the dark adds to the mystical element. Turning a corner and suddenly seeing a huge temple in your head torchlight is quite breath-taking!

Cons

  • Here’s the big one, if you’re staying in Flores visiting Tikal for sunrise will mean a 2 am alarm!! We had to be at our pick-up spot at 2:45 am.

  • Sunset is likely to be clearer than sunrise. Most mornings are misty in Tikal & although it rains most afternoons in the rainy season it isn’t the same year-round. The morning we went was misty so there was no glow over Tikal but that didn’t stop it from being magical.

If you have unlimited money and time, the best plan would be to stay in the park for one night and do sunset and sunrise! If you buy the day ticket and sunset for day 1, as long as you visit the park after 3 pm your day ticket will be valid the next day after your sunrise tour. This way you can explore Tikal whilst it’s cooler the next day & get to experience both sunrise and sunset in Tikal. You will however need a guide for sunset and sunrise as you are not allowed to visit the park outside of 6 am - 6 pm without a guide.



What tickets do I need for Tikal?


There are 3 different Tikal National Park tickets for a trip, sunrise, day ticket & sunset. At first it may seem a little complicated but here is a quick run down to clear things up;

• Sunrise ticket – This ticket allows you to enter the Tikal National Park between the hours of 4 am – 6 am. The cost for this ticket is Q100

• Daytime ticket – This ticket allows you to enter the Tikal National Park between the hours of 6 am – 6 pm. The cost of this ticket is Q150.

• Sunset ticket – This ticket allows you to enter the Tikal National Park between the hours of 6 pm – 8 pm. The cost of this ticket is Q100


*If you enter the park after 3 pm your ticket will also be valid the next day. This is particularly helpful if you decide to stay inside Tikal National Park so you can enjoy sunset & sunrise without having to buy 2 daytimes tickets/running to catch the sunset or be ushered out at 6 am when you are still enjoying the sunrise.


How to buy tickets for Tikal National Park


It used to be the case that the only way to buy tickets for Tikal was to purchase the tickets at Banrural, which has branches all over Guatemala. The good news is that, although it is still the case that you can buy the tickets from Banrural, now you don’t have to. It is so much easier to buy your tickets online. Tikal National Park tickets can be purchased from boletos.culturaguate.com, just make sure to select the correct ticket/s.


Things to note when purchasing your Tikal National Park ticket online

  • You need to scroll past the tickets for Guatemalan nationals before you reach the part for foreigners. If you see sunrise/sunset Q20, day ticket Q25 you are not getting a bargain, you are buying a ticket you can’t use!

  • In all likelihood, you are doing a sunrise or sunset tour along with a day ticket. Select your first ticket & it will bring up your shopping cart. Once you see the tickets, click the small x in the top left corner. This will take you back to the list of tickets so you can buy your sunrise & sunset at the same time.

  • If you are purchasing for more than one person (I bought it for me & Becca), it only has the space for one name & one passport number. Enter the lead person's name and full details, then there is an ‘Additional Information’ section in which you can add the names and passport numbers of other people in your party.

  • Make sure the date on which you will enter the park is correct & complete the purchase with your credit card.

There is no fee for using the online service, so why not save yourself the hassle of going to the Banrural!


Is it possible to visit Tikal without a guide?


Yes, absolutely you can visit Tikal without a guide. There are stories of people getting lost and even people dying in the jungle. These are true, however, one German tourist who went missing and was sadly found 2 days later having died from heatstroke was actually on a guided tour but had gone off on his own to explore! You will be fine as long as you stick to the main paths, having an offline map like maps.me may be helpful just in case you stray, but it’s extremely unlikely. However, I wouldn’t advise visiting Tikal without a guide due to it not costing much more to have one and more importantly you can only visit with a daytime ticket (6 am - 6 pm) without a guide, so you wouldn’t be able to visit for sunrise or sunset. The sunrise over Tikal is what made our visit so wonderful.


Budget tour company for visiting Tikal


You will need a guide if you are going on a sunrise or sunset Tikal tour. We did ours through Los Amigos Hostel, the bus was comfortable and although the guide didn’t provide masses of information it was good value for money as it was so cheap! They charge Q130 for a daytime tour & Q100 extra for sunrise or sunset.


Total cost of visiting Tikal for sunrise

Tour with Los Amigos Hostel Q230

Daytime Tikal National Park Ticket Q150

Sunrise Tikal National Park Ticket Q100

Total cost Q480 (£49.80/$60)


What is the bus to Tikal from Flores like?


If you are joining a tour rather than public transport the journey was a lot better than we were expecting. Having read a few blogs in advance we were a little apprehensive, especially when we arrived at the bus to find that only the back row of the bus remained. Although the saying goes ‘cool kids at the back’ we try to avoid the back due to Becca going a little green at times when venturing on windy or bumpy journeys (she often wears her trusty anti-nausea wrist bands which seems to help a lot!).


The bus provided when booking through Los Amigos Hostel was a 30-seater bus. We were in the back seats on the way out and the front on the way back. Both seats were comfy & the journey wasn’t too bad at all. I would advise trying to get on the bus early if possible as although we were comfortable there were people who had to sit on those awful fold-down aisle seats with no neck support. I’m sure if you asked the people who ended up on them for an hour and a half may give a slightly different answer to the question.


Temple ruins through the trees - Tikal Guatemala, visiting Tikal for sunrise

Things to pack for Tikal


Water bottle and plenty of water - Even if you are visiting for sunrise it gets hotter as the day goes on. Tikal is in the rainforest so expect to get sweaty!


Insect repellent - Year round there are things in the jungle wanting to drink your blood! Yes, in the rainy season it’s worse but it’s a good idea to pack repellent containing Deet.


Sun cream - There is some tree cover when visiting Tikal however you will also spend a lot of time at the top of temples in the sun. The sun is hot in Guatemala so it’s a good idea to wear SPF 50+.


Sun hat - Even those with a full head of hair it’s a good idea to pack a hat to protect you from getting sunstroke. If you have a shiny dome it’s even more important!


Headtorch - Your guide will only bring a torch for themselves. By all means you can use your phone's torch but I prefer to have my hands free when walking along uneven ground in the dark.


Packed lunch - There is a cafe at the welcome centre but it is there to cater for tourists, so expect tourist prices!


Sunglasses - you only get one pair of eyes, don’t take them for granted. The sun can damage your eyes even when it’s weaker for sunrise and sunset. Make sure your sunglasses are Grade 3 plus.


What to wear when visiting Tikal


Trainers/walking boots - The temple stairs are uneven and so is the forest floor. Leave your flip-flops at home!


Lightweight clothing - It's a good idea to wear lightweight clothing like hiking T-shirts and trousers. Although you aren’t embarking on a multi-day hike the jungle is very sticky so moisture-wicking clothes are best!


Jacket or jumper - If you are going for sunrise it can get a little chilly sat on the side of Temple IV for an hour or so. Plus it can double as a pillow for your journey in and out of Tikal


We'd love to hear from you if you go to Tikal, to hear about how you found it too. Please drop a message in the comments at the bottom of the page. For more inspiration for your Guatemala visit see our other Guatemala blog posts.

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