Tikal is a phenomenal park, but for many families with small children visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site seems intimidating. Perhaps it’s the sheer amount of walking and climbing. Maybe it’s the journey into Guatemala. Or possibly the thought of spending hours in the hot Central American sun with a little one in tow. But, having visited the famous Guatemalan national park with our then 16-month-old daughter, I will tell you experiencing Tikal with a baby or toddler is definitely doable.
Tikal with a baby or toddler: What you need to know
Tikal is in eastern Guatemala in the state of El Petén. It is approximately a two hour drive from the Belize border. If you are planning a visit to Tikal while vacationing in Belize, we have written a step-by-step guide to crossing the Belize/Guatemala border to make it easy for you. Flores is the closet city to Tikal. It is about a 30 minute drive from the park. You can take a guided tour from Belize, but it is just as easy to drive yourself to the park. We drove because we didn’t want to share a minivan with others who might not enjoy our toddler if she cried. Plus, a self drive allowed us the freedom to stop when we wanted and be on our own time table.
The park itself is massive. There are approximately 222 square miles of jungle surrounding the ancient Mayan City within Tikal National Park. But don’t let that discourage you from visiting Tikal with a baby or toddler. The actual excavated site is much smaller and easy to hike. Much of Tikal remains unearthed. But the parts that have been restored consist of nine plazas. There are 5 big temples in the park, including two that face each other in the Grand Plaza.
One of the most impressive and tallest structures is 230 feet high. The views above the canopy are spectacular. You can access the top by a staircase on the backside. To get to the top would be the equivalent of climbing about 4-5 flights of stairs. So if you are in good enough physical shape and have a baby carrier or hiking backpack, then it wouldn’t be that hard. However, I wouldn’t recommend letting young children or toddlers climb the temples without at least holding an adult’s hand. A slip could be very dangerous! Your other option, if two adults are traveling together with children, is to climb the temples separately. My husband stayed below and let our toddler run around while I climbed the temple.
Besides the tallest temple, you can also climb one of the temples in the Grand Plaza by staircase. It is approximately three flights of stairs to the top.
Getting around Tikal with a baby or toddler
There is a great deal of walking required inside Tikal. In fact, to see everything, you will likely walk about four miles. From the parking lot, there is a short route that is slightly uphill that is about an hour walk to the Grand Plaza. There is a longer, flatter route you can take that goes by some of the other ruins, but it will take an extra thirty minutes.
In all, we were able to see most of the temples and ruins in about 4 hours. We let our little one have some time to run around in the Grand Plaza, as well.
Much of the hike is under a canopy of trees, and if you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of the monkeys hanging out above you. The shade is a welcomed relief from the hot sun and helps to keep things relatively cool.
You will definitely want to bring some water for you and for your baby. And while I let my daughter explore openly, keep in mind Tikal is in a jungle, so beware of insects, wildlife, and other possible dangers associated with the environment.
Also, you are allowed to climb some of the ruins, but others have signs specifically stating not to. Please respect the park and the Mayan culture, by keeping your little climber off areas they shouldn’t be.
To get a guide or to not get a guide
Everything I have read said that the guides are worth the cost. I think it was approximately $60 for the two of us if we wanted a guide. As much as I really wanted to know everything about the park, we opted not to take a guided tour. We weren’t sure how our daughter would do on the long walk, even in the carrier, and wanted to be able to move about at our own pace. Fortunately, she did great and could have probably handled the guided tour just fine. So really it is up to you.
You will learn so much more about the Mayan culture, this ancient city, and the significance of each of the ruins you will see there, if you get a guide. There are a few signs up throughout the park that give some information, but not near as much as you would get if you take a tour.
Other important information before visiting Tikal with a baby or toddler
- There are a couple of restrooms and drink stations where you can purchase water around the park. The drink stations, I believe, only take Guatemalan currency, at least one we stopped at did. The restrooms do not have toilet paper in the stalls. Instead, you need to grab sheets of toilet paper from a small dispenser near the door before entering a stall.
- There are two restaurants and a gift shop located near the parking lot. These are the only places you can buy actual food inside the park.
- The drive from the gate of Tikal National Park to the parking lot is about 20 miles. It is paved and well maintained the entire way.
- A child carrier is a must with a toddler. A stroller would work too on portions of the walk, but the paths are dirt, and many of them have makeshift stairs or branches in the way. A hiking backpack worked wonders for us. Ours has a nice canopy as well to protect our little one from the sun, even when there was no shade. I’ve linked to it here.
- It cost us approximately $20 (US) to enter the park. We paid in quetzales (Guatemalan currency.) Our toddler was free to enter.
- The park hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for visitors who do not pay for the sunrise/sunset package.
- There are some hotels located inside the park if you choose to do a sunrise package. We did not stay in them, so I can give my opinion on the quality or value.
- Besides bottled water, you will want to bring sunscreen, good walking shoes, sunglasses, bug spray and wear breathable, comfortable clothing.
- There are some great places for a picnic if you want to eat under the shaded trees in the presence of the ruins. This is a popular option especially if you are visiting Tikal with a baby or toddler. You can bring food into the park, and if your little one is mobile, he can play and explore around you while you eat.