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September 26, 2008
From journal Magical Maya Mystery
by Ben the Grate
November 12, 2005
San Ignacio sits just a few minutes from the Guatemala border and only a few hours' drive from Tikal, which is close enough to lure most travelers who have the time and the money.
There are three ways to do it: on your own, with a shuttle service, or on a guided tour.
If you want to visit Tikal on your own (by far the best option), you'll need a rental car that can cross the border. The only rental company in Belize that permits this currently is Crystal Rental (http://www.crystal-belize.com/). A little Spanish will help, as the border crossing can be confusing. The vehicle must be sprayed with insecticide ($10), and you'll pay around $30 for an importation tax, in addition to your own immigration charges into Guatemala, an exit tax of $17.50 from Belize, and a $5 bridge crossing fee just beyond the border.
Make sure you have a good map, and resist the temptation to turn right into the main area of Melchor de Mencos, the first town in Guatemala. The road to Tikal (currently unpaved at this section) goes straight ahead up the hill, even though it looks like an alley.
I suggest that you try to arrive at Tikal (an hour and a half or more once you cross the border) after 3pm. Your $15 admission ticket will be stamped for the next day, so you get 2 days' admission for the price of one.
The hike into the site takes about 45 minutes at a relaxed pace from the parking lot. Many local guides will offer their (expensive) services, and you'll get more out of your trip with a guide if you can afford one.
Poke around the Great Plaza for a bit, then watch the sunset from the Great Pyramid in the Mundo Perdido (Lost World). Make sure you have a flashlight for the long, dark hike back to the car.
Spend the night in Flores, a 1-hour drive from Tikal. It's an enchanting little village on an island in the middle of Lago Peten Itza. Expect to pay around $10 to $15 for a nice room--the Hospedaje Dona Goya II is recommended.
Spend the next day back in Tikal visiting the outer ruins, the Central Acropolis, and the Bat Palace. Leave early enough to drive back to the border in daylight so you don't hit any people or animals on the road (a real danger)! Some people sleep in the road, and I'm not joking!
The Guatemala border crossing closes at 9pm!
A shuttle service from San Ignacio provides transport to Tikal, then to Flores, back to Tikal the next day, and back to San Ignacio. You'll pay around $75 to $100 for transportation alone.
A fully guided tour to Tikal from San Ignacio can run $300, all expenses included.
From journal It's UnBelizeable!
Boca de Tomatlan, Mexico
August 22, 2005
Nuns from Puebla, Mexico came to Antigua to found the Santa Clara church and convent in 1699. The 1717 earthquake seriously damaged the construction and it took almost twenty years to rebuild. It was inaugurated again in 1734 and was housing forty-six nuns. It was abandoned after the 1773 quake. It was later used as housing until the roof fell in during the 1874 quake. In 1944, when the city was declared a national monument, the site was cleaned up and reconditioned, making it safe to open to the public. In 1976, during another earthquake, there was more damage but the place has now been restored to its 1976 state, sort of.PresentThe convent has a beautiful facade, covered in archangels and saints. It is located on the corner of 6 Calle Ote and 2 Avenida Sur, open daily from 8am to 5pm, and admission is 30Q (US$3.75) for foreigners.
Iglesia de San Francisco
The first temple was built in 1579 but was soon destroyed. Its ruins are next to the San Francisco ruins. The present church was built throughout the 17th century. It started small but was enlarged in 1684, damaged by earthquake in 1689, and built bigger and better. By 1702, it covered four blocks and contained the church, a convent, a school and a hospital. There was severe damage during the 1717 quake and even more in 1751. In 1773, it was almost completely ruined. Reconstruction began in 1960 to much criticism. Many thought it was being made too whole, being turned into a "new" ruin. The facade was also restored; its figures are from the 20th century.
It is located on 7 Calle Ote and 1 Avenida Sur and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8am to 6pm. Inside is a museum, El Museo del Santo Hermano Pedro, which displays the religious belongings of Saint Hermano Pedro, still in remarkably good condition. Other religious objects, mostly paintings, are also displayed. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm. Admission is Q3 (US$.37).
Built in the late 16th century, La Concepcion was one of the largest and the most luxurious of Antigua's convents. It covered five blocks and the nuns lived in grand style, surrounded by beautiful objects and creature comforts. It was seriously damaged in the 1717 quake and was damaged some more in 1751 and 1773. It was abandoned in 1774.
Little remains of this huge construction and much of what is left is buried. The front, built in 1694 remains, as do the cloisters. These ruins are on private property and not open to the public but are definitely worth a stop-and-peek from the street. They are located on 4 Calle Ote, east of 1 Avenida.
From journal Wrath of the Gods
July 25, 2005
Everything went just as Walter (email@example.com) said, and we had one of the most wonderful private tours of our lives. Walter is VP of the Tikal visitor organization, and he knows Tikal in and out. He also knows a great deal about Guatemala, and by the end of the day, we had fallen in love with this beautiful and poor country, vowing we would return one day.
Tikal itself is nearly impossible to describe. It is an enormous park, and we felt safe the entire time we were there. We went in January and had very few problems with bugs, though it did rain the whole day on and off. Bring sunblock, water, and a snack, as you may need an energy boost after climbing the pyramids. Walter guided us to the best sites in the ruins and waited patiently while I crawled up the pyramid without a railing (overcoming my fear of heights for what was a spectacular vantage). My only regret was that we didn't spend MORE time near Tikal. Go early in the day (or late) to see animals, as they were all sleeping while we were there.
Walter stopped by a local family's craft store at the end of the day, and we were able to pick up some crafts and textiles. We would recommend buying cloths in Guatemala rather than Belize, as they are all made in Guatemala anyway.
We had a magical time in Guatemala. If you have the chance and opportunity, we would highly recommend Walter and the beautiful, mystical, and ancient Tikal.
From journal Tikal in Guatemala
August 27, 2005
At that hour of the muggy morning, I descended into the jungle alone, listening to the birds squawk and waiting for the howls from the monkeys. The first time I heard the roar from a full-grown male, I about jumped out of my skin from the primal and guttural sound. Head back and eyes to the tall trees, I witnessed several howling matches, monkeys crashing down branches, and fruit being cracked open, then the shell hurled at gawking tourists. This was my first time seeing monkeys outside of a zoo, so I too was in awe. Other wildlife highlights include a colorful wild turkey and a toucan.
This is an impressive Mayan site in the size of the temples and steep steps. To see the view in the photo below, I climbed over 200 wooden steps to reach the top of the temple. There were several that were so steep that I would not attempt climbing them after seeing people come down.
Bring your guidebook or join a guided tour to learn the history, or for budget travelers, eavesdrop on them. There are no signs explaining any of the ruins. Be prepared for lots of walking, and bring water and bug repellent. Chips, soda in glass bottles, and water vending begins throughout the park around 8am. There are several small restaurants located outside the official entrance, which are possible to walk to and return to the park. People in town act like you will starve to death if you do not buy a box lunch from them to take with you. I arrived around 6am, went for breakfast around 11am, and then returned to explore the site until 2pm. I didn't see everything, but it was a plenty of time. Transportation in the air-conditioned van was $80, and the van will stop at El Remate or anyplace along the road if you are staying outside of Flores.
From journal Trek to Tikal
January 31, 2005
We got a package deal (from a local travel agency) that included a transfer from Antigua to Guatemala City, a flight to Tikal, a transfer to our hotel, a morning tour of Tikal with tour guide, a free afternoon, a night at the Jungle Lodge, food, and passes to Tikal the next day. It was great. One day is not enough because you really only have about half a day in the ruins, which is not enough time to see everything. In the mornings it is pretty crowded with lots of tourists. In the afternoon everything quiets down a lot. You can spend quality time really exploring the things that you breezed by, and the guide gives you suggestions on where to head. It is very worth staying until dusk, when the animals go crazy, but bring a flashlight. It goes from dusk to pitch-dark very quickly. We wandered around in the dark for a while before someone with a flashlight came along, and we walked back to the lodge together. The howler monkeys are incredible, especially considering their size. We also spotted other monkeys and an animal whose tail sticks straight up into the air.
You can also take a bus here, which is much cheaper but very long. With our time constraints, flying was the way to go.
From journal Guatemalan Travel
July 26, 2003
It is almost unbelievable that a site on this scale was uninhabited for so long. Most of these temples were once covered in earth and foliage, and indeed most of the hills at Tikal are buried temples. Each ruler here had to build a new temple every twenty years.
The highlight of the trip is climbing Temple IV. The view is something that cannot be described except with pictures. You can sit up there all day if you like, watching the birds flit about the canopy. They say sunrise is good from here. It is a popular temple to climb, as there is a sturdy wooden staircase/ladder.
The Lost World complex is another great area to explore. It was one of the last areas to be restored, and the Lost World pyramid is an ambitious hike. Because of the broken steps, I didn't feel comfortable climbing to the top. However, my traveling companion confessed that the sunset vista from here was something I should not have missed.
You could spend at least two days at Tikal, exploring all of the major and minor ruins. A guide is worthwhile. Ours gave us a basic orientation to the site and gave us a photography-oriented tour. Our visit was quite dramaticly planned, with grand vistas surprising us at every turn.
From journal Side-Trip to Tikal
by Cherri Megasko
February 27, 2001
Our group had four people, plus our 72-year-old Guatemalan guide, Angel. The scenery on the way to Tikal was great...just like out of the pages of National Geographic. We passed small villages where the local women were carrying water in pots on their heads and washing their clothes with stones on wooden platforms built into the lake.
Once at Tikal we trekked through some small stands of jungle and got a few lessons on local fauna and flora from Angel. We were provided with a sack lunch -- not great, but adequate. The ruins were quite a sight -- 72 (very vertical) steps to the top of the Lost World.
One thing that I found very interesting was that the Guatemalan government can't afford to excavate and restore all of their ruins, so they are progressing very, very slowly. They use all original materials, and cut each block of limestone to exactly match the one they are replacing (or so we were told by our guide).
I'm not a lover of ancient ruins, or even historic sites, but I would definitely recommend this trip. Getting to see some of the local people of Guatemala was just as exciting for me as seeing the ruins.
New York, New York
March 19, 2006
From journal Quick Trip to Tikal
Sauk Rapids, Minnesota
February 11, 2006
From journal Trip to Belize