BY DUSTY BUS TO TIKAL
You'll wonder why the ancient Mayans built their splendid city at Tikal.... it's so inaccessible! But be sure to go there. The overused superlatives you've heard are meek compared to its awesome grandeur. One way to go is by Dusty Bus, as Monty and I did in mid-March of 1995, from the Rio Dulce. Here's how.
All the buses are public so whichever one you choose you will probably stand for part of the trip, carry a baby for part of the trip, and be dusty and thirsty for all of the trip. But some buses are more satisfactory than others. Fuente del Norte bus line begins in Guatemala City and gets to Fronteras between 8 and 9 each morning. You cannot reserve tickets in advance in Fronteras so you will be lucky to get a seat. Wait for the bus at the top of the driveway at the Atitlan office. (Q30 to Poptun: Q40 to Flores).
It's 3-1/2 hours to Poptun where we stopped for the night at Finca Ixobel. (Cost Q45/dbl. private: Q20/bed in the bunk room: Q10/tree house/your bedding ). The Finca has excellent meals as well as horseback riding, swimming and cave exploration.
At 7:30 am a "taxi" (Cost: Q5/each) will take you from the Finca to Poptun to meet the 8:00 am Pinta bus to Santa Elena/Flores. (Cost: Q15/each). The 4 hour ride is less comfortable than the Fuente del Norte bus. As the day's route starts in Poptun, you will probably get a seat. This section of the road is marginally less bumpy and marginally less interesting. The bus will leave you in Santa Elena in front of the San Juan Hotel and Travel Agency. This is a good place to make a reservation for a minibus to Tikal....about an hour's journey distant. (Cost Q30/each/round-trip). The minibus will pick you up at your hotel at 6, 8 or 10 am. Just telephone back to the San Juan when you have secured a hotel. They return from Tikal to Santa Elena/Flores at 2, 4 or 5pm..
Before settling in for a bath, then drinks and dinner, walk up to the main street in Santa Elena, turn right and walk 3 blocks to the office of Fuente del Norte. Buy tickets for your return to Fronteras and be sure to reserve your choice of seats. (Cost: Q50/each/reserved seat). The bus leaves from in front of the ticket office. There are other bus lines that make the trip, but they leave in the afternoon, which assures your return to Fronteras in the middle of the night when no water taxis are available.
Flores is a short walk over the causeway from Santa Elena. Both towns have many hotels and restaurants: those in Flores are nicer and more expensive, ranging from Q60 to Q150. You'll find lots of good restaurants: La Canoa for venison and other mysterious beasts of the forest, Picasso for pizza, calzones and good salads, Yaxkin for good breakfasts served quickly.
We found two days at Tikal enough, although the longer you stay, the more you see, learn and enjoy. Be sure to spend at least at least one night in Tikal to experience sunset or sunrise. There are three hotels at Tikal. The Tikal Inn which has a pool is the nicest and priciest. If you stay in the park, be sure to pack a picnic lunch as it's a long walk back to the restaurants from the ruins.
A guide for half a day will set the stage for your own exploration. Roxy and her brothers, Foster and Spencer can be found at the Tikal Inn. We found them to be great guides: Roxy is a graduate student in archeology and has lived in the U.S. (Cost: $10/each).
Some of the items you can take with you to make your trip more enjoyable are: flashlight, towel and washcloth, sweater, swimsuit, rain poncho, bottled water, toilet paper, bug spray and binoculars for the world-class bird watching. Packing snacks and water for the bus trips is also wise as breakdowns are not uncommon.
The paved road ends just outside Fronteras, so the trip to Tikal can indeed be dusty, or during the rainy season, impassable. So you may choose to travel to this Mayan site by plane. While considerably more expensive, it is faster, cleaner and no babies on your lap!
November 9, 2012
© 1997-2012 Phillip Landmeier