Any backpacker will tell you that the best travel advice comes through talking to fellow travellers who have been there. And that’s exactly how I came across this gem of an idea -camping at Tikal. Sleeping in hammocks in the grounds of some Mayan ruins sounded like an epic adventure .
With a group of English medical students that I had commandeered as travel buddies, we set off from the Belizan town of San Ignacio. Crossing the border into Guatemala (without paying any fees, which I had read lots of tourists are conned into doing) we negotiated a taxi to squeeze the five of us in and take us straight to Tikal. It cost us 360Q for the taxi (about 2.5 hours). Had we not been traveling in a group it would have been a lot more difficult to get there cheaply. In the afternoon the only options are taxis or a public bus to Santa Elena (a larger town next to Flores) and then negotiating a taxi from there.
We arrived at Tikal just after 4pm which was perfect as tickets purchased after 3pm are valid for the next day. We approached the campground (clearly signposted) and in broken Spanish requested five hammocks for the night. While the man was busy hanging the hammocks (complete with mosquito nets) we left our valuables in a lockable shed and headed into the park for sunset. Officially the park closes at 6pm but we didn’t see any staff while we were there and we stayed until around 7pm. We did however see monkeys, wild pigs and an array of interesting birds.
Most of the structures can be climbed on and with not another person in sight we found a peaceful spot to watch the sun go down. Back at camp there were a couple of cheap restaurants where we were able to eat some basic local food for 20-40Q. We then had an early night in preparation for an early start to beat the crowds the next day. We opted not to go on the sunrise tour as this would have been an extra 175Q per person (100Q entrance fee before opening time and 75Q for the tour) but were up to enter the park at 6am.
Getting in before the tour groups meant we had around four hours to explore the park (and you need it!) without having to see more than a couple of other savvy travellers. The park and ruins are amazing and well worth a visit even if you don’t have the time to camp there.
By 11am, just as the hoards of people were arriving, we were ready to hit the road and got a shuttle (50Q pp) to the beautiful little town of Flores in time to enjoy the afternoon jumping into the lake from a rope swing!