Welcome to Flores a place I’d describe as nothing special as towns go. The main reason for being her is that Flores is used as the primary jumping off point for trips to the magnificent Tikal ruins, or for crossing the Belizean or Mexican borders. Based on that point you can always find a steady stream of travellers going where you're going or having just come back from it. Hostel Los Amigos is the recommendation here, started by 2 Dutch travellers. Again it’s another laid back place with hammocks adorning many a corner but also serves great food (even I struggled to finish their spaghetti bolognese!) and is definitely the spot to be to find a people and a great atmosphere. I am feeling really old though as I'm hanging out with an English girl and some Israelis that I met in El Retiro and the Israelis are all fresh out of the army and all 22!
Meet up with my Ozzie friend Tamara whose just finished in Xela and we decided to travel for a few days together starting off with the ruins at Tikal. We opted to stay in Tikal park itself at the Tikal Inn which was 'flashpacking' as it was a little bit, okay quiet a lot more than the standard backpacker budget but we felt it was justified as it meant you could catch the sunset and stay late in the park. Nothing to do with the fact that it had a pool, nice bungalows and hot water.
We were forced to take a swim and chill by the pool waiting for 3pm to swing round as tickets for the park bought after 3pm are valid for the next day too...see we still were economising!
For me sunset was definitely better than the sunrise as we were 2 of about 20 people watching the sun go down from the top of the pyramid Mundo Perdido (Lost world). It's at this point that I have to give the Mayans credit for their ingenuity and engineering prowess to build these incredible structures, but I do have a tiny little gripe with their overall design. The sun went down over the one section where there were no pyramids in the foreground, just dense forest. I mean you would have thought that they could have consulted a landscape designer who would have told them to place a pyramid or 2 in line with the setting sun saying "I tell you, in a few 1000 years, you'll make a killing with the tourists wanting to check out this view, trust me".
Unfortunately there must have been no consultation thus that meant no sunset photos with pyramids in the foreground but the scenery and flying assortment of toucans, macaws and parrots were still a delight to see. Because we were staying in the park we were the last ones off the pyramid and as it was dark we ended up chatting to the guard who walked up back home as he knew the way, besides he was carrying a shotgun so we felt safe in case we were attacked by those pesky parrots or killer toucans.
As I said sunrise was a little disappointing as it was very foggy so you couldn't see anything - seems this is typical 80% of the time but the guided tour afterwards was very informative.
We went solo afterwards and can proudly say we did something contrary to the Lonely Planets advice. In the Tikal section there is a large highlighted block warning against solo trips to the remote Temple of Inscriptions due to incidents of robbery, etc... against tourists. After checking with the locals we decided to go anyway and besides I had shoes on and Tamara sandals so I figured I could run faster than her...hey chivalry has no place in the jungle guys!
These are the first ruins I've seen on my journey and by all accounts from what I've read and heard from other travellers it's one of the best and I can confirm Tikal is definitely worth a visit. Just bring lots of water, sun cream (if you need it) and if you can try and spend the night in the park - the sunset on top of a pyramid is definitely worth the expense.