Curious what the terrain is like between El Cruce and Tikal. On the maps it looks like there is a range of low mountains or foothills just north of lake Petén Itzá, with a steep climb in elevation to El Caoba, where the land appears to flatten out a bit into rolling hills all the way to Tikal.

Would love to hear firsthand from anyone who has taken the drive. I’m trying to describe the topography in a story and want to get it right.

Looking on Google maps it appears there is an elevation gain of 224 meters from El Cruce to El Caoba, with a 405 meter gain overall to Tikal, most of it in the first few miles.

  • Remember, best write about things you have experienced yourself, or which are completely fantasy, so it does not matter if nobody recognizes it. – Willeke Apr 19 at 15:13
  • You can "drive" the road on Google Maps. Drag the little yellow figure onto any road that will be highlighted in blue. – Weather Vane Apr 19 at 15:17
  • @Willeke Writing from firsthand accounts is the next best thing. – Ryan Williamson Apr 19 at 15:18
  • @WeatherVane Not the same as hearing from someone who has actually taken the trip, which it what I’m looking for. – Ryan Williamson Apr 19 at 15:19
  • Well that would be the "next best thing" ;) You can get a good idea of the terrain with Google Earth too, which these days is 3D. – Weather Vane Apr 19 at 15:20

You are asking about terrain from El Cruce (the turnoff) until Tikal.

From El Cruce until El Remate it is pretty flat, with some rolling hills. Most day-trippers take a tour bus (Toyota HiAce usually), and although the bus may labor a bit as the elevation increases, it is not very noticeable: many of the roads here in Guatemala follow the terrain.

While the land rises a bit to the right, on the left it descends to the level of the lake, and on both sides there is a patchwork of worked fields, pasture land, and dense forest. Scrawny longhorn cattle graze, and horses one step from the knackers wander freely. The wide shoulders of the improved road carry a steady trickle of pedestrians, motorcycles, bicycles, and horseback riders. In the built up areas, cheap restaurants and hotels catering mostly to mochileros or locals crowd the road, sometimes blocking the view.

The lake is very visible here, and you can see fishing boats and tourist launches plying its waters. In places, the alga is thick near the shore and in the morning the light glints greenly on the floating leaves. However, after the left turnoff going to Gringo Perdido and the Hotel Camino Real the lake disappears from sight completely.

From there until the park entrance, it is once again a patchwork of fields and forest. From time to time you can see suspiciously pyramidal-shaped hills rising up, and you wonder if after they had been cleaned up there might be yet another undiscovered temple hiding under the vegetation.

Some of the hills here feature terraced fields of corn or other crops. Depending on the time of year, there may be tall corn and sugar cane in the lower fields in the rainy season, or dry stubble and burn-off during the dry.

When you reach the park entrance, you are confronted by a monolithic structure seemingly inspired by Jurassic Park, and you wonder if they are hiding King Kong in there. Everything man-made is new, and the smell of fresh concrete will now over-power what once was the sweet smell of the jungle. Puddles of unappetizing grey water are everywhere.

After the entrance (and this is like half the trip you are asking about), it is pure, dense jungle. Depending on the time of the year, this may form a canopy over parts of the road as you make your way to the park proper. Road signs warning of “jaguar crossing” , “snake crossing” , and "pizote crossing" dot the road, and drivers need to take those warnings seriously.

Red, purple, and yellow flowers may carpet parts of the road.

Not part of the terrain...but the heat and humidity is ferocious, and the sweat will not dry: your clothing will saturate.

I was hoping to return this spring to go camping with my daughter, but recent events have intervened.

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  • If you have any other questions, feel free to ping me. – Rattler Apr 19 at 17:47
  • 1
    This is awesome, thanks so much! – Ryan Williamson Apr 19 at 18:05

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