It was a very long day of travelling to get from Caye Caulker to Flores – an hour boat ride followed by an 8 hour bus journey, broken up on the way by quite a confusing border crossing. We got off our bus at the border only for the bus to immediately drive off (with our bags still on board), leaving some young children to walk us over to the immigration officials and inform us that we would get on a different bus on the other side. After going through immigration and nervously waiting for around 20 minutes, a smaller shuttle style bus pulled up next to us to take us the rest of the way. Fortunately our bags had survived the transition and were piled up in the back!
Flores is a beautiful island town on Lake Petén Itzá, linked to the town of Santa Elena by a causeway. It has a real colonial charm, and we had a great time exploring and wandering through the cobbled streets, checking out local shops and climbing up the hill to the town square looking out over the lake. We originally set aside the whole of our first day just to look around, but as the town is so small we had pretty much seen everything by lunchtime!
So that afternoon we decided to get a boat just across the lake to the small village of San Miguel, which only cost us 5 quetzales/50p each, so that we could walk up to the lookout point – known as the ‘mirador’ – that overlooks the town. Altogether it’s about a 2 hour round trip that takes you on a gentle walk through the jungle (albeit a bit of a muddy one as it’s rainy season!) before you climb up a set of stairs to the lookout. The view is breathtaking, and on a clear, sunny day you can both see and hear life in Flores bustling away just across the water.
Many people use Flores as a base to visit Tikal, the ruins of a magnificent Mayan city about an hour away by car. We originally planned to go on a tour that left Flores at 8am, but on the recommendation of our friends Chris and Ana who we met in Belize (and then met up with again in Flores) we decided to go for the sunrise tour that departs at 3am. When our alarms woke us up at 2.30 the next morning, all we felt was an immediate sense of regret at our decision – and the dark and bumpy shuttle bus ride to the park didn’t help us feel much better. Once we arrived a guide appeared to escort us to Temple IV, which we would be climbing up to watch the sunrise. Temple IV is one of the tallest temples at Tikal, and was famously used in a scene from Star Wars.
The walk through the jungle in the dark was a little terrifying, mostly because the light of my torch kept landing on spiders that I’m fairly sure belonged in Jurassic Park and who would scuttle around erratically as soon as we came near them, but once we arrived at Temple IV and climbed up the creaky wooden stairs tacked to the side of the structure, it all became totally worth it.
Our guide informed us that the temple is still considered to be a holy place and so we should remain as silent as possible at the top, both out of respect and because the site is often used for peaceful meditation. He then waved us up the stairs with the rather ominous farewell, “remember, you’re not going to be alone up there”. Thanks, just what I needed to hear after my nerves were shredded from numerous encounters with gigantic jungle spiders.
We got to the top just as the sun started rising. Luckily for us it was a really clear day with hardly any clouds, so we got an incredible view as the sun turned the sky orange and mist started rising out of the jungle. From our vantage point we could see a couple of the other temples poking out above the trees, and for a few minutes the whole world fell completely silent. Then all of a sudden – and this didn’t do much to help my nerves – out of the jungle we heard an almighty, echoing roar. As it died away it was quickly followed by another, then a chorus of roars broke out all around us. This was the sound of the howler monkeys waking up the rest of the jungle, and it was just incredible to hear them – we later found out that howler monkey cries were used to voice the roars of the T-Rex in the Jurassic Park films. Hearing them in real life, you can understand why!
We stayed up on the temple for about 45 minutes before making our way back down the steps so our guide could show us around the rest of the park. Our morning finished with lunch at the Tikal restaurant before being shuttled back to Flores for a much needed nap!
That night we decided to chill in our hostel before our bus to Lanquin the following morning, and we got to try some of the amazing food at the onsite restaurant. We stayed in Hotel La Casa Del Lacandon, and it is without doubt one of the best places we have stayed so far. The owner Ollie is originally from Germany and has lived in Guatemala for the last 9 years, and he is basically a font of all knowledge when it comes to things to see and do, and how to get from place to place. He is passionate about ethical farming and organic food, which is obvious from the delicious food that is on offer. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there, and though we were looking forward to the next part of our trip we felt very sad to leave!