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How to Get to Tikal

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I am hiding out at the gate to the Tikal archaeology site. I have mango pieces stuck in my teeth. This is not how I imagined going to this ancient Mayan city deep in the jungle of Guatemala.

The way here was easier than I could ever had anticipated as a kid when I would look over my Rand McNally Student’s World Atlas. I would pour over the maps of Central America and always have my glance halted at the pyramid spires of Tikal, which would rise out of the mass of green jungle as an illustrated aside. I had always wanted to come here, but always thought that I would have to do so with a pack on my back beating my way through the jungle depths on foot with a band of native. I knew little of tourism when I was a child.

So how do you get to Tikal, you may ask? You hop into a tourist shuttle bus like all of the other tourists. The Tikal archaeology park is easily accessed from Flores, Guatemala, and Flores is easily accessed from Guatemala City, Antigua, Palenque, or Belize. To do this you only have to walk down the streets and read the placards outside of all of the travel agents or go to the bus station and buy a ticket. Tourism makes things easy for tourists, as it is generalized that tourists are stupid, and need everything to be easy.

Now that I have rode out the easy road to Tikal, I have found myself hiding from the park rangers and wondering how I have gotten myself into my present predicament:

I heard that if you do not enter Tikal until after three o’clock in the afternoon you can also get in the next day on the same ticket. That is one and a half days of Tikal for the price of one. As it now costs over 20 US dollars to go to Tikal, I am going to put in my best effort to get my money’s worth. Therefore there is no way that I am going to enter the park before three. But this presents a problem, because I have already entered the park at noon and have found myself ankle deep in a Latin American twist of logic. You see, they put up this gate that says TIKAL on it 15 km from the actual gates where you pay to get in. Once your bus crosses through this first gate you are officially “in the park,” even though you have not yet paid or gotten a ticket or acknowledged the fact that you really want to go into Tikal at all. You cannot purchase your ticket until the real gates at the entrance to the park that you walk through. For the fifteen km from the first gate to the real gate you are in Tikal illegally. This at least is what the guy at the tourist office told me. He also said that I had better go and hide out in the campground and not to walk and let anyone see me until 3 pm, or else the park rangers will catch me and do all sorts of horrible things to me. This seems stupid. But I am only a tourist, and, apparently, I am not very competent in this land of altered logic.

It would seem to me that I am not anywhere official until I have paid and received a ticket. But this is not so at Tikal, so I am now hiding out in the grass of the campground until it is safe for me to show my face and enter into Tikal.

So I watch monkeys in the trees and Mira read a book that makes her mad at me. She is reading the Razor’s Edge, and she really hates Larry Darrel. She says that he reminds her of me. So I am being scolded for Larry Darrel’s eccentricities.

This still does not make much sense to me. Not much is making any sense to me these days.

Hiding in the grass at the gates of Tikal. Watching monkeys in the trees.

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Filed under: Guatemala

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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