It’s always hard arriving somewhere for the first time. You never know what to expect, but there is something comforting about seeing a gigantic Burger King across the road that makes you feel less like an alien and more at home. Even if we didn’t eat there, its presence was a relief.
Flores is an island connected to land by a causeway, on the other side of which lies the twin towns Santa Elena and San Benito. All three are often referred to as Flores. Most people visit Flores cause it’s close to Tikal, but the quaint little town is a wonder in itself.
Our hotel was lovely from the front. It had a great, big pool with separate kids pool, and a restaurant. It was pretty much empty as we saw during the cleaning routine one morning when all the suite doors on our floor were opened with no occupants.
Our room was tiny and tiled and the beds were not doubles. Slightly large singles or “twins” so it was a restless few nights sharing a bed with each child. Especially when both children like to sleep with arms and legs sprawled all over the bed.
The restaurant food was fairly good and convenient for our first night there after the hellish bus ride from Belize.
The staff were friendly and when we left for Tikal at 4am we made sure all our bags were ready so they could check us out in their own time. They placed our luggage in a storage room and allowed us the whole day to hang out by the pool and use the Wi-Fi.
It’s funny how hotels start becoming different to you as you travel. We found this hotel big and fancy and not an authentic experience at all. Don’t get me wrong we had nothing to complain about, but you might like a different place to get a more authentic experience. You could try Los Amigos, where we got our tour tickets from. This is a hostel on the actual island that looked very beautiful & lush and had a cheap restaurant to boot. Or perhaps you are looking for a cheap all inclusive holiday that includes hotels and tours so you know up front what you are paying. Plus someone else does all the hard work for you too. Whatever it is you are after you will find it in Flores/Santa Elena.
It doesn’t take long to walk around Flores and we were delighted in putting away the map and getting lost in the tiny streets. Cobblestones and beautiful colonial houses in numerous pastel colours make for one quaint little island.
The park in the middle has a little taco shop. It’s not much to look at, but my tostadas were the freshest and yummiest ones I have ever had for AUD$1.30.
There are plenty of hostels and restaurants scattered around with a few tiny delis. The restaurants were set at tourist prices, but all the stalls that dotted the lakeshores in the evening were cheap and cheerful.
Beware of the ATM’s. They did not accept our bank card and we had to resort to cash advance on the credit card to pay for things.
One day was more then enough for us to see everything we wanted to. We even checked out the mall, which had a big supermarket and a Pollo Campero, which the kids loved because of the playground.
Other then the little walking we did we spent most of our days in the hotel pool, relaxing from our journey to Guatemala and for our journey to Antigua. Mia even got involved in some swimming training. She’s such a good little swimmer now.
4am is not my idea of a good time, however Josh was so keen to see these majestic ruins so reluctantly I agreed to that crazy hour.
A minivan picked us up at 4:30am and then proceeded to pickup everyone else in the town until we were finally on the road just after 5am.
The road to Tikal was a little over an hour, mainly because of the small streets and numerous speed bumps we have found Central America is so fond of.
The park fee is not included in the tour price so we have to part with another 300Q (AUD$37) for 2 adults and the kids were free. The tour tickets were 125Q each (AUD$15).
We were dropped off at Jaguar Inn, a little restaurant where everyone breaks for coffee and toilet. It’s freezing. We were the only ones in shorts and t-shirts, but the cold doesn’t last long and soon we are the only one not carrying bucket loads of clothes around the place.
Tikal is huge! Our tour was about 5 hours long and over 6km. That’s a lot of walking with a 2 & 4 year old who got up at 4am. The majority of people were backpackers so there was not much consideration for the little ones and the pace was fast.
In reflection we should have gone off on our own, but we do love to hear about the ruins and so my super strong husband carried our 2 year old all over Tikal while I encouraged, bribed and occasionally piggy-backed our 4 year old.
The morning started with the quickest (and rare) glimpse of a Jaguar on its way home from a late night party obviously. We also saw the strangest little Coatamundis. They are related to the racoon family and were out in packs first thing in the morning. There were plenty of birds to view and, of course, the loud and raucous noise of the howler monkeys. You will hear them before you see them and I could swear they were jaguars fighting. We trampled through the bush to spot them high in the trees howling to each other.
The pace was fast and we spent lots of time catching up to our group. Luckily I had packed lots of snacks and water, the kids needed it. There are some places to buy drinks around the temples and several toilet stops in just the right spots.
We were amazed at the ruins. They were so old and had so much history surrounding them. I still cannot get over how big the place was and how something so amazing could just disappear and be reclaimed by the earth. Only 20% of Tikal is actually uncovered. As you walk the grounds you see mounds of temples and structures still covered in plants and dirt. To think 80% is still hidden.
The finale was magnificent. You climb 196 steps (a lot harder then it seems with 2 kids who have been walking for 2+ hours) straight to the top of Temple IV. Breath-taking. The views are magnificent and we happily swung our legs high off the ground while viewing our surroundings.
After the finale we had an hour walk back to the entrance, which took a lot longer with exhausted kids. Josh was carrying Caius the entire time since he fell asleep and I was back to convincing Mia the end is right around the corner. What could have been a beautiful walk back through a delightful, old rainforest turned into just plain hard yakka.
Although we did find the howeler monkey chasing this older lady rather amusing. It helped break up the whining and feet groans.
Finally we reached the restaurant and everyone took off their socks and shoes and dived into a hearty meal. We waited a little for everyone else to rock up and then we were back on the bus and headed home. The kids watched a Dora episode where she goes through a jungle to a pyramid and visits Howler monkeys. It was pretty cool for them to identify their favourite show with what just happened.
Once we arrived back at the hotel we hit the pool for the rest of the afternoon in anticipation of our overnight bus to Antigua.
What a day! If you’re planning on visiting Tikal with toddlers, try to go with a private guide or start training at the gym at few months in advance to get into shape. A regular stroller won’t work on the dirt paths, but if you have an off-road style pram with giant wheels or a baby carrier, they will help make the journey easier. Don't let the kids stop you, but just be prepared for an ultra long day.