El Peten- Guatemala

I once traveled to Guatemala for work in 1999 and managed to stay and explore the country just a bit.  I was staying in the town of Antigua, and fell in love with the cobblestone streets and the colonial buildings throughout the town. All of the one story houses were built around courtyards with small gardens and areas to sit outside. It thrilled me to walk to the center of town to take a coffee and walk around watching all of the Mayan women selling the fruits and vegetables as well as their handicrafts. I admired the volcano de Agua rising up in the distance and from any part of the town you could always see it looming in the background. I walked around for hours taking in as much as I could knowing my time was limited and I didn't know when I would make it back. I still have yet to make it back to Antigua.

Our room at the Jungle Lodge
I was able to take a trip to Lake Atitlan and spend time exploring the market of Chichicastenango. However, the one trip that really stuck with me was the experience I had in Tikal. I stayed in a small rustic hotel called The Jungle Lodge and booked a sunrise tour of the ruins for the following morning. The hotel only provided electricity for specific hours of the day and the rooms were basic, only cold water and twin beds (at least they had private bathrooms). I stayed two nights and after the first night, I woke up at 4am, met a guide at the hotel lobby and walked straight into the jungle for a sunrise tour of Tikal. There were no tickets needed, you didn't have to check in, you just walked straight into the jungle for about 45 minutes until reaching temple IV. We climbed a rickety wooden staircase (the original stairs on the temple were not in great shape) and sat right on top and waited for the sun to rise. As the sun rose the other temple tops came into view and the jungle came alive. Howler monkeys awoke with howls, toucans lined the trees tops, parrots flew in groups.  It was magical. I swore one day I would return with my now husband and family. I have and it was just as magical if not more now that I was able to share the experience with my family.

December 21, 2017: Arrival

We spent the entire day traveling from the United Stated in order to get to the jungles of Tikal. We flew into Belize city via Florida and from here took a puddle jumper into Flores Guatemala. Tikal was about an hour drive from the Flores hotel. This was a family trip, my parents, my sister and her kids and the Five Family Adventurers. I booked us at The Jungle Lodge. Fortunately they did some upgrades since 1999, but the electricity still went off at certain hours. However, there was hot water. The windows only have screens, in order to hear and experience the nature that surrounds you. The hotel is one of three located on the actual Tikal Park, and for me it was important in order to do the sunrise tour again.We got our rooms and dragged our tired bodies to dinner and did our best to hold a conversation. Twelve  hours of travel had taken its toll, but the kids were holding up just fine. Dinner was mediocre at best. Had the hotel focused their efforts on the local cuisine instead of trying to appease the international traveler by making their menu more of international selection, it probably would have been quite delightful. We came to Guatemala to eat and experience Guatemala culture after all.   Anyway, we headed for bed knowing we had to be up at 3:45 am for the sunrise tour of Tikal.

December 22, 2017: Sunrise Tour of Tikal

We arrived to the meeting point for our tour at 4:15 grabbed a coffee and our boxed lunch from the hotel and made our way out for the tour. It is important to note, that for the tour you will need two entrance tickets.  One for the pre-dawn hours (4am-6am) and one for the day hours (6am to closing). Our hotel was kind enough to purchase our tickets before our arrival as you cannot buy them online. You can only purchase tickets at certain banks (one in the airport in Flores), but we arrived after closing hours and would not have been able to buy them.

Our guide brought us to the check-in stand--I say that loosely as it was a cart table--and we were given wrist bands for the day. We were off strolling through the jungle in the dark with only headlamps and flashlights to lead the way. With the exception of our guide speaking, the jungle was quiet and dark. We turned our lights off and looked up at the starry sky.  It had been forever since I had seen that many stars. It was unbelievable the amount of stars and such clarity. Along our walk we did encounter an enormous spider, size of my hand, and came across some temples and ruins. Our guide did stop to tell us about some of the ancient artifacts along the way, before arriving to the Temple where we would hopefully watch the sunrise. When we finally arrived to Temple IV, the temple used to view the sunrise, we climbed wooden stairs that
View from Temple IV
were put in place so that tourists would not have to climb the original stairs of the temple as they are in bad shape. A crowd had gathered at the top and everyone sat in silence as the dawn arose. The
Mayan Calendar
jungle came to life, birds awoke and howler monkeys made their presence known. It was amazing to be above the tree tops watching this phenomenon. Being able to hear so much come to life due to the start of a new day is amazing, we take for granted the miracle that the dawn brings every day. The kids loved watching and listening, trying to identify the animals making the noises. You cannot replicate the experience and I highly recommend the adventure. Especially with kids 5 and older. The younger ones I would worry about getting too close to the edge, or not really understanding the draw of listening to the jungle wake up with the sun.

We spent a bit more time in Tikal with our guide learning about the Mayans and the structures within the area. The kids had the chance to climb some of the temples and loved discovering the fauna and flora within the area and searching for toucans. Our day ended by 11:30 and we were back at the hotel headed to the pool for a swim and lunch. We also had a nice rest and took some time to relax, shower, and watch spider monkeys frolic in the trees. Everyone was tired and decided that would be easier to eat at the hotel, but I knew there were a couple of restaurants within a 10 minute walk from the hotel and insisted that we eat locally. So we headed over to Comida Imperia Maya. Located in the park, it's a small restaurant that serves local food. The food was fresh and delicious. We asked for hot sauce (salsa picante) and they gave us house made hot sauce with peppers and pickled carrots. I couldn't stop eating it, it was so fresh and so delicious. I wish I could replicate it at home. As we walked home I made the kids stop and look up at the stars again. There were so many stars and with the lack of light pollution, you could see what seemed liked millions of stars. Bedtime was filled with the sounds of the jungle, frogs, bugs, animals, leaves blowing from the wind. I knew we had to leave in the morning, I didn't want to, I wanted to go to Antigua and other areas of Guatemala. However, our trip was taking us on to Belize. I have never been to Belize so I was looking forward to discovering something new with my family.

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