A January 2003 trip
to Tikal by ShannonBrooke
Quote: My January visit to the UNESCO heritage site, Tikal, was fraught with difficulties and it was still well worth it.
Climbing the temples is not for the acrophobic. I climbed Temple II and Temple IV. Temple V is also open to visitors now. I much preferred Temple IV's ladder ascent to Temple II's harrowing stone steps. Temple IV has amazing views of the jungle and the other temples. Don't miss it even if you're afraid of heights.
If you are flying into the Flores Airport, by all means, arrange a tour with airport pickup. This is best done in Guatemala.
If you are flying into Belize City, there are busses that go all the way to Tikal. You can also catch a flight from there, and often the flight will be part of a tour package.
From San Ignacio, arrange a tour with the local tour operators. They can often get low prices on hotel rooms, both at Tikal or in nearby Flores. They also can help you cross the border.
It is definitely beneficial to speak a little Spanish to communicate with the hotel staff and waiters. The waiters did not speak any English. This is surprising because it seemed that every guest I encountered was American. However, when in Guatemala, one cannot expect everyone to speak English. I had a special challenge and had to use many words from my college Espanol, because I had been given English vouchers and had to translate them in order to receive my tour, lunch, etc.
Hopefully you will not have prepaid for a tour, lunch, and a room in advance. Lunch at the Jungle Lodge is something to write home about, only because you would want to warn others. We were served cold food, cooked hours ago. I had the charming prospects of eating an insect leg in my bun, the one food I considered safe.
As a side note, some other guests were complaining about the dampness in their rooms. I think this is probably to be expected given that you are in a rainforest.
On the bright side, you're in the perfect location to be awoken by the howler monkeys and to visit Temple IV at dawn.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on July 26, 2003
Outside the Tikal site entrance
All manner of Mayan handicrafts are sold here, from small carved animals to stone Mayan statues. You can also pick up a t-shirt if you need a change of clothes. Although prices are rumored to be lower in the nearby city of Flores, you can bargain with the vendors here and we found the prices quite reasonable. This is a great place to pick up gifts for home, and I brought home some obsidian jewelry for my mom and a Mayan goddess statue for myself.
If you need snacks or water, here is the place to go. After our unpleasant dining experience at the Dining Lodge, we ate entirely from the vendors here, getting oreos and pretzels. These were not the most nutritious meals, but we knew they were safe and wouldn't cause further illness.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on July 26, 2003
Tikal National Park
Attraction | "Tikal"
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.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 26, 2003
Tikal National Park
I had pre-booked our Tikal trip with Guatemala Ecological Adventures. If I had gone through Lenny, I would have saved at least $100 and lots of hassle. I wouldn't recommend booking your hotel in advance at Tikal, because even at high season, there was plenty of vacant rooms. Worst comes to worst, you end up in the lovely lakeside village of Flores.
You can get to Tikal from Belize a number of ways, from private cab to public transportation. Here is how we did it. You get into a van that drives to the border, disembark, cross the border on your own, and meet your driver with a different vehicle on the other side. It saves them money and you time. It's fairly easy to leave the country, and I find myself wondering if US immigration is ever so easy-going. I could have smuggled half-dozen things across the border--no one checked.
The border crossing on the Belizean side is in a beautiful white building, sparkling clean and well-lit. On the Guatemalan side, it is almost like a movie-ticket counter with long lines and a crowd. This is also where you change money and there will be moneychangers and taxi drivers offering you anything you could want at the border. I changed twenty dollars into Quetzales here, so that we'd have money to get into the park.
Guatemala is quite different architecturally. I have heard it said that Belize looks carribean, but having never seen any of the Caribbean, I cannot say. However, to be sure, the wraparound porches and stilt-houses that were so common in Belize are less so in Guatemala.
At Tikal, we said goodbye to our drivers and the other couple. They were off with a Belizean tour guide. We had to pay upfront to get into the park and then had to find our tour guide. At the Jungle Lodge, we were given a room but they didn't know where our guide was. He was supposed to meet us there, but he wasn't there. We were also supposed to have a packet with our vouchers for hotel/food/guide/museum fees. The Jungle Lodge staff didn't know what I'm talking about. I luckily had a printout of my voucher, and the clerk tells me she has never seen anything like it before. Of course, two days later when we check out, she gives me a packet with the vouchers in it. Too little too late. Anyway, we do get an English speaking guide finally. He says our other guide is probably waiting for us at the airport. (!?!).
The next morning, we missed the sunrise at Temple IV. I was awake, but Alli was too sick to move and I was afraid to walk there on my own. However, I did hear the famous call of the howler monkeys and set out that morning to capture them on film. I followed the sounds to their source, a tall tree near the swimming pool. The most I could see of the monkeys was the shaking of tree branches.
Later that day, we did get our park fees refunded due to our vouchers, so we visited the Temple of the Inscriptions, revisited the necropolis, and shop at the marketplace. I ended up with a very cool statue of a nursing Mayan woman and a coatamundi t-shirt. Alli bargains for a table runner and a mask.
Then we settled in with our books in the hotel lobby for a Really Long Wait. We waited. And waited. And waited. Our driver was supposed to come at 2pm, and didn't show up til 4pm to pick us up. When he does finally arrive, he has to track down two other people he is supposed to pick up.
We found them wandering the markets, nowhere near the pickup point. They seem drunk already, or perhaps just stupid. These two other people are like two biggest rednecks I've seen in real life. Bad teeth, shaggy hair, plaid shirts. Of course, they were American. The real thing--the reason why people look down on Americans. In their midwestern accents, they sat at the back of the van talking about the country, the people, the pyramids. They didn't know anything that they were talking about. They were condescending to and about the locals. And of course, they didn't bother to talk to us.
When we got back to the border, it was already dark. We had to cross it on our own, and we were supposed to meet the driver on the other side, just as we had done the day before. Again, we wait and we wait, all the while surrounded by people offering us rides and moneychanging. The sun has gone down; some of the men we pass think that means it's time to start hitting on us.
It had been quite some time that we were standing on the Belizean side of the border. No sign yet of our driver or the two rednecks. We start to wonder if the idiots have messed up their documentation. Eventually our driver comes through and says "I found them. They were in a bar over on the Guatemalan side. They asked if I would wait an hour for them. I told them no way, because I was paid to drive you two to San Ignacio as well--it's unfair to let you wait."
Would you believe they never mentioned it to us? They never said that they were going to attempt to abandon us in a border town in a third-world country while they put back some beers. Well, we left them there in Guatemala and our driver took us back to our hotel. We were exhausted, dirty, and Alli's sick, but we've seen the best Mayan pyramids in the world.