Visiting Yaxha, an alternative to the Mayan City of Tikal

JUAN MARTINEZ

July 21, 2019

Visiting Yaxha, an alternative to the Mayan City of Tikal

Not as popular and big as the ancient city of Tikal, Yaxha is the perfect extend for those who want to explore more the Mayan culture and get an easy access to it.

Guatemala is known for having thousands of archeological Mayan ruins and while the lost city of Tikal is known as the capital of Mayan civilization, there are still more than 60.000 hidden Mayan structures. Most of these are located very deep in the jungle and some have not even been discovered by archaeologists yet.

Petén: The heart of Mayan culture

The region of Petén is probably where the Maya empire started and the best location for travelers to start exploring the Maya culture. Here, Tikal is a must, but for those with some extra time and a desire to explore a less touristic, more natural and at the same time well preserved Maya city, Yaxhá is the place to go.

Yaxhá is located only 30 km southeast from Tikal and this former Maya city is one the most beautiful archeological sites in Petén. Its well-preserved structures and impressive architecture astonish travelers looking to get a more real perception of the Maya culture and how it was to explore these hidden cities hundreds of year ago.  Visiting Yaxha from Flores takes several hours, and most tour companies combine tours to Yaxha and Tikal.

Tikal and Yaxha were only neighboring cities, but nowadays they look very different. Each of these locations have its own beauty and although visiting both at the same time sounds the easiest and most comfortable way to explore Guatemalan ruins, these Mayan sites are better to visit separately and in a very slow pace. Traveling around these two places in the same day can be a little bit exhausting and overwhelming – climate is hot and humidity averages 85% all year round.

Mayan temples in Peten
One of the main temples in the Yaxha National Park

Visiting Yaxha or Tikal?

As many archeological Mayan sites in Guatemala, the Mayan city of Yaxha is part of a national park and just like Tikal, visitors have to pay an entrance fee (80 GTQ). However, Yaxha is not as commercialized as Tikal and travelers visiting this national park will feel way closer to nature. Structures have been restored over the years and the jungle fauna and flora has been preserved in a great way. The park has been serving as a refuge for several species of animals and listening the calls of howler monkeys or toucans while wandering inside the jungle became for me at some point very common – still, it never stopped surprising me. For moments I could imagine how it felt for the Spanish conquerors to walk around the Guatemalan jungles and hear all these kinds of exotic animals just meters away.

Inside info: Visitors can stay overnight at Yaxha. Budget huts next to the lakeside are available and there is even an ecological hotel located only 5 minutes away from the ruins. Glamping has become also another option for those you are looking for a more adventurous, but at the same time luxurious experience.

Read more: Hiking Pacaya – Guatemala’s most active volcano

Views of the Yaxha Lake from one of the pyramids inside the National Park
Views of the Yaxha Lake from one of the pyramids inside the National Park

An empire that has not been fully discovered

Yaxhá is not the only archeological site you can visit. For those with bigger interest in Mayan history and adventure, there are more ruins deeper in the jungle and available to the public. The archeological sites of El Mirador, Dos Lagunas, Uaxactun and the southern cities around Petaxbatun area are playgrounds for those who love trekking, camping in the middle of the jungle and exploring places rich in history and culture.

In the bigger picture, we just know a little bit about the Mayans and many archeological sites are still unexplored by archeologists. However, there is an important recognition about the significance of these sites in history and the Guatemalan government is taking proper care of it.

Visiting Yaxhá means getting lost in between more than 500 archeological structures, including clusters with pyramidal temples, astronomical observatories and abandoned complexes. Yet, the Yaxhá National Park as well Tikal National Park are just the tip of the iceberg and a visit to Petén can be as adventurous, individual and exciting as you want it to be.

Yaxha took me around two hours to walk around and unfortunately, I had to go. Still, if I had the chance to go back there, I would simply find a spot for myself, sit down for some hours, close my eyes and hear the harmonious sounds of the jungle in its purest form.

Read more: Exploring the volcano route of Nicaragua

Structures in the mayan city of Tikal
One out of the 500 structures found in the ancient city of Yaxha
The Yaxha National Park entrance fee is Q 80 for foreign visitors

Tips for visiting Yaxha and Tikal

How much is the entrance fee to Tikal and Yaxha?

At Tikal National Park the general park entrance fee is Q 150 and tickets can get purchase at the park entrance or several spots in Flores. Guatemalan passport holders pay a lower amount for their general admission.

On the other side the Yaxha National Park entrance fee is Q 80 and tickets can only get purchase at the entrance of the national park.

Take into consideration that most tours won’t include the entrance fee to the park and depending on the company and privacy you want tour prices can change.

Tours to the national parks depart mostly at midday and can be booked in most tour agencies or hostels in Flores.

Which are Tikal and Yaxha opening hours?

The Tikal National Park is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., every day of the week, 365 days a year and Yaxha National Park is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

Travelers can combine Tikal and Yaxha by visiting Tikal for the sunrise and heading right afterwards to Yaxha. There might be some travel companies offering these tours. However, a private tour would probably be more recommended to safe time.

Can I visit Tikal or Yaxha independently?

Yes you can. If you rent your own vehicle in Flores you can simply visit Tikal or Yaxha by yourself. However, the road to Yaxha is not in a good condition and having a 4×4 vehicle is recommended.

The area of Peten is also very safe and you don’t have to worry about security. However, common safety rules are necessary. Avoid driving at night and get an offline map in case your GPS is not working anymore.

If you need more information about the region, which other Mayan cities are available for public or tips where to travel next, visit the official website of Guatemala Tourism.

Read more: Visiting the Iguacu Falls from Argentina or Brazil

Biodiversity at Peten . Photo of a tucan in Tikal
Biodiversity at Peten – Photo of a wild tucan at Tikal National Park

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

NEED MORE INSPIRATION

MY FAVORITE NATIONAL PARKS

Planning a Visit to Victoria Falls National Park

ZIMBABWE

Planning a visit to the White Desert and Black Desert in Egypt

EGYPT

Planning a Gorilla Trekking at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

UGANDA

Planning a safari at Masai Mara Natural Reserve

KENYA

Planning a visit to Saxon Switzerland National Park

GERMANY