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3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

Dallas, Texas
Level Contributor
35 posts
3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

Hi all,

I will be in Tikal for 2 nights (Jungle Lodge) and Yaxha (El Sombrero) for 1 night in mid-February of 2019. It will be part of a 3 week trip to Belize.

I'd like to see Tikal, Uaxactun, Yaxha, Topoxte & Nakum during that time. Am I biting off more than I can chew?

Must sees are sunrise and sunset in Tikal and sunset in Yaxha. I know Topoxte is a small site, but the boat ride to the site really appeals to me. And Nakum really peaks my interest as well.

This is what I'm thinking:

Day 1 - Tikal Sunset

Day 2 - Tikal Sunrise, Uaxactun, Tikal Sunset

Day 3 - Tikal Sunrise; travel to Yaxha Park early enough for a Topoxte tour before Yaxha Sunset

Day 4 - Nakum; head to San Ignacio

There's a lot of energy consuming walking and little time for sleep in the itinerary above. I may knock off the second sunrise tour because of that.

It's important to note that I will be in Orange Walk for 2 nights prior and will have 6 nights in San Ignacio for a very leisurely paced stay with only 3 days of planned tours. Then I'm heading to the coast for the remainder of my trip which will be all beach time and snorkel with no inland tours. My point being that I will have plenty of time to relax after my time in Guatemala.

Another option is to change up my itinerary and stay 1 night in Tikal and 2 in Yaxha. Or even add one in Yaxha and take one from San Ignacio. But the Yaxha stay is more expensive and doesn't include the comforts of 24/7 electricity and a pool!

I appreciate all advice and insights!

16 replies to this topic
Crowsnest Pass...
Level Contributor
637 posts
12 reviews
1. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

It sounds doable as you are only visiting 2 sites per day and you realize the amount of walking and driving that you would do. To make it easier and a bit more relaxed, I wouldn't purchase the tickets for the second sunset and sunrise tours in Tikal until after you have gone once. You'll be leaving the park so will have the opportunity to buy them on your way out or when you return. You may find once is enough. The Yaxha sunset is special - overlooking a lake from the top of a pyramid.

Given that you seem to have a decent budget for this part of your trip, I would consider hiring a guide/driver for everything instead of piecing it together. It would cut down a lot on the stress. There are several recommended guides on this forum (as well as many that you want to avoid).

The Dalles, Oregon
Destination Expert
for Guatemala, Belize
Level Contributor
13,864 posts
331 reviews
2. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

I think it sounds good and agree about waiting to decide about the 2nd sunrise and sunset tours; I probably wouldn't do them, or maybe do the 1st sunset and 2nd sunrise you have listed; you might get away with just one general admission ticket with that plan. I would hire a guide/driver, too.

My all-time favorite guide anywhere is archaeologist/naturalist Roxy Ortiz - she's fantastic but really busy so can't always respond to requests; I think she's unlikely to be able to put your whole itinerary together for you but I'd try to get at least a sunset or sunrise tour with her.

Marlon Díaz is great and is much more likely to be available: www.gemtrips.com

Dallas, Texas
Level Contributor
35 posts
3. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

Thank you!

I know it will be intense and, after it's over, I will probably have still underestimated the physical adventure of it all. But what an adventure it will be!!!

I will definitely be doing guided tours with the option of meandering around on my own a little in Tikal on the second day if I choose not to do Uaxactun. My thought on the repeat sunrise and sunset tours is that I may never have the opportunity of experiencing that again. And my luck might be fantastic viewings on the days I don't go.

I definitely plan to email GEMTrips and a few other recommended companies to see what kind of inclusive guided tour and transportation package they might be able to offer. But this is a solo trip for me so a private guide for the entire visit may be cost prohibitive. Group tours for Tikal, Topoxte and Yaxha are reasonable and will hopefully hit the minimum required since it's the high season. Uaxactun and Nakum tours might be a little more challenging due to their remoteness. And as long as it's daylight, I don't mind riding in the collectivos or taxis.

The trip will be a great adventure, but I'm finding that planning it is an adventure all of its own!

The Dalles, Oregon
Destination Expert
for Guatemala, Belize
Level Contributor
13,864 posts
331 reviews
4. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

I think you'll require a tour for Uaxactun and Nakum or at least a taxi, not sure about Topoxte. Yaxha you can get to by public transit but the schedules are really limited, which you likely already know.

The 4th or 5th time I did a sunrise tour with Roxy Ortiz, we spent the whole time hiking and spotting wildlife instead of heading to the top of Temple IV, an amazing morning.

Dallas, Texas
Level Contributor
35 posts
5. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

To clarify, I just realized how bonkers I would be to do two days of back to back, sunrise to sunset, touring in between, full day tours. At least 14 hours in a day.

I admit to being slightly bonkers, so I'm not ruling it out completely, but I will definitely take the advice about waiting to decide.

Thanks much for the save!

Paris, Canada
Level Contributor
7,965 posts
20 reviews
6. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

6 nights in San Ignacio seems like a lot so I would definitely add more time to Guatemala. I would not do the Tikal sunset tour and sunrise tour twice. I would stay in the park till it closes and I would enter at 6 am when it opens (or take a sunrise tour once) but it is not really about the sunset or sunrise so much (there is often no sunrise because it is often foggy) but about being in the park at dusk and dawn: less people, more wildlife, nice light...

If you won't have a car, a private driver or a guide who can get you from place to place it can take time to go from place to place. We used public transport but just to give you an idea: from Tikal to Yaxha you would have to take a minibus heading to Santa Elena/Flores but get off at El Cruce Ixlu, just south of El Remate. There flag down any bus going to the border but ask to get off at the road leading to Yaxha. There we waited a long time as there is not much traffic and got picked up by a military truck. I believe El Sombrero will pick you up but it is not free.

I have not been to Uaxactun but if you don't go with a guide it is not easy to get to. I believe a bus leaves Santa Elena at 2 pm and passes through Tikal at 4 pm. There are rooms available at Uaxactun or you can camp. I believe the bus back leaves at 6 am so you would really have to spend two nights there if you go on your own.

Day 3: I would focus on Topoxte and Yaxha that day. I have only been to Yaxha (not Topoxte or Nakum) and we stayed at El Sombrero. I believe you can book the boat tour to Topoxte through them.

Day 4: we asked about going to Nakum at the visitor's centre but did not do it. It was a 4 hour hike and they recommended staying overnight (camping) or we could go by horse or by 4x4.

The Jungle Lodge is great and it is all about enjoying the rainforest, the sounds, the animals... so I don't think you will miss having power at certain times. El Sombrero has become expensive but they have a nice property and lake and we saw toucans there and other birds and the howler monkeys woke us up at 4 am.

Dallas, Texas
Level Contributor
35 posts
7. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?


Yes, I am seriously thinking of taking a day from San Ignacio to add one more day in Guatemala. And I definitely want to do guides. Part of the experience will be learning about the history rather than simply walking around snapping pics.

I've been in touch with El Sombrero and their tours for Topoxte and Yaxha are reasonable. The tour to Nakum was much pricier for the 4x4 and horseriding options, but understandably so as it involves a lot more to get to the site than foot power for a hike. With all of the walking and tours I'll be doing in Peten and Belize, I don't know if I want to add a 4 hour trek there and back through the jungle. They did offer a motorcycle option, but I have no experience, and therefore no business, being on one.

What I may do is book my first and last tours in San Ignacio just to have the transport across the border and tell them the transport will be one way. There is a highly recommended guide in San Ignacio that does Yaxha sunset tours so I could save that for last and transportation to Belize is solved. That would only leave getting between Tikal and Yaxha and I think between taxis, collectivos and a possible pickup from El Sombrero, I would be fine.

I really appreciate everyone's insight and advice. If it wasn't for all of the previous postings here over the years, I never even would have considered the trip to Guatemala and would have missed out on seeing some great sites!

Level Contributor
292 posts
1 review
8. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

You have an ambitious trip planned but the above advice is very good.

I would only add two thoughts. First, Tikal is very big, and it doesn't look like you have scheduled much time outside of the sunrise and sunset tours to visit. You may not need it, but it is quite fun to wander around and explore on your own and visit the off-the-tour spots. For instance, the group sunrise and sunset tours won't go to Temple VI (Temple of the Inscriptions) which has an enormous carving of hieroglyphic text describing the long history of Tikal. It is quite possibly the most important archaeological find in Tikal but few group tours will take you there because it is out of the way.

Second, I also travel this way (pack a lot in a short time). The thing to think about as you are planning the trip is "will I ever get back here again?" and if the answer is probably not, then "what will I regret not doing the most?" You don't want to spend the rest of your life saying "gee, I really wish I had visited Nakum (or wherever) when I had that one chance." At least that is the way I look at my travels and it helps me to sort the important from the not so important.

Have a great trip! Tikal is spectacular.

Dallas, Texas
Level Contributor
35 posts
9. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

Thank you for the insights! I am tweaking my days here and there to allow for more reasonable travel and schedule. I realized that my travel was going to wear me too thin and too soon in the beginning of the trip. And yes, I was cramming in so many activities because they were exciting and out of the norm of everyday life. However, when I really thought about it, ziplining, hiking and caves (except ATM) don't get me excited like the Mayan sites and history and my beach and water time do. Well, and the chocolate. But that will be easy to fit in!

Since I first posted, I've received a couple of responses from the hotels and guides I reached out to. Jungle Lodge provided the specific info below and I was happy to see Temple VI included! I've read in reviews that guides can be hit or miss though. I've also been emailing with Marlon Diaz and I'm sure I can make specific requests if I choose to do any private tours with his guides. He, unfortunately for me, is personally booked for a private group during the time I'm there.

Jungle Lodge Tours

Sunrise Extended Tour

3:45 AM, Wake up call, upon request. 4:00 AM Coffee at the gathering point in the hotel; 1 hour walk to Temple IV, Around 5:15 AM Arrival at Temple IV, 7:00 AM Descend from Temple IV with 30 minutes to eat box breakfast, 7:30 AM Archaeological Tour, visiting 7 Templos Plaza, Mundo Perdido, Temple V, Acropolis del Sur and visit to Main Plaza, with time to climb Temple II and explore the rest of the Plaza. Around 11:30 AM Return to Jungle Lodge

Complementary and Sunset Tour:

Tour to complementary areas, not visited in the Archaeological Tour, and complementary information of the different dynasties, rulers & wars and alliances that Tikal had with other cities during its apogee. Departure from Hotel Jungle Lodge at 15:00 PM. Visit Temple VI (Temple of Inscriptions), Group F, North Acropolis, Central Plaza, Temple III and sunset view (optional) from The Great Pyramid of the Lost World or from Temple IV . Back to Hotel Jungle Lodge between 7:00PM and 7:30 PM.

Level Contributor
361 posts
4 reviews
10. Re: 3 Nights & 5 Mayan Sites - Too Ambitious?

One more thought—for me, although I got a lot out of the tour guide’s knowledge of history, archaeology and wildlife, I loved having time alone at the park when I went back in the afternoon after a morning tour. It’s easy to figure out the layout, trails are well marked, and being alone at a temple, or listening to a woodpecker or monkeys in the trees above for as long as I wanted to was very special.

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