3 Day Taster of Guatemala: Flores & Tikal

Letter 182

Being based in San Ignacio for a month had many benefits, including being just a short ride away from Guatemala. It’s a well-traversed path and most travellers in San Ignacio are either heading to Flores or have just been there. I decided to use a few days off during my workaway to visit Flores and take a tour around the largest Mayan site, Tikal. It was a tantalising taste of Guatemala and it’s left me itching to get back to travel around this unique country.

This post is incredibly delayed, and I haven’t posted anything for over a month. It’s not difficult to work out why as I think we’ll always remember this time as the age of the coronavirus. In the past month I’ve finished my incredible travels across Belize and Mexico, then urgently flew home over 2 weeks early and just a couple of days before the UK descended into complete lockdown. It’s been mad, but for now, I’ll reminisce about a few fabulous days spent in beautiful Flores, Guatemala. Hopefully, with all the extra time right now, I’ll get the rest of the posts up quickly!

 

Guatemala Tikal 6

 

KEY INFORMATION

  • Getting between San Ignacio (Belize) and Flores (Guatemala) is very easy.
    • From San Ignacio, take a BVO taxi (shared, cheaper taxi) to the border, which will cost you 5BZD (£2).
    • Walk across the border – making sure you stop in at BOTH immigration buildings. You will have to pay the Belizean border fee which is 40BZD (£16). I have heard of people missing the Guatemalan immigration and therefore not getting a stamp and having issues leaving in the future.
    • When out of Guatemalan immigration, ignore the taxis and walk straight across the bridge.
    • At the end, you can either go left and head to the collectivo station, or right and wait by the lights for the collectivo. For me, someone spotted me and showed me. The collectivo will be 30Q (£3) and will take around 2 hours to get to Flores.
    • The collectivo drops you in Santa Elena which is just over the bridge to Flores. It’s easiest to take a tuk tuk to Flores island which will be 5Q (50p).
      You can do this exact route in the opposite direction as well, and there will be no border fee to leave Guatemela.
    • You can also do the journey in a shuttle which would be easier but more expensive (and this route, while bitty, is pretty quick and easy). I found out a shuttle from Flores to San Ignacio would be 140Q (£14) from the Los Amigos Hostel, whereas I did the journey for £5.50.
  • I stayed in Los Amigos which is the main hostel. There’s lots going on, it’s got great facilities and a brillIant common area/bar/restaurant. I paid about £11 per night for a dorm bed.

 

Flores Island

Flores is a very small place, and you can walk around it in 20 minutes. Therefore, I wouldn’t plan too much extra time to explore Flores. It’s beautiful, but a morning or afternoon is enough. The buildings are very pretty and there are gorgeous views across the river. There are also a lot of good street food options where you can get dinner for about 20Q (£2) and some lovely cafes, particularly Cool Beans, where you can get a lovely brunch for about 25Q (£2.50).

Guatemala Flores Town 1Guatemala Flores Town 4Guatemala Flores Town 5Guatemala Flores Town 3

 

Jorge’s Rope Swing

One of the activities we did was take a boat over the water to Jorge’s Rope Swing which is a fun way to spend an afternoon. The boat, which was very rickety and seemed to take on more water than you might expect a boat to, costed 20Q (£2) per person for a return. There were 6 of us, plus the guys ‘driving’ the boat, and it doesn’t take long to get to the destination, plus the lake is super pretty. You then have to pay 25Q (£2.50) for the swing. We spent all afternoon there jumping into the lake from the swing, lounging in the water and sunbathing on the edge. It was very enjoyable.

Another thing you can do is take a boat to San Miguel where you will find a beach and can walk up to a viewpoint. I really wanted to do this but just ended up being a bit lazy and ran out of time. It happens!

Guatemala Flores Jorges Rope Swing 1Guatemala Flores Jorges Rope Swing 3Guatemala Flores Jorges Rope Swing 2

 

Tikal

Arguably, the main reason to visit the tiny town of Flores is for Tikal, the largest Mayan ruin. It’s now famous for many other reasons, like the classic star wars shot, but it still attracts archaeology buffs and other tourists for its striking beauty and long history. The easiest way to visit Tikal from Flores is to take a tour. You won’t save time or money by trying to do it yourself. With the hostel (which I know wasn’t the cheapest way to book it) I paid 130Q (£13) which included transport and the guide. You then have to pay 150Q (£15) to get in to the park, and I paid a further 100Q (£10) as I was on the sunset tour and you have to pay extra to stay past closing. As you can see, it’s not a cheap day! Of course, it’s totally worth it though.

Tikal is absolutely massive. You have no chance of seeing everything unless you’re there for a couple of days. If you’re on a tour you get about 3 hours. This is where I wish I’d done things differently. I went on the sunset tour which left the hostel at 12pm and we had between 2:30pm and 6pm in the park. This wasn’t enough at all and being with a group and a guide means you can’t go at your own pace. A guide is 100% worth it and necessary, I would just recommend doing an earlier tour and then staying for the afternoon to wander around by yourself. Having said that, the sunset was lovely and it was cool to walk around in the dark and see the brightest stars.

A better plan altogether, would be to stay at Tikal so you can go as much as you like, for as long as you can.

Guatemala Tikal 2Guatemala Tikal 10Guatemala Tikal Me 1Guatemala Tikal 11

 

Leaving Guatemala

After vising Tikal and enjoying Flores for a few days, most people head to Semuc Champey, a place that looks utterly beautiful and unique. Other things on the journey include the vibrant city of Antigua, the difficult height up to Fuego and the tranquil spots around Lake Atitlan. Unfortunately, I only got as far as Flores.

Around a couple of weeks into my trip, I had thought I might change my plans and head to Guatemala for 3 weeks after Belize. However, after starting my workaway and really enjoying it, I decided I would instead stay a little longer so as not to rush it, and then squeeze a little more time out of Mexico before leaving, as I loved it so much. So I skipped Guatemala this time, in favour of exploring Belize and Mexico more deeply. A decision I often make.

Guatemala is now right at the top of my bucket list and I hope to get there within the next few years. I will be back!

Spoiler alert: the end of my trip didn’t go to plan anyway, but boy am I glad I didn’t get stuck in Guatemala!

Guatemala Tikal 12

 

Next up: tales from my Belizean workaway…

From Lou

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