Flores and Tikal, Guatemala
A few months back when I was booking our flights to Belize and creating a vision board of Central America (yep, that’s a thing), I discovered a city called Flores. I thought it looked interesting, read a bit more and then forgot all about it.
Fast forward to me sitting in Belize deciding where to go next – did I want to continue south through Belize or cross the border into Guatemala in search of ancient ruins? Again, Flores came up in my search so I decided to go exploring.
If you’re deciding which direction to go next, or where to go at all in Central America, this is what I discovered with a two-year-old and her father in tow.
Let the co-parenting adventures begin.
We took a bus from Belize City to Flores, Guatemala. You can buy tickets where you board the bus at the water taxi station. The trip was five hours and cost US$25 each adult. The bus stops at the border for immigration and passport control where there is a US$20 exit fee for each adult.
You can also exchange currency at the border if needed, but the rates are better elsewhere.
TRAVEL TIP: The bus doesn’t stop other than at the border crossing. We packed an activity pack for said toddler, snacks and lunch, and plenty of water (remember you can’t drink the tap water). I also dressed us in long pants for the ride because I usually find the air-conditioning on transportation to be cold, but they are older buses and it sure wasn’t the case.
We stayed at Los Amigos Youth Hostel in Flores. I cannot praise this hostel enough (I’m not cool enough to be sponsored, so this is just me generally raving about a hostel, no perks included). We paid around US$42 a night for a larger private room with three beds, a bathroom and air-conditioning. Rooms with shared bathrooms and dorms are a lot cheaper.
The hostel sits in a private garden-setting with yoga classes and massage available, a rooftop eucalyptus steam bath, book-exchange, restaurant, bar and upstairs late-night venue for those who want to stay out later (we didn’t attend this but it couldn’t be heard from the room).
The food was well-priced, some of the healthiest and best food I’ve ever eaten, and toddler approved! There’s also have a variety of fresh juices and smoothies and the hostel offers packed lunches for daily tours and outings which we purchased for our hikes.
Los Amigos also runs its own tour company which we used for our treks to Tikal and Yaxha. You can visit the hostel and their tours here http://amigoshostel.com
GEORGES’S ROPE SWING
We spent a day exploring the island of Flores. We walked the cobble-stoned streets, had a cold beer at Cool Beans Cafe (where we picked up a hand-drawn city map) and paid a man around US$8 to take us across the lake in his boat and pick us up later.
We were dropped off at George’s Rope Swing – a tiny travelers’ oasis with rope swings, hammocks, a diving board, food and even accommodation if needed.
We spent the afternoon jumping in and out of the water, floating around and laying in hammocks, and took the boat back just in time to watch the sunset.
Tasting the street food in Flores was also a favourite pass-time. We didn’t taste as much as we’d like but we enjoyed dinner from a street vendor which included four tacos each for Q15 (close to US$2). There’s also an array of desserts and fresh juices.
Most travellers head straight to Tikal but without being on a strict time schedule, and really without any itinerary, we chose to do both tours, one for sunset and one for sunrise.
We were picked up at the at hostel at noon in a shuttle and drove for around an hour and half to the ancient site. The tour cost Q160 (US$25) each adult including transportation and an English-speaking guide. Park entrance fee Q80 (around US$11) is not included in the tour.
The site feels very surreal, like heading back into ancient times to explore a forgotten city, but also like dinosaurs are going to appear at any moment. The constant howls of the monkeys sound very much like that of a T-REX (because I obviously hear dinosaur noises all the time) and it really does feel like you’re in a Jurassic Park movie.
While we never did catch sight of a dinosaur, we saw a variety of wildlife including howler and spider monkeys, woodpeckers and toucans, and were able to identify local fauna such as pepper leaves and citronella seeds.
We climbed the highest temple to watch the sunset over the jungle and the lake which is some kind of magic.
A well-known stop for travellers, Tikal was once one of the most powerful ancient Maya kingdoms. With ruins spread out deep into the jungle, exploring the ancient site takes you on an adventure through the remains of one of the largest classic Maya cities.
We chose to do the sunrise tour and were picked up at 3am and drove for an hour and a half. It was still dark when we entered the park and we trekked through the jungle with flashlights to the sounds of howler monkeys and early morning wildlife. An incredible experience even before we reached the ruins.
Once we reached the site, we climbed to the top of the highest temple to watch the sunrise. The view was incredible – you can watch the sunlight slowly spread across the jungle as it sprinkles onto each temple like glitter falling from the sky. The clouds lit up a bright pink while the sounds of monkeys and birds echoes through the jungle.
The tour cost Q100 ($US) each adult for transportation both ways and a tour guide. There is also a park entrance fee of Q150 applies and an additional Q 100 fee park administration charge for being in the park outside of official opening hours.
TRAVEL TIPS: The tour is quite long for little ones but there’s plenty of grass to rest, have a picnic or nap. Take a packed lunch and snacks. and again bug spray and lots of water. There is a restaurant and cafe here although you’ll have to wait for it to open and we were not impressed with the food.
You will also need a flashlight (or phone) to see before the sun rises.
IMPORTANT: If you do the tour at sunrise you will need to make sure your park entrance ticket is purchased the day before from the main bank in Flores. The park is not open for admission at 3am so you will not be able to purchase it that morning. This is separate from your tour ticket.