We spent our final days in Guatemala in Flores with the obligatory side trip to the magnificent Mayan ruins in the jungle at Tikal. We were lucky enough to be making a return visit here and it was again a magical experience. We spent 3 hours with a guide and then another 3 on our own exploring some parts we hadn’t previously seen and, in fact, having to suddenly up our pace just to make sure we made it back in time for our shuttle bus back to Flores.
Over the years, there’s been a significant amount of excavation work at Tikal revealing some very impressive steep sided temples rising to heights of more than 44 metres. However because the site is so massive, there are still a lot of huge earth mounds which are home to covered temples and other buildings still waiting to be “unwrapped”. But in this part of Guatemala, there are a lot of Mayan sites.
One of the highlights of course is climbing Temple IV and looking out at the spectacular view of the jungle canopy broken only by a few temple tops peeking through. This is a familiar view anyway: it’s a view of the planet, Yavin IV, from the first film of the original Star Wars trilogy (now Episode IV). It was here that the rebels had their base in order to organize the big battle against the Death Star and in the film you see the Millennium Falcon coming in to land above the jungle/rainforest which is home to Tikal in real life.
The photo on the left is the view from Temple IV
Continuing the Star Wars or at least movie theme, while we sat on top of Temple IV admiring this view, the peace was disturbed by a noise that sounded distinctly like Chewbacca (and all his family) and/or some dinosaur stars from Jurassic Park. This is the noise of the howler monkeys and it is an incredible (and if you don’t know what it is, a rather disturbing and intimidating) very loud noise especially when (like us) you can’t see the noisy culprits. Did we want to descend from the safety of the top of Temple IV into the arms of some unknown beast? Welcome to the jungle!
Both here at Tikal and also at Uaxacatun (a more isolated and less excavated Mayan ruin which we pretty much had to ourselves on our visit there), there was no escaping the fact that we were in the jungle. To start with, lots of mossies even in the day time, but also our Uaxacatun guide enthusiastically pointed out to us what he called a small tarantula (big enough for me I can tell you) and he was also on the active hunt for snakes and scorpions to show us but these we didn’t see. My first real life wild tarantula was frankly enough for me as I realised that wearing open toed sandals into the jungle had not been my best fashion decision to date (one that was quickly rectified for the subsequent trip to Tikal). We also saw spider monkeys as well as toucans (who surprisingly sound like frogs!) and the rather striking ocellated turkeys as well as hearing lots of our “friends”, the howler monkeys.
Back on the quaint tiny island of Flores, we relaxed. Day trips aside, there wasn’t a huge amount to do especially in the rain but although tiny, it is a little charming place that draws you in and we definitely succumbed to her charms. Sadly some of the lakefront promenade is now under water due to the rising levels of Lago de Peten Itza which is Guatemala’s second largest lake. While several streams flow into the lake, it has no outlets from it (no rivers etc) and loses water mostly by evaporation, although it is not a salt lake.
Apparently the lake is also home to a number of crocodiles but these we didn’t see – we were told they are nocturnal and there are rumours that this may have been when we were otherwise engaged checking out one or more of Flores’ many bars’ happy hours!
We may not have seen a crocodile, but there were other things to see!
Colourful ocellated turkeys at Tikal’s entrance