The next part of my journey was to visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala! Ever since I got into reading about ancient cultures and civilizations I have wanted to some day see the ruins of Tikal! Now I finally have my chance.
I arranged a shuttle to Guatemala city through my hotel and from there I would need to travel an additional 10 hours North by bus to Santa Elena/Flores. Flores is a small island that is only accessible by a small bridge that connects it to Santa Elena, which is also quite small. This is the closest town to the Tikal ruins and from here I would need to take another shuttle to reach the site.
I was picked up at my hotel in Antigua at 6 pm and was at the bus station in Guatemala city a few hours early for our 9:30 pm overnight bus to Flores. The shuttle and bus both ways was 680Q/$85 and talking to some of the other passengers I got the lowest price. Like usual, the bus was a few minutes late and once it arrived we were hurried on board and then we got underway. Like most buses at night, it’s best to wear pants and bring a sweater as they usually have the AC on full blast, making it quite cold.
This was one of the craziest bus rides I have had since arriving down here and we were constantly up and down winding mountain roads. Any chance the driver had to put the pedal to the floor he was taking it! This also meant kamikaze passing and not really slowing down much for speed bumps through small towns. I have to admit, at some times I was a bit paranoid and it made for a long night.
Barely able to sleep the whole way I finally got a few hours worth of rest in the latter part of the journey. We had to make one stop when going into a new state within Guatemala and that was to check the bus for fruit. Apparently they have an issue with fruit from one area going into another. This is maybe due to insect infestations, mold, fungus or something else that could affect their crops. At most checkpoints down in these countries they are operated by the military police and they all carry automatic assault rifles and in some cases sub-machine guns. Usually there are a few other guys with shotguns with pistol grips, always cocked and loaded. After the bus was checked out and certified fruitless, the military police waved us through and we continued on through to Flores.
Once we arrived in Flores we all got off the bus and I was approached by a shuttle operator that sold me a ticket to the ruins. Return fare was 100Q/$12 and after the driver drove around to a few different places trying to find more passengers, myself and one other person were on our way to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.
This was around an hour drive and we went through quite a few small farming communities. There were horses, cows, pigs and goats wandering around and running across the road as we passed through. At one point we narrowly avoided running over a piglet that was darting across the road!
The ride for the most part was scenic and as we neared the site of the ruins the jungle got thicker and thicker on each side of the road until the road was through thick jungle and bush. Along the way the driver noticed that a truck had drove off the road and overturned in the bush the night before. How it got to be here was a mystery to both of us as it didn’t seem possible to go so far off the road and across the other lane.
How not to drive!
Once we reached the park I was dropped off just before 8 am and waited for it to open up so I could be one of the first people to enter. Not wanting to waste any time I bought my ticket to enter the park, dug out my camera and started exploring! My entrance fee for the day was 120Q/$15 and if I wanted to have a guided tour that costs 320Q/$40 and less for a group. I don’t usually get guided tours as I like to find out where the tours are going and avoid them so I can try and get photos without people in them. This is often easier said than done but I did pretty good this day! I also bought a map of the ruins for 8Q/$1 so I’d know where to go and what I was looking at.
My first stop was a smaller temple with some amazing stone monuments in front of it and a disc shaped altar. I took some photos then walked up the steps to the top and from there had a great view of one of the other temples pushing up through the jungle canopy. I knew from this moment that this was going to be one of the most memorable days of my life and also one of the best sites I’ve ever taken photos of.
The first temple I came across on my way to the Tikal’s grand plaza.
The view from atop this first temple. It had a great view of the peak of one of the temples rising up through the jungle canopy.
Wanting to avoid a tour group that was coming up behind me, I made my way to the Grand Plaza that is the central area where there were multiple temples and monuments. There were hardly any people here and I was able to take photos of just the temples with no people.
Some of the temples in Tikal’s Grand Plaza.
Me having my picture taken by a random tourist whom I gladly returned the favour for! Notice the camera crew in the backdrop.
Temples, temples and more temples!
Temple IV is considered the best feature to the park and this is because you can get close to the top of it and enjoy an amazing view of the other temples pushing thier way up through the jungle canopy! The view is breathtaking and with the mist rising out of the jungle made for great photos.
Me at the top of temple IV
After touring the grounds I had a quick meal at one of the restaurants there. Like any park expect to pay a few more than most places. My shuttle driver had suggested I load up on water before entering the park to save money. A meal here can be had for between 40Q/$5 and up depending on how close you are to the actual park. The further you walk away from the entrance the cheaper the restaurants get.
Going to Tikal is the highlight of my trip so far and I think it is something anyone into ancient history, civilizations and ruins needs to see. Especially if someone is into photography it is up there with the best places I’ve ever taken photos. I think it was worth the time to go back and forth and the long bus rides etc. and would do it again in a heartbeat!
After a full day of touring the ruins I was picked up at 3:00 pm by my shuttle and this I shared with the groundskeepers who were finished work for the day. After dropping them off first I got out in Flores and explored the town.
Flores is another colonial town and had a funky feel to it. On the shuttle we past through Santa Elena across the bridge and I noticed row upon row of bbq stands. These offered grilled chicken, pork and beef accompanied by rice, beans, salad and tortillas. I decided to go for the chicken and it was amazing! I got all this including an additional piece of chicken and a drink for 30Q/4$. I also got to try some warmed pickled veggies and jalepeno peppers. This place also had the best frijoles(beans) I’ve had since I got down South and possibly the best I’ve ever had anywhere.
BBQ stand where I bought the chicken dinner.
BBQ chicken in Santa Elena.
I like to start my bus journey from the terminal even if one of the pick up stops is closer to where I am in the city or town that I’m leaving from . I like to board the bus before it moves and that way there are no surprises. Like most of Guatemala the tuk-tuk is the most common way to get from place to place within town. A tuk-tuk anywhere in Flores/Santa Elena was 5Q/$.60 and a taxi was 30Q/$4. I took a taxi this time and made my way over to the bus station a few minutes early. Soon enough I was boarding the bus back to Guatemala City and this would be the second 10 hour bus ride in the last 24 hours. Something I wasn’t looking forward to so much, but that was the best choice so that I could make the most of the next day back in Antigua and figure out where the next leg of my adventure would take me. I managed to sleep for most of the ride and woke up in Guatemala City. There I had to do the normal routine of waiting for a fe more buses to arrive to fill up the shuttle and then after an hour or so I was back in Antigua. I got to check in at Hotel Casa Cristina at 9 am and after a long, hot shower I slept a few hours before heading back out to do some more exploring in Antigua.
Gone on a whim…