When the cab picked us up at our hotel in San Ignacio, we thought, uh oh, what kind of tour is this? The driver didn't speak any English, and we were transferred to the Guatemalan border (about 15 minutes away) in somewhat anxious silence. Once there, the guide told us to walk across and look for Nelson, our cab driver who would take us to meet our tour guide. We braved the throngs of people at the border (see the picture!) and made our way across to the very sweet Nelson, who also spoke very little English. He let us speak to our tour guide, Walter, on his cell phone, however, and Walter explained that Nelson would drive us about 1.5 hours to where we'd meet Walter and begin our tour of Tikal.
Everything went just as Walter (firstname.lastname@example.org) said, and we had one of the most wonderful private tours of our lives. Walter is VP of the Tikal visitor organization, and he knows Tikal in and out. He also knows a great deal about Guatemala, and by the end of the day, we had fallen in love with this beautiful and poor country, vowing we would return one day.
Tikal itself is nearly impossible to describe. It is an enormous park, and we felt safe the entire time we were there. We went in January and had very few problems with bugs, though it did rain the whole day on and off. Bring sunblock, water, and a snack, as you may need an energy boost after climbing the pyramids. Walter guided us to the best sites in the ruins and waited patiently while I crawled up the pyramid without a railing (overcoming my fear of heights for what was a spectacular vantage). My only regret was that we didn't spend MORE time near Tikal. Go early in the day (or late) to see animals, as they were all sleeping while we were there.
Walter stopped by a local family's craft store at the end of the day, and we were able to pick up some crafts and textiles. We would recommend buying cloths in Guatemala rather than Belize, as they are all made in Guatemala anyway.
We had a magical time in Guatemala. If you have the chance and opportunity, we would highly recommend Walter and the beautiful, mystical, and ancient Tikal.