Tucked away in the dense jungle in Guatemala’s northern Biosfera Maya, just over 200 miles (329 km) north of Cobán, the ancient Mayan city of Tikal is not the easiest place to get to from Alta Verapaz and the Central Highlands, but that just adds to its mystical charm.
You can get to Tikal National Park from Cobán by private transfer, tourist shuttle, rental car, or as part of a tour. The journey through the mountains usually takes at least seven or eight hours, but can take as many as 10 or 12. Whilst it is a beautiful drive, the road conditions do leave a lot to be desired, so make sure you’re prepared for a long and bumpy ride and have plenty of snacks and water.
The main transport hub for Tikal is the colonial island of Flores, about an hour’s drive from the National Park. The majority of visitors choose to stay here and just go out to Tikal for a day trip, although it is possible to overnight in one of the jungle lodges in the park itself.
Bear in mind, if you take a private transfer from Cobán then you will be dropped off at your chosen accommodation in Flores or Tikal, whereas the tourist shuttles will usually just drop you just over the bridge in Flores.
By Private or Group Tour
Duration: Minimum 3 days
The best way to get to Tikal National Park from Cobán and see all the sights en-route is by joining a tour. Your English-speaking guide will take care of your transport and accommodation, and take you off the beaten path to show you some of the lesser-visited hot spots in the region, including the stunning Candelaría caves.
One of our favorites is this 10-day Guatemalan Culture & Outdoor Tour which takes you from Guatemala City to Cobán and up to Tikal before heading down to Rio Dulce, Lake Atitlán, and Antigua.
Click here to see some other sample Guatemala tour itineraries.
By Private Transfer
Duration: 7+ hrs (traffic dependent)
If you're not on a tour, then a private transfer is the most comfortable and convenient way to get from Cobán to Tikal, especially if you’re staying in Tikal National Park itself. Offering door to door service, with a trustworthy driver and AC, there’s nothing you have to do but sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
You can also take a taxi from Cobán to Tikal, but you will want to ensure that you agree on a price, confirm the size of the car, and find out whether or not it has AC before you hit the road. Expect to pay a premium for a trip that far. If you can hire a car and a driver for the day instead it should work out better for everyone.
By Rental Car
Duration: 7+ hrs (traffic dependent)
If you have driven up from Antigua or Guatemala City in a rental car then you might choose to drive onto Tikal from there. It is pretty difficult to rent a car in Cobán, and, as one-way rentals aren’t common here, you’d probably have to drive it back again too, so unless you already have a car, it’s definitely not the best way to get up to Tikal and Flores.
The road conditions are pretty terrible, so you’re best off taking it slow, but the drive is beautiful, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It can also be tricky to find parking on Flores, so ask beforehand or look into other places where you can stay, like El Remate, an up-and-coming tourist village on the way from Flores to Tikal.
Don’t forget that you need an international driver’s license to drive in Guatemala.
By Shared Shuttle
Duration: 8+ hrs (traffic dependent)
You can also take a tourist shuttle from Cobán to Flores, just outside Tikal. The shuttles will pick you up at your accommodation and drop you on the island just after the bridge. You will then need to organize onward transport out to Tikal, or stay in Flores for a night or two first.
There are a variety of shuttles that ply this route, from big comfortable tourist buses to budget older minibusses without AC. However, the price difference is fairly negligible, so we'd definitely recommend prioritizing comfort over being squashed in the back of a hot van for hours on end.
By Local Bus
Duration: 24+ hrs
Although it is possible to take local buses to Flores from Cobán, you will have to change buses so much that the journey will take at least 24hrs, including an overnight stop. It's a long, hot, cramped, and somewhat perilous journey along some of Guatemala's windiest mountain roads and doesn't actually work out much cheaper than the tourist shuttle.