Entering Guatemala from Belize is simple; from San Ignacio take a US$5 taxi ride to the border and go through the usual procedures. There is no charge to enter Guatemala, but if you get a corrupt official they might try to rip you off. You can literally blag your way out of this; tell them you don’t have any cash and you’ll pay the fee when you leave the country.
We were determined to catch another chicken bus from here, and it’s probably really easy to do, but it was raining and we had no idea where we were going or how much anything should cost, so we got talked into taking a US$10 tourist coach to Flores.
Flores is a small town crammed onto a tiny island in Lago Peten Itza, connected to the main land by a causeway in the south. It’s one of my favourite spots in Central America; the narrow cobbled streets, colourful buildings, cute little restaurants and hotels all overlooking the water.
We stayed at the Hotel Mirador de Lago in a cheap room with an ensuite and our own balcony overlooking the lake. It was the perfect place to sit and read, or watch the storms brewing over the mountains at night. It also had a restaurant and bar downstairs, literally on the water as that side of the island is always flooded! Amigos Hostel is also a very popular place if you’re travelling alone and want to meet new people.
One warning I have for Flores, and anywhere in Central America: DO NOT BOOK ANYTHING IN ADVANCED FURTHER THAN YOUR NEXT DESTINATION. We got ripped off because we were stupid enough to trust a guy who supposedly booked our transport all the way to Antigua. He lied, and we ended up having to pay again when we tried to leave Semuc Champey. No matter what they say, it is not difficult to do it yourself!!!!
On a lighter note, one thing you definitely should book is a trip to Tikal. It’s even better than Chichen Itza. It’s incredible to walk through the jungle and see the monstrous temples towering over you, there are so many hidden wonders that you could spend an entire day exploring and still not see everything.
You will pay around Q60 (£5) for a return bus to the temples, or pay double or more for a tour guide which isn’t really necessary. We only paid for the bus and managed to tag along with the tour for free! You can go at 5am to watch the sunrise, if you’re lucky, and hear the jungle come alive, but it can get very crowded.
A standard ticket is Q160 (£14) which gives you from 6am until 6pm and is your best option. A sunrise (4am – 8am) ticket will cost Q100 (£9) plus a guide. If you want to arrive at 4am and stay all day you’ll need to pay for both tickets.
As you enter the park you’ll pass the Temple of the Nine Mayan Gods, which you can climb, and the East Plaza. It won’t be long until your standing in the middle of the Great Plaza, the heart of the ancient city. Temple 1 (Jaguar Temple) stands 44m high, and opposite sits Temple 2 (Temple of the Masks) which you can climb for an even better view of everything around you.
From the Great Plaza you can explore the Central Acropolis, a maze of tiny rooms connected by crumbling stairways, and the West Plaza. A path leads to Temple 3 which is still hidden by the jungle, and the Bat Palace, the only part of a much larger palace that has been restored.
Temple 4 is the highlight of any trip to Tikal. It’s the tallest at 64m and there are stairs leading up to the top where you can look out across the never ending jungle, spot the peaks of the other temples and hear the roar of the howler monkeys. It was also used in Star Wars!
After a short walk through the jungle you’ll find yourself at the Mundo Perdido (Lost World). This place is magical, overgrown and ancient. There is another 32m temple to admire, but not one you can climb, after too many accidents. You can also find the Plaza of the Seven Temples and a ball court.
The final great temple, Temple 5, is just passed the unexcavated South Acropolis. It was built around 600AD and dedicated to the rain god Chaac. If you’re still up for more walking, 10 minutes away is Temple 6, which was only discovered 65 years ago.
After a long day exploring the ruins of Tikal and avoiding howler monkeys and tarantulas, have a nap in the bus on the way back to Flores and you’ll be feeling fresh to head out to the waterfront for cocktails, dinner and dancing!
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