A lot of people come to Guatemala solely to see Tikal, which although this is ridiculous due to the sheer amount of other surprises Guatemala has to offer, I do slightly understand why now!
I arrived at the entrance of Tikal at around 6am after leaving Flores at the ripe hour of 4:30am. It is also possible to arrive earlier for the sunrise at Tikal, however I decided that just seeing the national park would be spectacular in itself! Plus if you take the sunrise tour you have to pay 2 separate entrance fees to the park! There is also the possibility to have the knowledge of a guide while walking around the park but I also decided to pass and do it completely independently. I can’t comment on whether I felt the absence of a guide because I don’t know what would have been different. However I completely enjoyed the freedom and peacefulness of walking around alone!
I had a stomp on walking through the jungle aiming to walk to Templo IV primarily as I had been told that it was worth reaching it first. I was focused so much on getting to my destination that I my first glimpse of the temples was completely unexpected and as a result my reaction was priceless; the words “Holy sh*t” tumbled out of my mouth (sorry Gramps :D)!
Obviously I have seen countless pictures of Tikal and other Mayan temples but when you actually sight them for yourself there is a definite “pinch yourself” moment! I was genuinely gob-smacked and throughout the entire walk around Tikal all I kept on thinking was just how incredibly beautiful and “amaaaaazing” it all was!
Every individual site at Tikal delivered a wonderful feeling of awe. However the absolute highlight had to be ascending to the top of Templo IV where I saw a breath-taking vista of the surrounding jungle and the nearby temples protruding from the canopies. It was so stunning that I couldn’t bring myself to climb back down until after 30 minutes when the harsh sunshine forced me to descend!
The jungle itself was spectacular as well with a huge variety of wildlife all readily available to spot with just a tad of patience and stillness. The howler monkeys are very easy to spot (and to hear!) as they swing from tree to tree. Personally I’ve had enough of the literal monkeys as I have awoken to their deep low screaming howl for the past 4 months at Casa, but I’m sure if you are visiting Tikal they will be something to watch out for!
After walking around the whole morning I managed to see a very good portion of Tikal and the fantastic ruins it has to offer! That being said it’s interesting to note that 80% of Tikal is actually still uncovered and that in and amongst the lush green jungle and under the numerous surrounding mounds there is plenty more treasures to be uncovered!
Walking around Tikal independently is for the most part safe as many people do it, however do be aware of your surroundings and take care as for some parts of the walk I was ‘solita’ for long periods of time. Also at one point in a secluded area of the park I was approached by another traveller for assistance with directions, but somehow he thought it was appropriate to suggest more. I was assertive and it didn’t progress any further but it did make me very aware of the fact that I was a female, alone and walking through the jungle.
Flores seems to be just a hub for people to arrive, see Tikal and then leave to travel onward to another destination. This is obviously great for the most part as it brings a lot of tourists and generates business for the locals. However I think that Flores is certainly overlooked as a destination in itself! I spent an extra day there and if I had more time I certainly would have considered staying longer.
The island of Flores itself is extremely small; it’s possible to walk from one side to the other in a mere 10 minutes. Despite this it’s still a lovely little place to walk through, the cobblestone streets are back to back with colourful little abodes. The waterfront promenade that encircles the island is perfect for an early morning run or a walk for that matter as the heat has permeated the air just yet while the sun is rising over Lake Peten Itza.
I have heard a lot about staying at Los Amigos in Flores but not all of them have been good, by the comments it sounds as though it’s the common case of “lonely planet curse”. Basically a place has had a good review so everyone goes there which in turn drives prices up and also commonly service down! As a result I actually usually try to stay away from the top rated ones unless someone I meet specifically recommends it too! Other than that I do use LP books very often! Anyway I stayed at Mirador del Lago which was a completely accidental find as I was dropped off randomly at a hotel down the road by a tuk-tuk driver when I asked for cheap accommodation. The dorm beds were just 45Q in a 4 bed dorm with private bath. The terrace and bar was overlooking the east side of the lake (check the sunrises from this side!) and was super-chilled with great music and good drinks prices. I also booked my buses/tours through Tano at Mirador and he was super friendly and gave good prices (when prompted a little) which was refreshing!
The hostel also supplied free kayaks which I used to explore the lake and venture over the to village of San Miguel on the opposite side of the island to Santa Elena! It was quite wonderful viewing the island from the lake and I also got a great view of the island from the mirador at San Miguel!
Another highlight of Flores is without a doubt the nightly food markets that pop up on the western side of the island. It always seemed to be teeming with people lining up to make their choices for dinner and rightly so because the food was so tasty! Over my few days I tried a variety of different things as the portions are generous for the pricing but still small. I can recommend for sure the option of Tostadas (3 for 5Q!), the empanadas and also strangely enough the cakes that they have on offer are probably some of the best cake I have eaten in a long while!