The six-hour bus ride from Belize City, Belize to Flores, Guatemala was by far the easiest ride so far! The coach bus was spacious with air conditioning and a bathroom, plus only 6 other passengers. Crossing the border into Guatemala was quick, but a fun experience in itself. Right when we hopped off the bus we were greeted by a young boy who introduced himself and directed us to a line to get our passports stamped, followed by a comment that we could pay him. We’ve gotten pretty used to this :).
Flores, Guatemala is a small island on Lago Peten Itza. We switched to a smaller bus before crossing the bridge to the island because our massive coach bus wouldn’t fit. The main reason to visit Flores is its closeness to Tikal, which contains some of the best preserved Mayan ruins in the world and the most popular in Guatemala. Flores was beautiful and peaceful with lake views from almost everywhere! We spent a lot of time walking the narrow cobblestone streets, eating, drinking, and observing the entertaining taxis. They are three wheeled mopeds with a dome frame built over the top and space for 2-3 passengers behind the driver. Some were fixed up with a sub-woofer in the back and lights underneath. It’s an incredibly bumpy ride, but we could get across town for Q10 ($1.40). In the evenings local vendors set up shop on the curb along the lake selling food, jewelry, and playing music. Kids, families, and visitors are everywhere. It's such a fun experience at sunset.
Tikal was definitely the highlight of Flores and a day full of firsts! It means city of sound and voices of the Mayan spirits and was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Mayans. At one point in history up to 100,000 Mayans called Tikal and its temples home. We booked a sunrise tour for Q300 ($40 each). It included our transportation, park fee, and guide for the day. The bus picked 11 of us up outside our hotel at 4:30am. This was the best time for the tour before the park gets crowded. Our guide, Louise, was great! He was born and raised in Tikal National Park and started doing tours at age 13, so he knew every flower, bird, animal, sound, and pathway. He knew everything about the Mayans who inhabited Tikal and much about other Mayan cities in Central America, and how they communicated and traded. One of the best parts of the day was hiking to the top of Temple IV, the largest temple at 70 meters high. Part of Star Wars was filmed at this temple! Even though the morning was still hazy, the view over the jungle was amazing and we were able to see Temples I and III over the tree line.
In a different part of the park we experienced two families of howler monkeys fighting over territory. The two males screamed at one another with their families behind them in the trees above us. Our group stood in awe for a while hoping to see some action.
At one point we found a termite nest and Louise convinced me to eat one. Who knew termites taste like carrots! Ron ate one and still insists it bit him on the way down. We saw a Ceiba tree (cotton tree), gum, cedar, and mahogany trees throughout the hike. Bright green parrots flew overhead and although we didn’t get to see the toucan, Louise pointed out its sound.
Our last full day we rented kayaks and spent the afternoon on the lake. We kayaked to another much smaller island next to Flores and visited their Mayan Museum and drank from coconuts with the museums 21 year old guide, Wilber. Wilber didn’t speak much English and our Spanish is limited so we taught each other a few words and laughed at hand gestures.
Even though this town was a little less action-packed, we had a great time in Flores and visiting Tikal! Stay tuned for our posts coming about Lanquin, Guatemala - where we visited the famous Semuc Champey. Hefners out!
Welcome to Flores!
Our hotel for 3 nights, Casa Villa Del Lago.
View from the hotel balcony.
We had so much fun riding in the taxis! Hundreds of these swarmed the small island.
Local transportation to the surrounding towns.
Tikal National Park.
70 meters up on top of Temple IV. Look for Temples I and III in the distance!
Coaxing a tarantula out of its hole!
A family of howler monkeys above us.
Kayaking to the small island and museum in Lago Peten Itza.