Hitching a ride with MayaWalk tours to Tikal for $15 US, we crossed the Belizean-Guatemalan border with no problems – other than the Belizean government extracting another $40 dollars in tourist exit fees, and exchanging money there on the bad advice of the driver that it was a better rate than at Tikal. Switching to a Guatemalan bus, we drove the surprisingly lovely and clean roads to Tikal arriving before noon. The Jaguar Inn, inside the park, did not have our rooms ready so, dropping our packs, we headed to the park entrance. Since there was a full moon, we inquired and arranged for a guide to take us in at 8pm for $15 per person.
We paid our $20 per person gringo admission fee and walked into the ruins. The park covers a huge area with 7 major and many minor temples, pyramids and building complexes Temples 2, 4, and 5 had amazing views of the tops of structures poking through the jungle canopy, as well as the wild life: Toucans and Spider monkeys. The 130 foot tall Temple 1, built for the tomb of ruler Double Comb (good to be the king) is no longer climbable since 2 picture-taking tourists toppled backward to their deaths. Temple 5, over 180 feet tall, required a steep, rickety ladder-type ascent to a 30 inch wide platform looking down at a dizzying 45 degree angle – no railing. Like the roar of jaguars, Howler monkeys were making quite a ruckus – calming our already jangled nerves, not one bit. See Video (5meg WMV file). After about 4 hours, we got stuck in a torrential downpour. So much for the end of the rainy season. We don’t really think we can do Tikal justice in words, so check out the pictures in the gallery.
At 7, we ate dinner with some other tourists at one of the local comedores (like a little dinner hut) across from the visitors center. Be forewarned – you can break a tooth on the nachos. Much to our disappointment, the skies were completely overcast at 8pm, so the 6 of us decided not to do the night tour. The guide tried to convince us that he had prepaid a fee of $7 per person, but it is close to impossible that a Guatemalan (or anyone) would do that with no deposit from us. We finally gave him about $1.50 per person – after all, he did wait around for two hours for us.
On Christmas Eve, we made our way to the little island town of Flores (south of Tikal) which is connected to the town of Santa Elena by a long bridge. It was a great place to spend Christmas, except if you were trying to sleep at midnight – the time at which every household in both towns explodes with fireworks for a good 30 minutes. We stayed at Hotel Mirador Del Lago for $11 per night (private room and bath – hot shower but beware the electric element sitting on top of the shower head; note to self – don’t touch when showering and standing in an inch of water). Found a good pizzeria opposite and a few doors down. It took about an hour for our pizza – think they needed to let the dough rise – but it was well worth it.
Christmas morning, Cool Beans, just up from our hotel, served a delicious hot and cold latte in a pretty palapa-type environment overlooking the water. We met up with Marcy and Steve at their over-priced Gran Hotel Del Isla and enjoyed lunch on a floating restaurant on the west side of the city. Afterwards, we haggled for a boat ride and managed to get 1 ½ hours private sunset cruise around the lake for 120 Quetzales (vs.150). We rounded out the day with Xmas dinner with Marcy and Steve at the pizzaria.