I wasn’t expecting much from Tikal given my experience in Tulum but I was blown away. I was told that you hike through a jungle and climb some steps but I definitely didn’t expect to be sweating. It wasn’t hard- almost anyone could do it. But it was definitely active. Also, my friend and I entered the park at 3 and had to be out by 6 and given that lots of people stay for about 9 hours, we decided to speed through it.
We started on our own and eventually bumped into our tour guide. Even though we didn’t pay for a tour, the tour guide that we came on our initial shuttle with really wanted us to be a part of the group. He was really boring though and we weren’t feeling it so we ditched him.
The Grand Plaza (Temple 1 & 2) were my favorite because you could climb a bit more of the actual ruins and not just the steps. The Mayan Steps are giant. Apparently the wealthy Mayans were taller but how tall, really?
We tried to crash a sunset tour by saying that we got lost. The guide of that group was awesome and told us about all of the drugs that the Mayans used to do. And one middle aged man on the tour gave us shots of rum. But the sky was too cloudy to see the sunset and it wasn’t worth getting in trouble for not booking the 2 day ticket so we rejoined our original group.
I highly recommend the Tikal ruins. Tour or no tour, sunset or no sunset, sunrise or no sunrise. Personally I think that the sun sets and rises everywhere so paying extra to see it in Tikal seems silly to me. There’s no spiritual ceremony or anything. The sun will rise as it always does (if you can even see it which half the time you can’t) and catching a bus at 3AM doesn’t exactly sound ideal to me. Sunset is a better option, especially because if you enter the park after 4PM you can stay for free. Regarding the tour guide, I wouldn’t pay for a tour because they want you to follow them regardless. But if you do choose to follow (which I would have if my guide was better) I would tip.