“Dude, we got totally ruined in Flores, Guatemala.” 🍹🍷🍻 I’m talking about actual ruins, silly. Mayan ruins, to be precise. Chichen Itza, eat your heart out – Tikal is where it’s at these days…
So, the 3 empanadas have a new travel buddy: Steve, who you’ll remember from the last post if you’re an avid reader of this blog… Steve decided to come with us in the shuttle bus to Flores but would then go on to do a jungle hike whilst we stayed and visited Tikal. There was only the 4 of us in the shuttle bus, which was a nice surprise.
We were staying on the island of Flores which is connected to the mainland by one main road across the water. Before we reached the road, the car pulled over and told us that we would have to change vehicles and pointed to another driver/van a few metres away. Our new driver told us that there were no cash points on the island, so we would have to get money out at the bank we were currently parked outside of. Unfortunately, none of our cards worked at this ATM but, between us we had enough money to survive for the time being so we just got in the new bus and began driving over to the island.
The driver then told us that nothing would be open all weekend – including all of the tour companies and that if we wanted to visit Tikal (the famous Mayan ruins), we would have to book immediately because we only had an hour left until closing time. He asked if we wanted to be dropped off at his tour company – we didn’t think we had any other option so we just said yes.
We arrived at the travel agency (called REPSA) and said bye to Steve. After about 20 minutes of deliberation, we booked a sunrise tour of Tikal (they advised us that this was the best time of day to visit) as well as our bus tickets to Belize.
We were told that our hostel was walking distance from the travel agency and were sent on our way. It didn’t take us long to find Los Amigos Hostel and get checked in.
We were sitting, relaxing in the common area when we overheard one of the hostel staff members speaking to a guest about the Tikal tours.
‘Definitely go for sunset. Sunrise is rammed with tourists and the entrance fee to the park is more expensive at this time. You can book the tour through us!’
We glanced up to see posters advertising Tikal tours for about $10 less than the price we had paid. Plus there were tons of warnings about not booking with companies in town due to scams and rip-offs…. Our hearts started to sink a bit. The tickets were non refundable but we wondered if we’d be able to at least swap to the sunset tour.
Alice wasn’t feeling well, so Abbie and I marched back down to the tour company to see what we could do. So much for the fact that our driver had said it was about to close… it was still open 3 hours after we had arrived in Flores. There were 2 men sitting at the desk and we explained that we wanted to change our tour time. They kept insisting that the morning was better (this is because the morning is more expensive and they want as much money out of you as possible) but eventually they let us swap to the sunset tour because we were ‘so beautiful’. I usually snap at things like that – disgusting, creepy men make my skin crawl – but I knew it wasn’t the appropriate time if we wanted to get our way, so I just gave them my best fake smile and we left with a new tour itinerary.
Back at the hostel, we bumped into our friend Emjay who we met in San Juan del Sur but also stayed with at Zephyr Lodge (the traveller community is crazy small sometimes). We all had dinner together in the hostel and then called it a night.
The next day we spent the morning wandering around Flores because our Tikal tour didn’t leave until the afternoon. It’s a nice enough town but there isn’t really much to do. We did notice that there was an ATM in town (our driver had lied to us and said that there wasn’t) and that shops and tour companies were in fact open (our driver said that everywhere would be closed). What did we learn from this lesson? Flores is king when it comes to mugging tourists off!
The most important part of this story is that we found a tailor in the town that offered to sort out Alice’s skirt for her! Hideous (sorry, I mean quirky) Lanquin skirt is no more and has been transformed into a classy maxi skirt. I’m happy for Alice, of course but I’m also sad that we can’t make fun of her anymore.
Soon enough, the time came for us to go to Tikal. A shuttle bus picked us up from the hostel and drove us 2 hours to the National Park. We paid the rest of our entrance fee and met our guide at the gate.
Our guide was pretty terrible at English. Not everyone in the group understood Spanish so we didn’t have much choice but to listen to his incredibly long and meaningless sentences for a few hours. I’ve tried to do my best impression for you guys:
‘This stone… it is stone of Mayan… this stone is a stone that I think is very special. It is an important and special stone. We can see here on this stone, we can see what is to be a carve. The carve of the Mayan. It is a stone carve on the stone. From the Mayan. The Mayan carve the stone.’ Ohhhh, yeah, cool! Wait…. what?
The ruins are massive so our guide just showed us what he thought were the best parts. We were impressed by what we saw – some of the views were breathtaking and the structure of the pyramids and temples were truly a sight to behold. There are 3 important Mayan ruin sites in Central America: Copan in Honduras, Tikal in Guatemala and Chichen Itza in Mexico. Chichen Itza is by far the most famous of the three but you can’t walk on the ruins there because there are barriers plus there’s the obvious ‘jam-packed with tourists’ issue. Copan is free from tourists but it’s apparently quite small and underwhelming. We think Tikal was the perfect compromise (but we are biased because it’s the one we chose).
After we’d seen some of the main ruins, we hiked up to the highest point of Tikal to watch the sunset. At the top, there was a security guard with a gun and a barrier that said ‘DO NOT CROSS’. At first, we stayed in our designated zone but, after a while, the security guard let us cross the barrier to climb on to the ruins and then sat down to smoke a cigarette…. #latinamerica
It was pretty cloudy the day we visited, so the sunset wasn’t as good as it could have been but it was still so cool to see the whole of the national park from above. Apparently it was a filming destination for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Sadly, I’ve never seen a Star Wars film in my life so this didn’t excite me nearly as much as it excited some of the other people on our tour.
Once the sun had set, we started to head towards the park exit. It was pitch black and we had to use our phone torches for light. We saw scorpions, spiders and snakes on the paths – much more sinister than the monkeys and toucans we’d spotted earlier in daylight!
Eventually we were all back on the bus back to Flores. The bus was very cramped and stuffy because for some reason the driver had decided to give a lift to some Tikal National Park staff members… I always laugh at the idea of these things happening in the UK. Pretty sure you’d be stopped for stuffing 20 people into a 10-man van but here it’s no big deal whatsoever.When we arrived back in Flores, we went out for dinner with the rest of our tour group before making our way back to the hostel to organise our backpacks and check out.
We only had a few hours of sleep before we had to wake up to catch our 5am bus to Belize. We had been told to wait on the main road for the bus so we tried to wake ourselves up a bit, grabbed our backpacks and walked for about 10 minutes to the pick up point.
We found ourselves sitting on the side of a main road with all of our valuables on our person in a not-so-safe city at 5am in the morning… To make matters worse, the bus still hadn’t arrived by 5.30am. We started to panic that we had bought fake bus tickets (especially considering the kerfuffle we had with that tour company in the first place) but just as we started brainstorming a plan B, a big gold bus pulled up next to us. OUR TICKETS WERE REAL! Relieved and tired, we curled up on the bus ready to begin our long journey to Belize.
Stay tuned for the next chapter! 🇬🇹 –> 🇧🇿