Entering Guatemala for the first time via shuttle with the two dutchies Emma and Marsha, as well as Jack and Leong who we’d met on the island of Caye Caulker, Belize at our previous stop. The first destination was a small town called Flores – a pretty but rather unspectacular place where people use as a base to head to one of the great sights in the whole of Central America – the ancient Mayan ruins in Tikal. I’m not the biggest history fan, but had been told that this was a must-see due to the sheer scale of the site and the fact it was located right in the heart of the jungle where a lot of incredible wildlife could be spotted.
On the bridge entering Flores [Download 360 image for VR]
Our first task was to hit an ATM to get some cash out. Jack was the first to try and hit a snag – he’d selected to take out around £200 which the ATM authorised however no cash came out. Uh-oh. We all decided to hit a different ATM so we headed to a nearby supermarket. Virtually all of us were also unsuccessful and we later found out that Emma’s card had been cancelled due to dodgy activity being shown on her account as a result of using this ATM, and despite my card being declined, around £200 had been deducted from my account also. Not a great start (incidentally, Jack got his money credited back into his account within a couple of days of informing his bank Santander, the MasterCard I was using would take a full 3 months before I received mine).
Exploring Flores [Download 360 image for VR]
Sunset in the quaint town of Flores, Guatemala
We headed to Los Amigos, one of the highest rated hostels in the country and a favourite of my travel guru Indietraveller.co. It was a cool place to hang for a few days, although probably the most commercial of hostels I had visited to this point. Every hostel I had been to always had something that was rough around the edges which kind of gave it it’s charm but there was zero sign of that here. Everything was super-polished, they had a full restaurant with a massive (and relatively expensive) menu, a bar/nightclub at the back and even a sauna. It was a nice change after being in the unintended sauna of the dorm rooms at the Pussy Hostel in Belize.
Outside Los Amigos Hostel [Download 360 image for VR]
Me being me (i.e. lazy), I had wanted to chill for a couple of days or so before checking out Tikal but the group decided to book the sunrise tour the next morning. Reluctantly I decided to join them (we had to wake up at 3am and I’m not the best morning person to say the least). That said, watching the sunrise while sitting atop one of the largest temples in the complex was supposed to be breathtaking so we had an early night and headed to bed.
We arrived at the entrance of Tikal at around 4:30am in complete darkness and trekked through the forest for around 30 minutes to arrive to the base of the temple that we’d be climbing to see the sunrise. During this trek, we heard this harrowing noise coming from the forest, something that could only be described as what you’d imagine a massive ape or dinosaur would sound like, echoing out from the darkness. It was unsettling to say the least but the guides seemed completely unfazed (despite the fact it was getting louder the further into the forest we walked) so we continued, despite numerous people asking: “what the fuck IS that??” (we’d get our answer later in the day).
When we got to the top of the temple to watch the sunrise, everyone sat silently and listened to the jungle slowly come alive. It was incredibly misty up top so just my luck that when I made the effort to wake up for something ridiculously early in the morning, we didn’t actually get to see the sun rise at all. This was one of the fallacies of travelling during off-peak season I suppose…
Sitting atop Temple IV to watch the “sunrise” in Tikal, Guatemala [Download 360 image for VR]
The rest of the tour was far from a disappointment however – the scale and number of temples around Tikal are truly stunning. We climbed atop a number of temples (something I heard you’re not allowed to do at the more touristy Chichen Itza), explored the site with a great guide who told us a lot about the history of the place, and how incredible it would have looked all those years ago. It really was impressive, even to a non-history buff like myself. We saw bats, massive grasshoppers and the source of that terrifying sound… tiny howler monkeys which lived up in the canopy (how the fuck something that small could make a noise like that I will never know).
Heading to climb one of the temples [Download 360 image for VR]
Temple exploring with the dutchies [Download 360 image for VR]
Atop one of the many temples [Download 360 image for VR]
In the middle of the main complex of Tikal [Download 360 image for VR]
Atop another temple structure with the vast jungle behind me [Download 360 image for VR]
Another shot of the main complex [Download 360 image for VR]
Final shot of another area of the main complex [Download 360 image for VR]
The next destination on the trail was a place called Semak Champey, a supposed highlight in the whole of Central America. Along with the sailboat from Panama to Cartagena, this was one of the places I had been looking forward to the entire trip. It was a place in the mountains with incredible views from the hostels and a hike that is supposed to be one of the best where you get to visit amazing pools, caves and more.
The issue we had was that the park had been temporarily shut. There was a conflict going on between the locals at the village there and the police/government, who the locals say were taking much of their land away to be used for tourist hikes (the kind we were planning on going on). It was hard not to be sympathetic to the situation, especially as we’d heard that people had been shot/killed in recent days.
As we didn’t know how long the park was going to be shut for, and as much as it sucked missing out on one of my planned highlights of my trip, we ended up making other plans to head to a place called Rio Dulce instead. This incidentally ended up being one of my unintended highlights of the trip… (more on that on the next post!)