Saturday, January 1, 2022

[FLORES] The Jewel of Mayan Guatemala

Historians seem to be in agreement that among the Maya regional centers during the Pre-Columbian era, there were three that reached the highest level of prominence which caused them to be at constant loggerheads with one another: Caracol in modern day Belize; Calakmul in Mexico’s Campeche; and Tikal in present day Guatemala’s Petén region. The three form some sort of triangle and would probably be easier to all visit sans pandemic. For now, I settled for the most accessible one. Tikal.

While Mexico’s pre-Columbian ruins appear to enjoy the best name recall among tourists with the likes of Chichen Itzá and Teotihuacán, Guatemala’s Tikal is also up there as a noticeable name as far as tourism is concerned. To get here, you can fly from the capital or take an overnight bus. If going by land, I suggest coming from or going to San Ignacio in neighboring Belize to significantly cut your travel time. If you have the moolah, a one-hour flight to or from Guatemala City will cost you around USD100.

The original plan was to just cross the border by bus from San Ignacio, but because of immigration issues I was forced to fly out of Belize and fly into Flores. Don’t ask. Anyway, from Flores there are a multitude of tour agencies you can book for different kinds of tours. I personally recommend TikalGo because their website is straightforward, and they are a good service provider based on my recently concluded tour with them. For Tikal, you have many options: group; private; sunrise; sunset; overnight. Take your pick.

I opted for the group tour at USD85, which isn’t so bad. It includes roundtrip transpo, admission ticket, the tour guide as well as lunch at the restaurant in the park. Gratuities and drinks such as soda are not included. A bottle of Pepsi or Coke costs GTQ10 (~PHP65). Otherwise, you can settle for the free horchata served with the yummy entrée of your choice. I chose the beef steak sauteed in mushroom sauce and then overdosed on rice. It was a great way to end the trip after almost four hours of hiking and trekking.

Unlike Xunantunich which I was easily able to do on my own because of its accessibility and relatively small land area covered, Tikal feels a bit impossible for me. If you drive and you have a rental car, the only problem I can see for you is the long queue for the entrance ticket. If you go on a group tour, they take care of that on your behalf. As for the vibes at the ruins, Tikal reminded me so much of Chichen Itzá. Both are amazing alright, but the crowd is so thick, you’ll be hard pressed to find one of the more popular pyramids without a soul walking around or climbing them.

But that doesn’t mean that there are no free pyramids at all. As mentioned, the place IS huge. If you veer away from the crowd and go off the beaten track, I’m quite sure you will find a secluded pyramid you can explore. As for us, we settled for the pyramids that were popular choices for most tourists both domestic and foreigners alike, namely Temple IV which is the tallest structure in the area, and Temple II at the main plaza which is right across Temple I which is probably the most photographed pyramid there but one of the many that you are NOT allowed to climb.

My energy was just enough for Temple IV. Since Temple II was towards the end of our itinerary before lunch, I told my legs, hey look at that pyramid the view from the top must be sooooo awesome. To which my legs replied with FUCK YOU. Considering how there really is no arguing with my legs when they are tired, I just sat on the green grass at the Main Plaza along with many exhausted people. We just enjoyed people and pyramid watching on our own patches of grass under trees that provided shade from the angry sun.

If you want to explore the national park longer and stay onsite, there are three hotels available right at the entrance. That will save you an hour of travel time if you are based in either Flores or Santa Elena. If you just want to see some pyramids and get some been-there-done-that bragging rights, then I’d say a day tour would be enough. If you are a Maya enthusiast or wannabe pre-Columbian history scholar, then spend as much time as you like. The place is only around 30% excavated and there are still a lot of wonders left to explore and unearth! Unleash your inner Indiana Jones.

[FLORES] The Jewel of Mayan Guatemala

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