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The Ruins of Tikal - some of the grandest Mayan ruins on the planet
The ruins of Tikal are some of the grandest Mayan ruins on the planet. Due to their location in remote northern Guatemala, they are actually easier to access from Belize than from Guatemala City. And that is exactly what we did.
Drive to Tikal from Belize
The drive from Placencia to Tikal in Guatemala takes at least 6h, depending how much traffic there is at the border. Be advised that the border is not open all day, so it is advisable to start early in Placencia or to stay overnight at San Ignacio.
The road is paved on both sides of the border, but it often goes through rural villages where you will see people, pets and livestock on the roads. Please do not drive after dark. Roads are not lit at night so that it can be very dangerous for the driver and for pedestrians alike, especially considering that most people here have a dark skin and tend to wear dark clothes at night.
- to pay cash in Guatemala. Credit cards are accepted in hotels and some restaurants that other establishments that cater to tourists.
- that most people do not understand English
- that tap water is never drinkable in Guatemala; neither for tourists nor for locals. That also means that you need to be careful with ice for your drinks and you should not east the skin of any fruits or vegetables unless they are cooked. Purified water is cheap and easy to find. If in doubt, we always opt for beer.
What do you want to explore now?
Our Belize & Tikal Travel Guide has detailed information about the individual destinations, links to their locations in google maps, reviews and websites (if available).
Please see the Backpack & Snorkel Travel Store for more information.
Instructions to Cross the border between Belize and Guatemala
Crossing the border is a fairly complicated procedure. Make sure that you have enough cash on hand as nobody here accepts credit cards.
Please be advised, that the prices may have changed since I have written this and may now be higher.
Here are instructions to cross the border from Belize to Guatemala with a rental car from Crystal Car Rental
- Crystal will make copies of your passport and driver’s license and attach them to the paperwork that you will need to cross the international border into Guatemala.
- When you get to the border, park the car and walk into Belizean customs and immigration building.
- You can change money to Guatemalan Quetzales in front of the building at the main entrance door or at an officially licensed person who stands next to the first counter that you go to pay the departure tax.
- At the first desk show your passport(s) and pay US$20 exit fee and tax per person (BZE$30 plus BZE$7.50 plus BZE$2.50).
- Then you proceed to the next counter and get your passport(s) stamped.
- The passenger(s) proceed through the door at the end of the building and wait there for you, the driver.
- You, the driver, go back to the car and drive it through the checkpoint where a guard examines your passport for the exit stamp.
- You, the driver, then pick up the passenger(s) and drive through the disinfectant station (looks like a car wash).
- After the disinfectant station you must park the car and walk to the cashier’s station, give the cashier the license plate number of the car and pay the Q17 for the procedure. You will get an official looking document stating that your car was disinfected.
- Then you and your passenger(s) walk across the street to the Guatemalan open air immigration office.
- You can take either of the 2 lines (the right line is for locals only but nobody seems to care).
- You present your passport(s) and copies of the driver’s passport and driver’s license with the rental agreement that Crystal made for you to the officer. The officer will stamp them and hand them back to you.
- Then you go to the counter on the left and hand the officer your passport(s) (for all permitted drivers), the stamped copies of your passport(s) and driver’s license(s) and the disinfection receipt. The officer will then work on the computer for a long time and disappear for a few minutes. When s/he comes back s/he will ask you to sign 2 documents. The second document needs 2 signatures.
- You will take this second document to the cashier’s window near where the armed guard is standing and pay the Q160 license fee and get a receipt for that.
- You will then bring the receipt back to the other officer and s/he will give you a sticker that goes in the upper left hand corner of your windshield. The officer will intentionally nick one end of it so that you can later take it off easier.
- You are now free to leave and drive to the bridge. At the end of the bridge is a toll booth where you pay Q20. Keep the receipt as you will need it when you come back.
- Welcome to Guatemala.
This is a fairly complicated procedure. Chances are that there will be some kids that help tourists manoeuver the border for US$10 or so. Make sure to negotiate the price first.
Here are instructions to cross the border from Guatemala to Belize with a rental car from Crystal Car Rental
Again, make sure that you have enough cash on hand - prices may have changed since I have written this.
- We were stopped at the bridge where paid the Q20 the previous day. We showed the receipt from the previous day and were allowed to pass without paying.
- Behind the bridge you stop near the Guatemalan customs building and peel the car registration sticker off the windshield.
- Then you take either of the 2 passport control lines to get the exit stamp in your passport(s).
- Afterwards you go to the counter to the left, hand the officer the driver’s passport, the car registration sticker from the windshield and the document that you signed when you imported the car into Guatemala. Within 1or 2 minutes you should be good to go.
- Next, you drive your car through the disinfection station, park it close to the Belizean immigration and customs building and pay BZE$10 at the cashier’s booth behind the car disinfecting station.
- Now, you enter the Belize immigration and customs building. If you have lots of luggage and are parked close to the immigration and customs building, then you can leave your luggage in the car for now, otherwise bring it with you.
- In the Belize customs building you go to the second counter, show your passports and get the immigration form(s).
- You fill them out (as port of embarkation you can put down ‘Guatemala’) and return to the counter to receive your entry stamp.
- Now is the time to get ALL your luggage from the car if you don’t already have it with you.
- You proceed to customs behind the immigration counter where an officer will either wave you through or ask to check your luggage.
- Afterwards you exit the building and your passengers wait there.
- The driver holds on to his/her passport, goes back to the car and drives it through the checkpoint where an officer will ask if you have anything to declare and may decide to search the car.
- The driver then picks up the passenger(s) and that’s it.
- Welcome to Belize.
Hotel Las Gardenias (book)
We stayed in this hotel for one night on our way to Tikal. It is located on the road to Tikal in the small town of El Remate which is about 30min from the 1st entrance gate of Tikal. The hotel is also a travel agency and as such they offer organized tours to Tikal.
The hotel has a restaurant that accepts credit cards at no extra charge which we appreciated because we were running low on Quetzales. Breakfast was included in our rate and served in the restaurant. The included free breakfast consists of 1 cup of tea or coffee and one of the breakfast dishes on the menu that are priced at Q30 or below per person. The breakfast tasted very good and the amount was appropriate.
Our room was room 10 which is on the second floor. To reach it you go through a nice garden with tropical trees and carry your luggage up to the 2nd floor. The room was clean, but not much bigger than the 2 beds in it. There were 2 windows, a quiet and efficient A/C and a flat screen TV mounted to the wall.
The bathroom had a good size and a nice shower. Complimentary soap and liquid hand soap were provided. There was only 1 large towel when we arrived but that was quickly remedied by the hotel.
There is only space for 3 cars on the premises, which was sufficient when we were there. The restaurant staff spoke some English and the receptionists spoke very good English.
Long story short: This is a nice, clean and affordable hotel which lies within 30min of the first entrance gate of Tikal. Everyone who plans to experience sunset or sunrise at Tikal and self-drive to Tikal should be warned, there will be plenty of people (often dressed in dark clothes) walking or riding unlit bicycles on the streets after dark and there will be the occasional animal on the road. You may only see them when you are a few feet away and thus driving at night can be very dangerous.
Click here for the Tikal Travel Guide
Introduction to Tikal
More than 3,000 structures have been identified and it is possible that more than 100,000 people have called Tikal home during its heyday.
The pyramids are wonderful examples of ceremonial architecture and you are even allowed to get on some of the structures.
Tikal’s Central Plaza is the heart of Tikal. It is surrounded by two magnificent pyramids (Temple I & Temple II) and the impressive North and Central Acropolis. The most famous vista point, however is on top of Temple IV. Climb up this temple and see the dense jungle that reaches all the way to the horizon below you only to have its canopy penetrated by the occasional pyramid. This view so out of this world that it was even shown in Star Wars.
Other things to know:
- Guatemala and Tikal are on CST (Central Standard Time) and do not observe Daylight Savings Time. The current time can be found here
- Currency: Quetzal (Q) – today’s exchange rate can be found here
- Cash is king in Guatemala. Credit cards are often only accepted in hotels. We saw no ATMs and admission to Tikal was cash only. So, be prepared!
- Tap water is never safe to drink in Guatemala. Not for you and not for the locals.
- Language: Spanish
- Country code for phone calls: +502
- Internet: .gt
- Capital: Guatemala City
- Driving: right side of the road