Flores – the gateway to Tikal

Posted from Tikal, Petén Department, Guatemala.

Everyone said Flores was special. The old part of town is an ancient city on an island, in the middle of a lake, just across the border from Belize. If you ever find yourself in Guatemala and happen across Flores, do not miss the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. The ruins are stunning and amazing, covering a vast area in the jungle.

Getting there

Belize western border

The border leaving Belize.

Chicken bus

This is why they’re called chicken busses.

We arrived at Flores late in the evening after having waited in Belize City an extra hour. Some of the people on our bus had forgotten their passports on Caye Caulker. The bus ride from Belize City to Flores is rather painless, apart from the sheer amount of time it takes to cover small distances. The border was straight forward. We had to go through passport control and pay $20 USD to leave Belize. The bus driver made sure we got our entry stamps into Guatemala (no fee) as it’s a booth easy to skip. I heard if you don’t get an entry stamp you can be charged $100 USD on exit.

Hello Flores

The bus company we booked with, Mundo Maya, dropped us off at our hotel after stopping at an ATM. American money is accepted nearly everywhere, but paying in the local quetzal is more cost efficient. It was a kind gesture. We checked into our hostel – Los Amigos Q90 (Q1 = 0.14US) and decided we would stay three nights rather than two because of our late arrival. And then we had a great night in the bar.

The streets are narrow and made with old stone. Many vehicles can’t navigate them. But the ice cream man can.

On our first full day there we decided to take a walk around the island and go check out the market in town. My travel companion needed to buy some shoes and I needed to satiate my inner explorer. The market was massive with a vast array of wares and stalls, but it was pleasant – in that no one tried to corral us or hustle us. My companion, who had chosen to buy shoes at an international mall before we got to the market had a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

Flores market

The market was very similar to every other market. You could buy anything under the sun here.

After the market we chose to head back to the hostel and chill out. It’s important to have some days that aren’t chock full of outings. We both got really lazy, but it was good because we had to go to bed early in order to be up for 2:30 a.m. to go see the sunrise at the ruins in Tikal.

Tikal

The cost with the hostel to go to Tikal was Q100 and then it was another Q250 entrance fee (100 extra than usual operating hours.) The hike from the entrance to Temple II – where we watched the sunrise, is long and exhausting. We saw one tarantula on the way, but no jaguars. As soon as we arrived at the temple the howler monkeys began to wake up. The noise they make is the the noise they used in Jurassic Park for the dinosaurs. The monkeys woke up for a while and then … the sunrise … which we couldn’t see because of clouds and mist. That was a real let down, but it was neat to listen to the jungle wake up.

From the temple we continued on to the grand plaza where we could climb a lot of the structures and wander freely. We didn’t know about Temple IV and that it was massive and climbable, so if you go to Tikal, please climb it and let me know how it was. 

Tikal

The mist lingered into the late morning, but it didn’t hamper any of our views.

Tikal

Deep in the jungle.

Tikal

The main plaza with a non-traditional angle. I took so many photos, but I like how vast it seems from this one.

The entire city is jaw-dropping. Wandering around this place made me think about the ghosts and secrets that still lay hidden in it. Our guide talked about how the Mayan ancestors who built the city also planted the rainforests for the future generations so they would always be provided for. He spoke of how the Guatemalan people were forbidden to practice and acknowledge their Mayan heritage for so long – and so many secrets have been forgotten. He explained how Hollywood always glamourised human sacrifice in an un-factual way. Basically he told us to forget everything we knew about Mayan culture, because it was probably wrong. And he’s likely right.

We left Tikal around 11 a.m. with sore feet, dreamy eyes, hundreds of photos, and pleasant smiles.

It’s a long day – so I had a nap when we returned – and then we decide it was time to party. It was Feb. 15 and at midnight it would be my birthday. We partied until 1 a.m. I have no idea how I woke up the following morning feeling fine. 

The gist

Flores is beautiful, and shouldn’t be missed. But you only need a day or two there to see the ruins and explore the city. It’s far from Belize City and/or Antigua, Guatemala City. or Semuc Champey, so count on a day to recover from the road.

The next day we boarded a van for Lanquin, the village near Semuc Champey – a slice of paradise in the jungle – and an eight-hour drive away, or so we were told. 

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