By Plane -- TACA Regional Airline (www.taca.com; tel. 502/2470-8222) has two daily flights to Flores Airport (FRS) from La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. Flights depart at 7am and 5:25pm, with return flights at 8:30am and 4:50pm. TAG Airlines (www.tag.com.gt; tel. 502/2380-9401) has one daily flight departing at 6:30am and returning from Flores at 4:30pm. The flight takes around 50 minutes, and fares range from Q1,575 to Q1,800 each way.
Tropic Air (www.tropicair.com; tel. 800/422-3435 in the U.S. or Canada, 226-2012 in Belize City, or 502/7926-0348 in Flores) has one daily flight to Flores Airport (FRS) from Goldson International Airport in Belize City, at 4:40pm. The flight returns at 8:30am. Flight duration is 45 minutes; it costs BZ$300 to Flores, BZ$190 from Flores, or BZ$445 round-trip. Leaving Belize, you will pay a departure tax that’s included in the cost of the plane ticket. Leaving Guatemala, there is a US$33 departure tax for international flights, which is paid at the airport after checking in but before going through security. Cash and credit card are acceptable.
The Flores airport is on the road to Tikal, about 2.4km (1 1/2 miles) east of Santa Elena. A taxi from the airport into Santa Elena or Flores should cost you around Q25.C ollective taxis and minivans to Tikal are usually waiting at the airport (if not you'll have to head into Santa Elena or Flores first). These charge around Q25 per person each way. If you take a public bus the fee will be about Q1. A private taxi can be hired for Q400.
By Bus -- Linea Dorada (http://lineadorada.info) has four busses daily between Guatemala City or Antigua and Santa Elena. They take roughly four hours, with fares of between Fares run between US$27 and $60. If you arrive by bus, you'll have to arrange a taxi, collective taxi, or minivan ride out to Tikal.
From Belize City you'll need to take a bus to the Guatemalan border (about 4 hours), and then change either to a collective taxi or a chicken bus. The border is much closer from San Ignacio in Belize. We recommend the former, since the public busses of Belize can be very slow and don't go to Tikal (you'll have to get off nearby and flag down a collective taxi). From the border, a collective taxi will cost
Q80 to Q160 per person. Tip: If you're going just for the day, arrange a round-trip with your driver back to the border, with a set pick up time. It can be difficult to find a collectivo going back to the border at the end of the day.
By Car -- To drive to Tikal from Guatemala City, you must first drive to Santa Elena. The best and fastest route is via Río Dulce. Take the Carretera al Atlántico (CA-9) out of Guatemala City to La Ruidosa crossroads at Km 245. From here it's 34km (21 miles) north on highway CA-13 to Río Dulce and another 180km (112 miles) from Río Dulce to Santa Elena. From Santa Elena, you'll need to drive 32km (20 miles) to the crossroads at Ixlú (El Cruce), and turn north toward Tikal, which is 65km (40 miles) away. The route and turnoffs are all well marked, and the drive should take about 8 hours.
Driving from Belize City, take the George Price (Western) Highway to San Ignacio, and continue on to the border town of Benque Viejo del Carmen. From Benque, follow the signs to the border at a bridge over the Mopan River, a little more than 1.6km (1 mile) out of town.
At the border crossing will be corralled by touts on the Guatemalan side offering all sorts of aid and services, and demanding all sorts of fees and duties. By law you are supposed to have your tires fumigated. This should cost only a U.S. dollar or two. You should not have to pay any additional fees. Whether you are driving your own car or a rental car, be sure to have all your current registration, title, and insurance papers.
Once across the border, follow signs out of Melchor de Mencos toward Flores and Tikal. It’s about a 1-hour drive to the crossroads at Ixlú, also known as El Cruce. If you are going to El Remate or Tikal, you will turn right here. If you are going to Flores or Santa Elena, you will continue on straight. From Ixlú, it’s about 25 to 30 minutes either way to Santa Elena/Flores or the ruins at Tikal. The entrance to Tikal National Park is located 18km (11 miles) south of the visitor center and true entrance to the ruins and its network of trails. Here you will have to pay the Q150 entrance fee. The entrance is open daily from 6am to 6pm. If you arrive after 3pm, tell them you plan to visit the ruins the following day, and they will stamp your ticket to that effect. If you plan to spend more than a day here staying at one of the hotels or campsites near the ruins, advise them and try to pay your entrance fee for subsequent days in advance, as sometimes they send people all the way back to the entrance gate to buy a subsequent day’s ticket.
If you’re traveling in a rental car, be sure that the company you rented from in Belize allows the car to cross into Guatemala. Crystal Auto Rental (www.crystal-belize.com) does, but you’ll need to get the paperwork prepared at least two days in advance, and your insurance will not cover you once you’re over the border.
Warning: It's strongly advised that you do not drive at night. It's a sad fact that armed groups occasionally set up roadblocks along these isolated, yet frequently trafficked, roads. While this is a rare occurrence, it's better to be safe than sorry.
By Organized Tour -- Organized day trips leave daily for Tikal from Guatemala City and Antigua. Costs for these all-inclusive trips are approximately Q1,875 to Q2,625 per person including round-trip airfare, ground transportation, park entrance fees, a guide, and lunch. These tours generally leave at around 5am and get back to Guatemala City or Antigua at around 6pm. Budget an additional Q375 to Q1,125 per person per day for multiday excursions, depending on the level of accommodations chosen. In Guatemala City, contact Clark Tours (tel. 502/2412-4848; www.clarktours.com.gt), or Via Venture (tel. 502/7832-2509; www.viaventure.com).
Organized day trips also leave daily for Tikal from Belize City, San Ignacio, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Placencia. Costs for these all-inclusive trips are approximately BZ$200 and BZ$400 by land (from Belize City, or any of the other major tourist destinations in Belize), depending on group size. Budget an additional BZ$100 to BZ$300 per person per day for multiday excursions. In Belize City, call Discovery Expeditions (tel. 671-0748; www.discoverybelize.com) or S & L Travel and Tours (tel. 227-7593; www.sltravelbelize.com). In San Ignacio, you can call Pacz Tours (tel. 824-0536; www.pacztours.net) or Yute Expeditions (tel. 824-2076; www.inlandbelize.com).
By Taxi or Minivan -- If you don't have a car, the best way to get around this area is by minivan. Minivans from Flores and Santa Elena to Tikal leave roughly every hour between 5am and 10am, and less frequently thereafter. These minivans leave from Tikal for the return trip roughly every hour from noon to 6pm. Every hotel in Flores and Santa Elena can arrange a minivan pickup for you. The trip usually takes an hour and costs Q25 and Q50 per person each way. You can buy a round-trip fare at a slight savings; however, this commits you to a specific minivan company, and I've found I prefer paying a little extra to have more flexibility in grabbing my return ride when I'm ready to leave.
A private cab (which is usually a minivan) from Tikal to Santa Elena/Flores will run around Q250 to Q400 each way. Between Tikal and El Remate (later in this chapter), the fare is about Q150 to Q200. Be sure to bargain, as the first price you are quoted is almost certainly above the going rate and subject to some negotiation.
By Car -- There are several local car-rental agencies at the airport. Of these, a good choice is Tabarini Rent A Car (tel. 502/7926-0253; www.tabarini.com). All rent small jeeps and SUVs. Do get a four-wheel-drive vehicle; even though you may never need the traction or off-road ability, the extra clearance will come in handy. Rates run from Q300 to Q410 per day.
Tikal National Park is located 65km (40 miles) north of the sister towns of Flores and Santa Elena. There is no village or town inside Tikal National Park. There is an entrance booth 18km (11 miles) south of the ruins. After paying your entrance fee and driving in, you will come to the large central parking area and visitor center. This is where you'll find the three hotels and campsite as well as the two museums, a collection of simple restaurants, and the trail entrance, from which the ruins are about a 15- to 20-minute walk through the forest.
There's a post office and telegraph office on the left as you arrive at the parking area. There's no bank or ATM in Tikal, and most of the little restaurants and gift stands only accept quetzales. While some of the hotels here do accept credit cards, the phone connections are spotty, and they sometimes have problems getting the authorizations, so it's best to bring quetzales to pay for your entire stay. Also, be sure to bring plenty of insect repellent with you -- the bugs here are rapacious.
Fast Facts -- There are no banks, medical facilities, laundromats, or other major services available at Tikal. All of these can be found in Flores and Santa Elena, some 65km (40 miles) away.
If you arrive by air, you can exchange money in the departure area of the small airport. The bank there is open daily from 7am to noon and 2 to 5pm. You'll also find individuals offering to exchange money (which is safe), but you're better off heading into Santa Elena or Flores if the airport branch isn't open. Most of the hotels and restaurants in Tikal, in fact, will exchange dollars for quetzales, though they may give you a slightly less favorable rate than you would get at a bank.