Many of the temples built were done so to honor kings and leaders, and temples were actually erected on top of each other as it was an honor to have your temple built over the previous one and built higher than those who came before you.
With the rich history that it has, I just KNEW I HAD to get to Tikal, but from Xela that required going back to Guatemala City (4-5 hour bus ride) and then getting to Flores (8-9 hour bus ride, or 45 minutes by airplane). Flores is pretty much the main portal into Tikal, which is about 45 minutes from there. Although it seemed crazy, we wanted to do it, so we did. There is actually a bus line (Linea Dorada) that has a trip leaving from Xela at 3:00 Friday afternoon, going to Guatemala City, transferring to an overnight bus that leaves at 9:00pm and arrives in Flores at 6:00am. It includes transportation from Flores to Tikal, the guide in Tikal, lunch, travel back to Flores, and a return trip with a bus leaving Flores at 9:00pm and eventually getting back to Xela by noon on Sunday. As crazy as it was to go through so much travel for only a few hours in the park, it was definitely worth it! It would have been faster to take the plane, but the entire trip ended up costing us about $160US. Not bad at all.
Linea Dorada is considered more of the luxury bus line and I definitely saw the difference immediately. The bus had a bathroom, air conditioning, and even TVs (even though they weren’t on at all). It was a pretty comfortable ride from Xela to Guatemala City and would have been just about perfect, but there was a massive accident with a few trucks and trailers and we were basically at a standstill outside of Guatemala City for quite some time. The distance that would have normally taken about 30 minutes took about 4 hours. Luckily, the traffic for the entire city was a complete mess and the connecting bus actually waited for us.
The bus to Flores was super plush. They had these reclining seats with a leg rest, served food and drink (naranja con soda is SOOOO Good!) and I was actually able to sleep pretty well all the way to Flores. Once we arrived in Flores, we were met at the bus terminal by a driver who picked up some other people for the tour and our tour guide, Luis. Luis actually spoke pretty decent English (especially considering that we were told that our tour would be in Spanish!) It was about a 45 minute drive to Tikal and we stopped along the way at a (extremely overpriced!) gift store.
Once in Tikal it was great learning about the history of the area and the importance of Tikal throughout Mayan History. It was great seeing the Temples and knowing that some of the structures were built over two thousand years ago. There was such a fascination with astronomy and the alignment of things that the village was even built in the middle of the rainforest in a group of trees that will allow for the area to be hidden because the trees will grow back in 7 years if they are cut at the wrong time in the moon cycle, but won’t grow back for over 50 years if done at a specific time.
It was extremely hot and I felt like I was about ready to pass out most of the day, but I was extremely intrigued in the history and all of the massive temples and all of the stories that our guide had to share. I was initially upset when we were told that our tour would only be 9am-2pm, but I was definitely ready to leave by then and felt that I had seen everything that I wanted to see.
We arrived back in Flores around 3:30pm and didn’t leave again until 9:00pm, so we decided to spend the rest of the day seeing what Flores had to offer. There was another lady who was on our tour who worked for USAID and she was an awesome person to talk to about her job and her perspective on things and the work that she was doing between the US and multiple third world countries. I think we were all intrigued thinking about the possibility of having her job one day! She spent pretty much the entire day with us and was pretty fun to hang with.
Flores was a cute little town and there were people everywhere just looking like they were enjoying life. There were people selling some of the best looking food I had seen since arriving in Guatemala (but I knew I had a serious bus ride ahead of me, so I definitely did not succumb to temptation!). There were boat rides to the other side of the lake, and we asked a guy how much he would charge to just give us a half our boat ride, and since he only charged 70Q (less than $10) we went ahead and did it. He even showed us where there was a “mirador” and stopped for us to climb up a serious incline for about a half hour (definitely not at the top of my list after being exhausted all day) to go to the lookout to see the view from the highest point around. It was pretty much gorgeous. I was kind of nervous that he would leave us because he dropped us in a pretty secluded area and if he wouldn’t have been there when we came back, we would have simply been stranded for who knows how long.
Since we took so much time on the mirador, it almost worked perfect that we got back to the boat for a “sunset cruise” back to Flores. It was of course gorgeous and was an awesome bit of relaxation at the end of the day. We ended up just walking around the town for a while realizing that souvenirs were definitely more expensive in such a touristy place, and we were better off buying any and everything in Xela. We went to a cute restaurant for dinner and sangria at the end of the night and ended up taking tuk tuks (cute little 2-3 people motorized carts) back to the bus station for the trip back.
The trip back was pretty uneventful. Although I didn’t sleep much through the night everything worked pretty much according to schedule. We arrived back in Xela around noon on Sunday and I spent most of the day sleeping and around town trying to enjoy my last weekend in the country. Although everyone thought we were crazy for the trip, and I admit it probably was, it was definitely worth it for the experience.