Touring The Treetops Of Tikal In Flores, Guatemala
The day we leave Belize and journey to Guatemala is another bright and sunny one. Our water taxi from San Pedro to the mainland leaves at 7.30am so we’re up early, aiming to catch a 10am bus that will take us directly from the ferry terminal to a town that sits in the middle of a lake in Guatemala, called Flores.
We needn’t have worried about getting to the terminal in time to reserve tickets though, as it turns out there are just eight of us on a fifty-seater coach due to it being low season. It’s a comfortable five hour journey and we make it through the border immediately upon arrival, with no dodgy officials trying to charge us illegal exit fees, which happened the last time I made this trip back in 2012.
When we pull up in the colonial-style town of Flores we’re able to book a tour for the following day; a sunrise visit to the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. It means a 3am pick-up at our hostel, but we think it will be worth the lack of sleep and, because we’re clearly feeling adjusted to the backpacker lifestyle now, we commit to booking an overnight bus for the following evening as well, to our next destination in the south of the country.
With the next forty-eight hours of our lives planned and after some frantic trawling from broken cashpoint to broken cashpoint to pay for it all, we finally check-in at our hostel, Los Amigos. We’ve paid a little extra for a private room tonight, so after an hour wandering along the promenade of the nearby lake, watching the sun set and eating local street food (tostadas with guacamole and beef, delish!) we settle down for the night and try to get some shut-eye.
Welcome to Tikal National Park
As promised, our shuttle bus to Tikal collects us at 3am and a little bleary-eyed, we are taken to the entrance of the Tikal National Park in the pitch black darkness of night. There’s just one other person on our tour, a German who’s studying in Colombia, and it’s a good job he’s with us as it turns out the tour company quoted us the wrong entrance fee and we don’t have enough cash to get in. Not what you want at 4am in the middle of the rainforest. Luckily, the German comes to our rescue by paying our extra and we’re able to start the hike to the main temple, which we’ll climb to watch the sunrise.
I’m a little uneasy because we have nothing but flashlights to guide our way and the tour leader has informed us we need to watch out for snakes, scorpions and tarantulas, any of which may greet us along the way. In fact, we see two tarantulas on the ground before we even set off! Overall though, it’s a non-eventful journey and we climb 70 metres to the top of Temple IIII still in darkness.
The animals of the rainforest awake
The experience at the top of Temple IIII is completely unique. Sitting on the cold limestone steps we are way above tree level and once our eyes have adjusted we can just about see the silhouettes of more temples rising out of the forest in the distance.
As dawn nears, the animals in the forest start to wake and we all sit silently, just listening. At first it’s birds, crickets and toads, but then the howler monkeys wake and all of a sudden we could be on the set of Jurassic Park for all the roaring we can hear. It starts to get lighter but it’s a dreary morning and there’s lots of cloud, so the orange sunrise we’ve imagined doesn’t appear, it just suddenly becomes light. None of us mind this, we’re all blown away by the real sounds of the rainforest wildlife we’ve been so lucky to hear.
Unfortunately, as we sit 70 metres in the air and think about how amazing this moment is, another sound joins the chorus. Rain. We can hear it in the distance, the unmistakable patter of heavy rain, and within seconds it reaches us. We are soaked. That’s the thing about visiting rainforests, more often than not, it rains. So, waterproof jackets on but still wet-through, we persevere through the next three hours of trekking around the forest, climbing temples and spotting monkeys swinging from the trees, while the sun refuses to come out.
Time to relax in Flores
Eventually, we pile back into our shuttle bus and are returned to our hostel, where the sun is blazing. After a shower and change of clothes, Dave and I spend the afternoon walking about Flores, eating in an Italian restaurant and trawling more cashpoints to withdraw our debt to our German friend. Our overnight bus leaves at 8.30pm and after a very long, incredible but also soggy day, we’re grateful to settle into spacious, reclining seats and sleep for the duration of the twelve-hour bus ride to Antigua, which is our next destination just south of Guatemala city. Keep your eyes posted for my next blog and read all about the coffee fields of Antigua!