Friday, December 21, 2007

Tikal Trip Day 1 - Rio Dulce to Flores

We started the second half of our adventure with Nicki with a trip to Tikal, the largest 'open' ruins site in Guatemala.

Dave had been assigned the travel arrangements while I was off with Nicki in Antigua. He spent a lot of hours talking to other cruisers in the Rio about how to get there and where to go and stay. Most of the advice turned out well. Some of the problems we did have were associated with traveling during Christmas, which is a busy time in Guatemala.

In addition to Dave, Nicki, and I, we were also joined by another couple that were staying at Catamarans (the marina where we are now). Jane and Tom don't know much Spanish and thought it would be great to tag along with someone who did. We were happy to have them join us, as more people make better negotiating power when you are trying to negotiate group rates.

Our Motley Crew

Our first task was to get to Flores, the town near Tikal, where we planned to spend the night at a nice hotel on the lake. We were trying to get there by early afternoon, so we had time to look around the small island town of Flores, and maybe do something fun. But the normal bus that everyone takes doesn't leave the Rio until 3pm, so one of the 'old timers' on the river told us about a bus that passes thru between 10 and 11am (the Rapido del Sur bus). They don't have an office in Rio Dulce, you just flag them down as they pass through.

By 11:30, the bus still hadn't come (though people on the street told us it should be coming soon). However, as we were waiting at the Fuente del Norte bus station, we saw that the normal 2nd class buses that pass through once an hour (our backup plan) were totally jam packed. They already had people standing in the aisle before they arrived in Rio Dulce. We didn't really want to have to stand up all the way to Flores.

Dave Contemplating Bus Options

Fuente del Norte Bus Passing Thru - Jammed

So, 'Plan C' was hatched on the street. With 5 of us, it was almost reasonable to hire a private van to take us to Flores. We negotiated with one of the guys hustling travel arrangements in the street, for a private van for $150. So the price for step one of our trip increased from 50Q ($7) per person to $30 per person. But we had a direct door-to-door van all to ourselves and could stop if we wished.

After a quick lunch at Bruno's we finally got off at 1pm in the private van. On the way out of town, the van driver stopped at his house (a small wooden shack on the street in Fronteras) and picked up his 9 year old son and his 8 year old buddy. These two little guys amused Nicki and I all the way to Flores. They asked us a million questions about the English words for things. And asked Nicki if she had any 'niños' (kids), which Nicki thought was a real hoot.

The Island of Flores

We arrived in Flores about 4pm. Dave had already made reservations at the Casona de la Isla, and Tom and Jane were able to get a room there too. It was a really nice place with a pool, hot tub and nice view of the lake (see more pics in our photo album). We had arranged for one large room for the three of us, and our room was huge, with 3 double beds, a private bath with hot water, and a great view of the lake. (Later we found that 2 of the 3 beds were really sprung...)

Sherry & Nicki In Front of Casona de la Isla

The View from Our Room

We also noticed there was a travel agency, Tikal Travel, right across the street. Dave's original plan was to wait until we actually got to Tikal to get a guide and make arrangements for our planned sunset and sunrise trips into Tikal. However, the travel agency had a lady that spoke good English, and because it was 'busy season', we thought it might be better to book things ahead (this turned out to be a big mistake).

So we booked a shuttle van into Tikal for the next day, and then also booked a 'sunrise tour of Tikal' for the following day.

For the sunrise tour, the guide was to pick us up at the front of our hotel in Tikal at 4:30 am, and guide us into Temple IV to watch the sunrise, and then take us on a half-day guided tour of the rest of Tikal, and then we'd take the shuttle bus back into El Remate (halfway back from Tikal) for our next stop. The price for the round trip (35 miles each way) and the guided tour was 200Q ($26). Entry to Tikal for non-Guatemalans is now Q150 ($20) on top of that.

We had a fair dinner at La Luna restaurant down the street from the hotel. It was recommended in the Lonely Planet and also by friends. The décor was great, service was good, but the menu was so-so-- more European than Guatemalan, and a little on the expensive side for Guatemala.

Tikal Trip Photos

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