El Peten – Tikal

Posted on January 6, 2018


I awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed on New Years Day. No hangover, no regrets and happy. Today was a travel day and at 9.30am I was due to be picked up and make the four hour journey to the airport to fly to El Peten. It’s famed for the incredible Mayan ruins deep in the rainforest. My reason to come to Guatemala.

Except the day didn’t stay stress free. Why? Oh why?

My shuttle didn’t show up. Mr Surfer towered over me in reception taking gulps of hot coffee, “They’ve forgotten you,” he said matter of fact swallowing his last gulp.

“No, surely not,” I replied slightly panicked as looking up from the sofa. It was more than 45 minutes late.

Shuttles never run on time but this was ridiculous.

“It happens, let’s call them,” he said shrugging and motioning over to the receptionist.

Within two minutes I found out that they had indeed forgotten about me and it was now 10.30am. I had lost an hour’s travel. I had to be at the airport by 4pm. Furious I stormed over to the offices of the bus company to give someone a bollocking.

At 11.30am, two hours later, they had given me a private taxi to take me directly to the airport because they had screwed up.

Standing on tip toes I reached up to give Mr Surfer a squeeze goodbye and wish him well after tossing my backpack into the trunk of the car.

“Let’s go and step on it,” I said to the driver, slamming the front passenger door. “I am not missing that flight!”

By 7pm I had touched down in El Peten and checked into my digs. I was staying at a guesthouse in Santa Elena. A dustier, poor-man’s district over the bridge from Flores town, which is more pricey. My next door neighbour was taking a shower and through the sound of running water was belting out a Mariah Carey track and crucifying every note.

“Time to get out and find food,” I muttered to myself.

Flores itself is set on a very small island on Lake Peten Itza. The streets are stunning, cobbled and the buildings are pastel yellow, pink, with bright turquoise and green throw in for good measure. So colourful! You can walk the entire island in an hour, which I did the next day. It’s teeming with tourists all here to visit Tikal.

There is not a lot to do in El Peten other than visit Parque Nacional Tikal. It is about 90 minutes from Flores and is the most incredible Mayan structure set deep in the Guatemalan rainforest. The day trip allows you to see spider monkeys, howler monkeys, hundreds of bird species and other critters while you soak up history that pre dates Christ by thousands of years! There are sunrise tours (not worth doing at this time of year as everything is shrouded in mist so you miss the sun) and sunset tours. But they cost more. Since when did charging for the elements start?!

It is a hypnotic site that will make you raise your eyebrows in disbelief. What an incredible group of people, so clever and their stone stacking was beyond impressive. The archeological team who discovered this Mayan site must have had kittens. I was told there are other temples still undiscovered but they will probably remain so to protect the area. Star Wars fans may recognise one of the temples which featured in one of the films.

The steep-sided temples that have been uncovered reach a height of around 45m and were built by the common Mayan for nobility. There are sacrificial round slabs of stones placed in front of these Indian-Jones-like structures. And some beautiful inscriptions and markings that still remain on some of the stones weathered by the elements. The Mayan buried their dead with jade in their teeth. They elongated the skulls of the young at birth and the bigger ear lobes you gave yourself the more “god like” you were considered. It takes a whole day to walk the site and my guide was extremely knowledgable and answered all my questions. Like a true journalist he basically got interviewed for four hours. Poor bloody sod – Ha!

You can walk the site alone but without a guide but you don’t get to learn about the people and their way of life. A lack of water ended in their demise and the population of Tikal is believed to have moved elsewhere. Walking up the temples was an incredible honour and I was transfixed at the top to be able to look down at such a height. It must have been unbelievable in its day.

My journey to Guatemala was specifically to visit Tikal. I had seen images on the net and now I was standing where Mayan nobility had once stood before me. Bonita!