Arriving in Santa Elena, the town inland of Isla de Flores on Lake Peten Itza, we were instantly greeted by hordes of Tuk Tuk drivers screaming at us in Spanish. And, before we knew what was happening, the three of us plus backpacks were shoved into a tiny rickety old Tuk Tuk en route to Flores. Hurtling around the narrow cobblestones at breakneck speed in one of those things is an experience to say the least!
The first thing we noticed about Flores was the heat. I’m talking serious heat. It’s only 30 degrees but it easily feels like 40, with no breeze or sea air to cool us down.
Flores itself is a tiny island on the lake. It’s one of the wealthier areas of Guatemala mainly visited as a stop on the way to Tikal or by Guatemalan holiday makers heading up for the weekend. The cobblestone streets and beautiful views across the lake, as well as the fantastic hostel we stayed in and the lovely friends we made here, made it such a charming place that we didn’t want to leave!
And of course while we were in Flores we had to visit the famous Tikal. We opted for the sunrise tour, which left at the ungodly hour of 3am. Trust me though, it’s more than worth it.
The journey there took an hour and a half, purely because of the ridiculous amount of pot holes on Guatemalan roads. It was still pitch black when we arrived in Tikal and it was such an unreal experience trekking through the jungle in the dead of night. Our guide led the way, stopping to coax tarantulas out of trees and to illuminate various temples and pyramids along the way.
Still in the dark, we climbed the highest temple to wait for sunrise. It was a misty day so it was more of a general lightening than a sunrise as such, but, as the fog lifted and the howler monkeys piped up, the incredible view across the jungle treetops slowly emerged.
The rest of the day was dedicated to playing wildlife photographer and snapping toucans, woodpeckers, monkeys, crocodiles and spiders, spiders, spiders!
The next day, we headed to the Actun Ka’an caves. Expecting a few small caves, we turned up completely unprepared in flip flops and with one torch between six of us. Luckily, a local guide took pity and showed us around. An hour or so of crawling through tiny holes later, we emerged muddy but unscathed.
We even had time for a stop at the Lanquin caves on the way back. As night falls, thousands of bats come flooding out of the caves at stop speed. I personally dedicated my time there to future study for my career as a professional wildlife photographer and snapped up this excellent (if I do say so myself) shot of a bat hurtling towards me.
On to Semuc Champey.