Flores, Guatemala’s Back Door to Tikal

…and that’s the kind of place Flores turned out to be.

Thoughts On Planning and Executing Travel During the Time of Covid

After sitting it out for most of 2020 and into the fall of 2021 due to Covid travel restrictions, I am finally back wandering the world. After careful consideration, based on various countries’ travel restrictions, I chose Mexico to relaunch my wanders. I have spent a great deal of time in Mexico dating back to 1974 and I love the people and the culture so it is a bit like going home. At this time in Mexico visitors are only required to fill out an on-line form answering the usual covid questions regarding health and contacts. Easier than a lot of other countries that require the covid tests 72 hours in advance of travel. Mexico has had it’s fair share of Covid but as in Canada people wear masks, social distance, limit gatherings and capacities and temperature checks before entering premises are standard. Having had both vaccines I am happy to say that with the precautions in place here I feel as safe, although still cautious, just like at home.

South America “No Go” – Best Laid Plans and Political Strife

I wrote the above in late October just after I arrived in Mexico and at that time I had planned to stay 2 months and then head to South America to visit, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. I had spent several weeks pouring over travel guides, which I buy at second hand stores, planning my trip to include the sights most important to me. However, shortly after arriving in Mexico, Ecuador had some internal strife, closed its borders and I decided to postpone my wanderings in that part of the world until things are more settled. As it turns out, along came Omicron another letter in the Greek Alphabet, and I felt doubly sure that staying in Mexico for four months was the wisest course of action.

Heads Up When Entering Mexico Things Have Changed….Maybe

However, NOW when you arrive in Mexico they might ask you how long you are staying and when you think you are only staying a couple of months, (which is what I thought since I was eventually headed to South America) they write down 60 days, meaning that, you have sixty days on your tourist card. I guess I missed that memo, but I am not alone, I have read several on-line forums from other folks who had assumed that as in years past the tourist card allowed them to stay 180 days and no other limitations. Not anymore, it is now up to the discretion of the Immigration Officer. NOTE: When I returned to Mexico from Guatemala through Cancun airport it was business as usual. Two questions only, where did you just come from and what is the purpose of your trip, nothing more, hard stamp on tourist card allowing for 180 days and “have a nice day”. None of this “how long are you staying?”

Turns out, short of becoming a resident, which is complex and expensive you can’t renew your tourist visa from inside Mexico which means of course you have to to go outside and reenter if you wish to extend your stay. I know, I know, poor me, more hardships and of course the solution is…..I’m in Guatemala!!!!

A “Had to Trip” To Tikal in Guatemala Becomes a “Glad I Went” Trip

Getting from Puerto Escondido to Flores Guatemala turned out to be fairly involved, requiring a flight from Puerto Escondido to Mexico City, a two hour wait for a flight to Cancun, a four hour wait, and a flight from there to Flores in the NE corner of Guatemala. By the time I arrived in Guatemala 14 hours after leaving my apartment in Puerto Escondido I had spent too much money on airport food, lost my luggage, spent hours reporting my lost luggage in Cancun and arrived tired and without a change of clothes. Forced to go shopping on my first day as I had only my plane travel clothes I found a colourful little outfit with matching flip flops to do until my bag arrived four days later.

Boarding the plane from Cancun to Flores, with about five other people, was really nice though, and the prop plane was comfortable and very empty. The pilot told me this was an inaugural flight for AeroMar which was adding Flores as a stop on their regular flight to Guatemala City. Arrival in Flores was equally pleasant and after explaining about my lost luggage and since there were no taxis in sight the Immigration Officer, who processed my arrival, drove me to my Hotel. That’s the kind of place Flores turned out to be.

My first four days I spent at the Casa de Turquesa a lakefront hotel on the Isla de Flores. Beautiful views and so clean with great sheets and a soft bed. From here I was able to make arrangements for a tour of Tikal but spent the first day wandering the streets (and shopping) of the Isla de Flores. A quaint little town with cobblestone streets, Isla sits in the lake, attached to the mainland by a narrow spit of land, just wide enough for 2 lanes of traffic and a pedestrian walkway. Very picturesque the place really glows in the night time and it being the holiday season it was especially lit up.

Beautiful Isla de Peten
Cobblestone Streets
Lago Peten Itza Skies
Nighttime Doesn’t Mean Dark

It’s easy and inexpensive to get around Flores by tuk-tuk and by boat. There are many launches that will take you anywhere on the lake you wish to go and as you can see by the map above their are several small towns around the lake that make a nice day-out.

Tikal – A Maya Ruin Located in Tikal National Park

Tikal, a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time, did not disappoint, even though my “private tour” turned out to be on a mid-sized bus with about a dozen other people. The hour and a half drive to Tikal was beautiful, gliding through the emerald green country side that I remember from past trips to Guatemala. Coffee fincas, rancheros and fruit plantations dotted the hilly horizons and small towns slapped together and strung out along the road to support local commerce were a quick window into the world of the local people. It was on the bus that I was reminded of why I love to wander. That sense of freedom on the road with the beauty that the countryside has to offer and the weather temperate enough to allow for open windows and fresh breezes. A slight rustle in your hair and your soul.

Tikal National Park

  • Tikal is an ancient Maya citadel in the rainforests of northern Guatemala
  • Possibly dating back to the 1st century it flourished between 200 and 850 AD with a 65 km radius and was later abandoned
  • Its iconic ruins and temples and palaces include the giant, ceremonial Lost World Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar and rightly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979
  • Ti ak’al in Maya means “in the lagoon” and is known as the “place of the spirit voices”
  • Temple IV is 70 m in height and I climbed every last one of them
  • Divided into plazas, groups and complexes to identify the various areas of the park…it is so big!
  • Tombs have been excavated in various locations throughout the park
  • Some of the temples took 1000 years or more to build
  • Steles (stone tablets) seen throughout Tikal describe the history
Mascarones Temple 700AD
History on a Stele
Templo II – The Mascarones Temple
Maya Ceremony Alive and Well

New Years Eve 2021/22 – Serendipity of Travel

I find there’s always a moment of serendipity when you travel alone that reminds you that you are never really alone and it’s easy to make connections with people if you are open to them. And so it was, on the bus back from Tikal, I met a lovely woman, Maritza, from Guatemala City who was traveling with her sister, Maria and her daughter, Keily. This was their first trip to Tikal and Isla de Flores and fortunately for me, Maritza spoke very good English, having lived in the USA for two years as a teenager. They invited me out for New Years Eve the next night. My new friends came to my to my hotel to fetch me at the appointed hour and to my delight we made our way to the waterfront and took a private boat across the lake to a beautiful restaurant. We had dinner and waited until midnight when across the lake the fireworks exploded seemingly from every house in and around Isla de Flores. So pretty and obviously so enjoyed by my Guatemalan friends. They insisted on paying the bill and dropped me back at my hotel before returning to their hotel. Their kindness, friendship and hospitality will stay with me long after the New Year begins.

New Friends
New Years Even Restaurant
Maria, Moi and Maritza and a Midnight Toast
New Years Eve

More Fun in the Lake

New Years Day, my 3 friends and I bought a picnic lunch and took another boat further up the lake to a swimming beach. We were dropped off at a park by our boatman with promises to return at 5:00 pm. The park was full of family picnickers snoozing in public hammocks, and although the lake-bed was rocky and a bit swampy the water was good for swimming. Keily spent over two hours in the water splashing and swimming…a true water baby. She was quite impressed that her mother spoke English, she asked “momma can you talk like that?” Eventually she decided that I wasn’t fundamentally weird for speaking Spanish so poorly and even started calling me Tia.

Maritza and Kiely
A Family Float

So the first six days passed quickly in Flores Guatemala but the last two days poured rain and made me huddle up in my hotel room watching the downpour with Guatemalan TV in the background. Tikal isn’t the only ruin worth visiting around Flores, there are several others, and a volcano lake to visit and visits to the small villages around the lake are things that just didn’t get done. But two days of catching up with correspondence and blogging and doing laundry in the room wasn’t so bad and I returned to Cancun Mexico refreshed and glad I went and hopeful to return to this sweet gentle little place with the kindest people you’d ever hope to meet.

Christmas in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Christmas in the Oaxaca Sun

Returning to Puerto has become one of my routines in Mexico. As in Progreso, I have made good friends there and am always excited to return and catch up with their lives. In years past I have stayed at Casa Rosada, but this year I booked a place on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Rinconada, a trendy restaurant filled area close to several great beaches. I was really pleased with my apartment and the view was stunning. A bonus was that Inti, my landlord was super.. helpful, responsive and friendly too! Cielito Lindo is the name and they have studio and one bedroom suits.

My Apartment
Stunning View & Great Sunsets from Patio

With Covid in the picture I wasn’t too keen on sight seeing and exploring, but fortunately I have done a lot of that on earlier visits so going to various beaches, open air restaurants and sitting by pools had to do. I know…poor me. If you’re interested in knowing more about what you can do in and around Puerto here is a link to my previous posts on the area.https://wanderwithstella.com/2016/03/31/oaxaca-coast/ or scroll through the posts to see others including Oaxaca City.

For many people, Puerto is all about the beaches of which there are many and one can easily spend a whole day at the beach under a palapa umbrella with the odd chelada (cold beer and lime juice on ice) to quench one’s thirst. People watching is a great pastime at the beach and even in covid locals and visitors enjoyed swimming and playing in the waves. Mexican families are generally large and they tend to travel in multi-generational groups, making for lots of antics and noisy fun.

My “Home” Beach – Playa Manzanilla
Playa Zicatela – Long, Lovely, Big Surf
Playa La Punta – Javier & Gabriela, Surfer Beach like Zicatela Has Big Surf
Playa Principal – Popular with Local and Families
Watch Out for Pool Sharks Like Gabriela on Zicatela
Soft Sand and Shady Palapas!

Food in Oaxaca is among the best in Mexico and some of the worlds top chefs have made the State home, opening great restaurants in the capital, Oaxaca City, and other smaller locales. I have some personal favourite dishes: tacos pastor, pozole (soup) and tlayudas.

Street Tacos – The Best!

Mid-way through December, Christmas vacation brought large numbers of people to Puerto, which in a normal year would add to the fun. But given the crowds that began to cluster on the beaches I refrained from going every day unless it was to Bacocha Beach where there is plenty of room to social distance they have the most incredible sunsets…so again no real hardship. There are two beach clubs at Bacocha and for a fee you can eat, drink, use the pool and beach chairs for the entire day and the costs come out of you fee.

Bacocha Beach
Sunset at Bacocha

San Jose del Pacifico – A road trip from Puerto

Lucky for me, my friends Javier and Gabriela were game to rent a car and make the drive up the long and winding road to San Jose del Pacifico in the Sierra del Sur. A small town in the mountains, it is a place for adventure seekers, hikers and climbers to visit. It is truly beautiful and charming and due to its location in the middle of pine forests, the building practices incorporate more wood than is common in Mexico, giving the place a definite flavour of mountain retreats. The clima also reflects the altitude and out came the jackets, pants and socks from the bottom of the suitcase when the temperature dropped to 6 Celsius when the sun set over the mountains.

The highway between Puerto Escondido and the turn-off to San Jose is greatly improved since my last visit and and a by-pass road before Pachutla meant that we missed the traffic of this busy commercial centre. As you leave the coast and head up into the Sierra the road becomes narrow, with hair pin curves and even some “logging” trucks. The road as you would expect was lots of fun to drive and Javier and I took turns, and much to his dismay Gabriela favoured my driving to his!

Stunning Scenery Makes the Trek Up Worthwhile
Miradors Along the Way
Many Little Pueblos Along the Road

We stayed in a very nice hotel overlooking a valley, built with lots of pine wood the cabins were post and beam with timbered rafters. There weren’t many people at this newish hotel and we generally had the dining room to ourselves. I can see where the visitors will come once covid is over and the word is out. From this same road that takes you to the top of the Sierras you can take a turn a little further down the mountain and take the original road from the coast to the city of Oaxaca. Javier recalled driving his entire family, most of it in the back of a pick-up from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido when he was just a teenager. Some of the folks in the back lacked an appreciation for his enthusiasm for the road as car sickness overtook them.

Our Hotel and Gardens

We hired a local guide who showed us the sights, taking us to all of the spots of interest for visitors. Our first stop was a combination resort, restaurant, fish hatchery and zip line, with of course Javier and I had to try out.

Fish Hatchery, Hike and Even Turkeys
Guide Held This Interesting Insect for the Photo

Following our hike and zip-line adventure our guide took us to a local home where the owners have suspended a wooden swing close to the edge of a cliff and so you swing out over thin air, belted in you are relatively safe and again the views were spectacular.

Wheeeeeeee!
Javier All Set to Swing!

This was the first of our human launch experiences and I must admit the next one did take my breath away.

San Jose del Pacifico is all about tourism and forestry including furniture making. There are many attractions for visitors whether you want to jump off the edge of things or stay firmly on the ground like Gabriela, there is something for everyone.

Christmas in Puerto Escondido

Back in Puerto, after our weekend in San Jose del Pacifico, it was clear that Christmas Vacay was really ramping up and the night market on the Adoquin in Centro was packed with people and possible regalos. Decorations sprung up all over town and Javier and Gabriela invited me to join them for their Christmas Eve dinner.

Adoquín Busy with Christmas Vacationers

Lots of Christmas spirit in Puerto with lights, decorations and fireworks to celebrate the many special days in the Christmas season.

Javier and Gabriela invited me to their family Christmas Eve dinner which is the main event in Mexico. Javier picked me up at 8 PM and we drove to their home. They had set up a table in a neighbour’s yard under an almond tree strung with Christmas lights and along with four of their neighbours, Javier, Gabriela, their two sons and I enjoyed the typical Christmas feast of fish and pork. Both dishes took two days to prepare and the neighbours contributed a few dishes of their own including a sweet crepe desert with honey drizzled on top.

And now with Christmas done, I will say goodbye for now and set my mind to my next adventure….Guatemala.

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