On crossing back into Guatemala after our visa-break in Belize, the first place we headed towards was the highly-recommended Mayan ruin site of Tikal. As accommodation at the site is somewhat sparse and pricey, we decided to spend a few days in nearby Flores, a small island on Lago Petén Itzá connected by bridge to the mainland. With its built-up shorelines, cobblestone streets and warm climate it has a distinctly Mediterranean feel.
The ruins of Tikal are the most prominent in Guatemala. The site is an impressive 16 square kilometres and visitors walking around the main monuments are expected to cover 10 km in doing so. Staying for one night at a jungle lodge near the site entrance, we took the opportunity to see some of the park in the late afternoon (it is possible to enter after 3pm with a ticket for the following day), returning early the following morning.
A large variety of wildlife resides in the park – we saw howler and spider monkeys, pacas, parrots and woodpeckers, as well as wild turkeys, koatymundis and toucans.
The site has six major temples, all quite incredible in their own way.
It is possible to climb the second temple, giving fantastic views of Temple I, the grand plaza and the North Acropolis – one of the oldest parts of the city and final resting place for many of its rulers.
The ruins are set in the jungle and the view of temples I, II and III rising above the canopy (as seen from the top of Temple IV) is one of the most striking the park has to offer. It is best seen at sunrise, but still good a 7.36am when we got there.
It was a real joy to wander around at our own pace, reading about the different structures and their interpreted uses, as well as gaining a small insight into how the city interacted with its surrounding environment. Like many such places, guides are available and would certainly provide greater detail than we gleaned on our own.
The journey from Flores to our next destination – Semuc Champey – can be made by local transport, however it generally takes more than a day and there are few overnight rest places en route. Based on this we elected to take a direct shuttle, which still took close to ten hours and offered little more comfort than a chicken bus! However, the northern Guatemalan scenery is spectacular and we did enjoy some interesting sights at stops along the way…
Semuc Champey itself is rather remote, as well as being at an altitude best described as chilly (our first experience of such a climate in months). Our hip and welcoming hostel was one of a handful within walking distance of the attraction itself.
Before revelling in the luxury of the cool, turquoise waters of the pozas (pools) we first took the energetic hike up to the mirador for the breathtaking views of this natural wonder.
Formed on top of a limestone bridge with Rio Cahabón flowing over (but mainly under) it, the series of pools are connected by small streams. By mid-morning the place was feeling rather crowded, however as guided tours moved on it quietened by lunchtime.
Taking a dip with stunning views up and down the valley as backdrops, we understood why this place is considered by many as the most beautiful in the country.
From here our journey south continues to the hotly-anticipated, historic Antigua!