The Great Plaza @ Tikal
Still a bit teary from our farewells to our wonderful Guatemalan family, we drove out of beautiful, volcano surrounded Antigua. As soon as we drove out on the main road, our hearts sank as we saw the first of americanised civilisation again, in the form of huge malls, fast food and billboards. It took every inch of our strength to not stay for an extra week (or year) and now it was being made even harder not to hijack the bus and go “home”.
We managed to miss the horrific traffic that we had heard about and made it into Guatemala City in a short hour (the journey from Antigua to GC can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on traffic!!!). Now we only had 2/3 hours to waste before our bus left, but we were (self) confined to the bus station, as we had heard way too many stories of violence in the streets of the city. So, monopoly deal it was. I think it was around this stage we decided to up the stakes to 6 sets of properties and a minimum of $30million monopolies (only nerdy fans of the game will understand this).
We ate our packed sandwich that Ana-Luisa had again made us (tearing up) and before we knew it we were jumping on the big double decker bus.
Eye masks on, pillows blown up, 16 layers added for the arctic air conditioning and sarongs as blankets, 11.5 hours later we woke up in Flores, well that was easy.
Some guys came on the bus and herded all the tourists off onto their shuttle bus as a “free ride” to our hotel. Luckily I had read enough reviews of the journey to know these guys were scammers. They would offer this service and if you didn’t purchase their tours/ products they would quickly boot you off. We made sure we had already pre organised a shuttle to Tikal to avoid any issues and unnecessary crap like this. We managed to grab our bags and walk the last block to the hotel where we were to meet our shuttle driver.
After another quick few games of Monops, we were on our way to Tikal. A lot of backpackers stay in Flores and do a day trip out to Tikal, but we had decided to spend the extra money on (the only) accommodation (short of camping) and stay in Tikal as we had heard the immersion in the jungle was an experience unlike any other.
As we jumped on the shuttle, we were greeted by a lovely Guatemalan/Mexican but mainly American family who were on holiday for a couple weeks. The driver took us to the airport (on the way) where we had to go to the bank (yeah, we were just as confused) to buy our tickets to enter Tikal. Apparently we were actually sleeping in the Reserve, we really didn’t research this very well.
Luckily, the family on the shuttle had already been through all of this and told us what type of tickets were available and what we needed to do. We decided on a full day pass and a sunset pass, lovely!
We arrived about an hour later at the gate to Tikal, where stood a beautiful hotel made of cabins, no big resorts, just natural looking cabins. It was the perfect location. We grabbed our bags and headed to check in, before we realised it was only 10am. We had to wait 6 hours to check into our room!! What on earth could we do in 6 damn hours!?
The receptionist handed us some towels and pointed us in the direction of the pool, gave us a wifi code and sent us on our way. We spent the rest of the day drinking, swimming, reading, playing monopoly deal, eating (slightly overpriced) food brought to us on lounge chairs, casually watching spider monkeys swinging through the trees above the pool, oh and watching/listening to a family of howler monkeys doing what they do best. I think we were doing alright at this point.
Toucan of Tikal @ Tikal
I’d like to tell you at this point we went exploring or did something backpackery; we didn’t.
The next morning we woken up at 3am to the roar of the howler monkeys. I had never anticipated the level of strength their howls had. It felt as though our room was completely surrounded, although you could hear the echos through the jungle. After an intermittent couple hours more sleep, we got up and headed into Tikal Park at about 7am (the earliest we could get in without paying for sunrise tickets). The surrounding noises of the howler monkeys and animals was almost deafening, with almost no one else in sight, we spent the following 7 hours exploring the incredible ruins of Tikal.
Cheeky Temple Parrot @ Tikal
The Reserve is home to 250 bird resident species and over 400 species have been found.
There was only a handful of people in the ruins that early so it felt like it was just us. All you could hear was birds, monkeys and insects. It was absolutely amazing!!! This is where we can safely say compared to other very popular ruins like Chitchen Itza, this place has remained natural and the tourism is under control. The structures that have been excavated were incredible and such mystery in those that have only been partly, or not at all.
Templo II @ Great Plaza, Tikal
After exploring what felt like the whole park, but in reality probably 70-80% of what was available to see, we grabbed a bite to eat at one of the outside comedors and headed to the pool to cool off.
We managed to run into the family that we had met on the shuttle here. They had gone for the sunrise tour but unfortunately it didn’t really come to fruition as it was extremely misty that morning, which apparently meant we would have a beautiful sunset.
We headed out around 5 for our sunset tour. It was compulsory to hire a guide for the sunset tour, we believe mainly because after dark there is no way to find your way out. We had heard a lot of mixed reviews about the “guides” and how they turned out to be little more than ushers who would take you to the ruin where you would climb up, watch the sunset, return and maybe, maybe not they would be there to show you out of the park.
View from El Mundo Perdido @ Tikal
At the pool we had met some English Australians (they’d been in aus for 30 years but still had their English accents) and they decided to sneak in on their day pass to see the sunset.
We decided we would hire a guide and not risk being thrown out of the park and wasting our money. We got to the gate and met our guide, Roberto, or “boozy bob” as we affectionately named him for obvious reasons. Boozey-Bob took us to a set of ruins we had been to already during the day, but along the way explained in detail about the species of tree that is special to Tikal, the Caoba Tree. He walked us through the set of ruins, able to explain to us what experts had found, and what they were originally purpose built for.
Flying Loros @ Tikal
Taking Care of Monkey Business @ Tikal
The set we were at were apparently quaters for women who were pregnant with twins, which they would be able to tell through the stars/astronomy. I’m not really sure how much of what came out of Boozey-Bob’s mouth was the truth but to be fair a lot of the Mayan information we have found so far has been conflicting. Anyway, the Mayan illegibly believed these women to be extremely special as fertility was very important to the Mayan life and culture. It turned out that Boozey-Bob had been working in the park for 26 years, guiding under different companies and apparently working as a part of an excavation team for some of the ruins.
Jess Walking Through The “Twin Fertility Ruins” @ Tikal
After we went through a couple more ruins, we were taken to watch the sunset in “the lost world” section of Tikal. We had a spectacular sunset, and no sign of the English Australians who were certain they could get away with not getting a guide.
Once the sun had set, we headed backwards down the pyramid and Boozey-Bob decided to go a little AWOL with us. It was becoming pitch black but Bob wanted to show us a massive tree (in his Defense it was incredibly impressive). There is no way we would have been able to see this without a guide. As we were trekking through the jungle we stumbled across some glow worms which were pretty cool, Bob caught us one so we could look at it closer. Next he took us to a tunnel that lead under the main set of ruins in the center of Tikal. It was pitch black, full of bats and I could not wait to get out. Once we were back into the safety of the open air of the jungle, we found ourselves in the middle central ruins at night under an almost full moon. The huge Mayan pyramids towering above us casting massive black silhouettes, the jungle surrounding us and the deafening noise of the animals; it was an experience that we couldn’t put a price on.
Atardecer @ Tikal
The next day our check out was at 11am, our shuttle not until 4pm, so we packed, hung out by the pool and spent the day watching monkeys, eating and swimming. It turned out that the English-Australians went to the wrong section of the park and barely caught a glimpse of the sunset, being cheap doesn’t always pay off it would seem. He also had terrible personal space issues, and she couldn’t take a social hint if it hit her over the head. Also the usual expat British racism against anyone from Indian decent soon came out and that was the end of us being polite.
El Mundo Perdido @ Tikal
By the time we jumped on the shuttle back to Flores, we had worked out that we were paying way too much for the bus service. We had booked it through the hotel as to try and avoid travel agent scammers in Flores, but in the meantime wound up paying a massively inflated price. We decided to use it to our advantage when we were the only two in the van and asked the driver to stop at the bus station in town. I waited whilst Alice went in and sorted our tickets for the next day, before we jumped back in and got dropped off at our hotel. We weren’t happy with the price to say the least but happy to have sorted out our bus at least.
Our accomodation for the night was basic, the island of Flores was very pretty in terms of buildings, but the surrounding road was flooded and full of rubbish and algae. It would have been nice to have a couple days exploring Flores, but we weren’t super disappointed that we didn’t have the time either.
We had dinner that night at a vegetarian restaurant called Maracuya, who had 3 options. Both our meals were really fresh and lovely, plus we had the added bonus of watching an electrical storm over the lake as we ate.
The next day we jumped in a little tuktuk and went to bus station to catch a short hour hour bus to Rio Dulce.
Loro Cabeza Azul @ Tikal
Not very disappointed that we hadn’t organised time to explore Flores, we managed to see some of the most incredible ruins in the world whilst immersing ourselves in the heart of a jungle. To say the bus trip up here, the time and money spent, was worth it is an understatement.