All you need to know about visiting Tikal for kids

For a truly magical adventure in Guatemala with kids you must visit Tikal. Located deep in the jungle in the northern province of El Petén, this ancient Maya civilisation is the most impressive of Guatemala’s ruins and its most visited destination.

It’s believed that the Kingdom of Tikal was one of the most powerful and prosperous of the ancient Maya, dominating much of the Mesoamerican region (Mexico and Central America) in its heyday. At the height of its influence, Tikal covered an area of 576 square kilometres (222 square miles).

What’s most mind boggling about Tikal is that what you see today represents just a fraction of the original Maya city. So, if most of this ancient city has not been excavated yet, then surely there’s the possibility that you might just stumble across a hitherto undiscovered temple or mask or stela buried beneath the jungle canopy. Right?!

If you’re wondering what to expect at Tikal for kids then this post is for you. We visited with our three children when they were aged 18 months, 7- and 9-years old and it was the hilghight of our Guatemala family vacation.

Updated for 2021

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Tikal for kids
Amazing, mind-boggling Tikal


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A Tikal family adventure

Tikal for kids
Views from the top of Temple IV


Built over a period of 800 years, from 6th century BC to 10th century AD, the city was constantly evolving. In its heyday (around 700 AD), Tikal is thought to have had a population of between 50,000 and 100,000.

Evidence of a sports stadium, a school, a hospital and a library have all been discovered as have bedrooms and burial chambers. The Mayans started to abandon Tikal in the 9th century (around 900 AD) however. Although the exact reasons the city fell into decline are unknown, it’s thought that wars, drought, disease and over-farming may have contributed.

Tikal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Tikal for kids
Surveying the Tikal ruins in Guatemala


Although areas within the National Park have been cleared (the Grand Plaza for example) the majority of the site is thick jungle home to exotic birds, racoons, wild turkeys and Howler and Spider monkeys. The park is so vast, and the foliage so dense, that Tikal never feels that crowded even during peak periods.


Tikal for kids
The next Indiana Jones


How to visit Tikal

Tikal for kids
Views of the Grand Plaza in Tikal, Guatemala


Tikal National Park occupies some 576 square km. However, the part of interest to visitors are the great plazas and temples that have been uncovered and restored. This area covers around 16 square km.

Hidden within the park are some 3,000 to 4,000 buildings of which only 20% have been uncovered. In addition to the Grand Plaza, the city’s epicentre, there are six main temples (named Temple I to VI), three acropolises (North, Central and South) and seven twin pyramid complexes.


Tikal for kids
Can you spot the stone mask?

The Grand Plaza

Positioned between the Central Acropolis and the North Acropolis is the Grand Plaza, the heart of Tikal.

To the east is Temple I, otherwise known as the Temple of the Grand Jaguar (47m) and to the west is Temple II, also called the Temple of the Masks (38m). To the north, in between the two temples, is the Acropolis del Norte, an area with a number of smaller temples on platforms and large stone masks built into the walls.

Look out for the Maya stelae, tall stone shafts carved with figures and hieroglyphics.

If you take a guide, and I definitely recommend that you do, then they will show you the best spots for photos of the Grand Plaza too.


Tikal for kids
Looking out over the Central Acropolis in Tikal, Guatemala

The Central Acropolis

The Central Acropolis is where most tours start and was the former palace and residential area for Tikal’s elite. It’s a great place for kids to scramble around and explore, a maze of small rooms and courtyards. Get the kids to try and find the throne and bed chambers (and remember to mind your head!).


Tikal for kids
An ancient Mayan bedroom


Tikal for kids
Tikal is covered in dense jungle

Jungle trail from Temple III to Temple IV

From the Grand Plaza you can walk past Temple III (Temple of the Jaguar Priest) and along a narrow jungle path to Temple IV (The Temple of the two-headed snake). The jungle is so dense that you can’t see very far either side but this part of the fun!

Look out for the incredible twisted rope vines, giant mushrooms and “Faraway Trees”, the kind that Enid Blyton wrote about. No doubt your jungle walk will be accompanied by the sound of howler monkeys.


Tikal for kids
Views from the top of Temple IV in Tikal, Guatemala

Temple IV

At 70m high, Temple IV is the tallest temple in Tikal. From the top you can see Temples I, II and III punctuate the jungle canopy and then nothing else for miles. The views from here are simply spellbinding. Star Wars fans might recognise the view, it was used as a filming location for Yavin 4 in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.

Once upon a time, you had to climb the temple’s stone steps to reach the top. Today, however, there’s a safer set of wooden stairs at the back of the temple. At the bottom of the stairs is a shaded cabana with a drinks stall.


Tikal with kids 

Tikal for kids
Tikal in Guatemala

For kids, the site of this ancient Maya civilization is one big outdoor adventure playground. There are, however, a couple of things to be aware of:

  • Climbing temples: Climbing the temples that are open to visitors (not all of them are) involves a lot of steps. The highest temple, Temple IV, is accessed by a wooden staircase with railings, which makes it a lot easier and safer to climb. But be aware that there are no railings at the top of Temple IV so keep an eye on your kids.
  • Heat: We visited in December / early January when the weather is marginally cooler than at other times of the year. Much of the park is shaded but it can get very hot in the sun. Water is available at a handful of kiosks throughout the park. Mornings and evenings can be chilly so bring a jumper with you.
  • Toilets: There are toilets throughout the park.
  • If travelling with a toddler, forget the stroller and bring a backpack or baby carrier instead.
  • We had a guide courtesy of our hotel, La Lancha (see below). It’s absolutely worth getting a guide as they not only know the best routes but can point out all the places and tell all the stories that kids will love. If you don’t organise your tour through your hotel then I would recommend taking a look at these tours on GetYourGuide.


Where to stay in Tikal

Tikal for kids
La Lancha Hotel


Most visitors stay in a hotel in Flores, which is approximately a 90-minute car journey from the Tikal ruins. We chose instead to stay in La Lancha, a hotel located on the banks of Lake Peten Itza. La Lancha is approximately one-hour from Tikal.

This characterful hotel consists of 10 casitas built into the hillside and surrounded by jungle. The property is owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and has all the design flair of an award-winning movie mogul.

Apparently, La Lancha is the favourite of his properties (he also has hotels in Belize, Italy and Argentina) and we were lucky enough to meet him briefly while we were there!


Tikal for kids
Bedrooms at La Lancha hotel, owned by Francis Ford Coppola

The rooms enjoy lake views and there’s an open-air restaurant that serves traditional Guatemala food and a selection of wine from the Coppola winery.

There’s a pretty swimming pool and a lakeside pavilion from where you can jump into the lake. It’s simple but elegant and a wonderful place to stay with kids. One word or warning, however, there are a lot of steps to walk down (and then up) to get to the lake.


Tikal for kids
Wooden masks on display at La Lancha hotel near Tikal in Guatemala


Tikal for kids
The swimming pool at La Lancha hotel near Tikal in Guatemala


How to get to Tikal

If you hire a car at Guatemala airport it will take approximately 6.5 hours to drive to Flores and a further 1.5 hours to get to Tikal. If you’re short on time then the one-hour flight from Guatemala City to Mundo Maya International Airport in Flores is a great option. There are regular flights throughout the day.

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6 thoughts on “All you need to know about visiting Tikal for kids”

  1. Hi, did you have problems with mosquitoes at Tikal or your hotel? Babies can’t take anti-malarials. What did you do instead?

    1. Hi, no we never had any problems with mosquitoes, we just used mosquito spray and that was fine. We’ve lived in a lot of countries where mosquitoes are prevalent (including India where things like Dengue fever were an issue) and I’ve always just covered my kids up. My youngest was 20 months when we went to Tikal and he was OK with just using bug repellent. I hope that helps!

  2. would you recommend staying in Tikal park? The lodging you mentioned isn’t available with our dates unfortunately.
    We will be traveling in early April with a 2.5 year old and 8 month old and coming in from Belize and planning on staying 2 nights somewhere in Guatemala to do Tikal.
    Thanks for any tips or advice!

    1. Hi Renee, I’m not sure what hotels are like in Tikal park itself. Have you looked at Flores? I know there are a lot of hotels there and some of them look good for families. I’m sorry I don’t have any personal recommendations!

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