Tikal

Temple 1 at Tikal in the Petén Region of Guatemala

I had always wanted to visit Tikal. In the 1980s, when I visited Yucatán several times, I wanted to swing south through Belize to the ruinsat Tikal. Unfortunately, a murderous religious madman named Efraín Ríos Montt was in charge at the time; and the State Department was recommending that American tourists stay well away from the massacres and disappearances that were plaguing Guatemala at the time.

Tikal is huge, 575 square kilometers (222 square miles) in area. It almost defined the Classic Period of Mayan archeology, from approximately 200 AD to 800 AD at its height. The area in which it is located is a monkey jungle, pure and simple. With my hared of mosquitoes, I am thinking of spending three nights in nearby El Remate, where the hotels have electricity 24 hours a day, and not just sometimes. If there is air conditioning, or at the very least a functioning ceiling fan, one can escape being bitten to death and coming home with Zika or Malaria or Dengue, to name just a few baddies.

The Shores of Lago de Petén at El Remate

Although Guatemala is not a large country by North American standards, the road from Guatemala City to El Remate takes twelve hours or more on good roads. One has to go all the way to the Atlantic Coast before cutting north. There is a little matter of some high mountains preventing a direct route. If I took the mountain route, it would take at least twenty hours and several buses. I am actually thinking of flying from Guatemala City to Flores, which is within a few miles of El Remate. (I could stay in Flores, for that matter, but if I wanted to spend two days at the ruins, I want to be a bit closer to Tikal.)

There are sunrise and sunset tours at Tikal, but I don’t want to lose sleep just so I can gamble on a perfect sunrise or sunset. I’m willing to take pot luck.

 

You Can’t Get There from Here … Not Easily, Anyhow

Maps Can Be So Deceiving

There are three Mayan ruins that I hope to visit on my trip to Central America. You can see all three of them on the above map: Tikal in Guatemala’s Petén Department, Quiriguá in Guatemala’s Izabal Department; and Copán in Honduras’s Copán Department. As the crow flies, the distance separating the three cannot add up to more than three hundred miles. Ah, but tourists do not travel as the crow flies. They must take planes or roads; and in the jungles of Central America, airports are few and roads are not built for the convenience of tourists.

Probably the easiest thing to do is to make three separate trips from Antigua or Guatemala City: to Tikal and back, to Quiriguá and back, and to Copán and back. Take Copán and Quiriguá: They look so close to each other on the above map. But to go by public transport, I’d have to go by way of Chiquimula or Rio Hondo, and probably spend the night at one of those two towns. The buses are mostly for the convenience of the locals, and they just don’t go traipsing between Mayan ruins.

I could probably hire a driver, but there’s this international boundary between Honduras and Guatemala, which complicates things.