Guatemala Part 2: Tikal and Semuc Champey

After Lake Atlitan we took the bus back to the travellers hub that is Antigua. Again our visit was shortlived as we decided to catch the 12 hour night bus to Flores in the north of the country. The bus was fairly comfy and we even arrived an hour ahead of schedule to a sleepy Flores at 5am. Flores is a cool little island village on Lake Peten Itza and is connected to the mainland by a 500m causeway.  The lake is as warm as a bath and therefore great for swimming.

Although the town is very attractive and location on the lake a big draw to tourists in itself, the main reason travellers flock here is to visit the largest Mayan ruins outisde of Mexico: Tikal, which is a 45 minute bus ride away.  Too tired to go on the tour straight away I booked onto the next day’s tour which was to leave at 5.30am.  We booked into the only hostel on the island: Los Amigos and spent the day chilling and swimming in the lake.

The next day I was up early for the Tikal tour.  I rather foolishly didn’t nap during the day after the night bus and only got to bed at 11pm so this was not the easiest of early starts I’d ever experienced!  This led to a lot of head lolling and even a small amount of drooling on the bus to Tikal.  The site is pretty cool because not only are there these awesome ruins but it is slap-bang in the middle of the jungle so the wildlife we saw included: spider monkeys (loads), howler monkeys, tarantulas, toucans, parrots and a host of other creepy crawlies and birds… The physical presence and the history of the ruins is staggering.  The city was once believed to house almost half a million Mayans at its peak, and only as far back as 700AD.  The Mayans had to move on (believed to be to a different country) because they exhausted the land of its nutrients.  We also learned of the rules of Mayan sacrifice and navigating the afterlife, which was apparently a lot easier if at the time of your death you had twins sacrificed to be your guardians in the 9 levels of the underworld!

View of the canopy from the top of the tallest (70m) Temple IV:

Handling the red rump tarantula:

Panorama function used for the first time to capture Temples I and II:

Walking around the jungle in long trousers and shoes (to protect from the mozzies) in the heat (about 35 degs) was exhausting and I was glad to get back to Flores and the lake where I cooled down and chilled in the afternoon.  Jess and Kirsty (travelling buddies from Utila) had left that morning for Belize to continue their trip north to Cancun, so for the first time I was flying solo but I found that it wasn’t long before I was absorbed into new groups of travellers.

The next day I was on the road again, back south to Lanquin and the natural wonder that is Semuc Champey.   The area is quite remote and very scenic, set in the central eastern Guatemalan mountains (maybe mountains is a bit strong, more like big steep green hills).  Because there was no room in the town Lanquin I was whisked off straight to Semuc Champey where all there is a hostel so its very quiet there.  Semuc Champey is like a national park which basically has a bit of a natural geographical anomoly where the raging Rio Cahabon goes underneath the ground (described as a limestone ‘bridge’) on top of which there are several cascading clear pools; at the bottom of which the river comes back above ground in the form of a big waterfall.  Either side of the river and the pools are these steep tree covered cliffs.  I booked onto the tour the day after I arrived and the first part of the tour we hiked up one of the valley sides giving us a spectacular view of the valley and the pools.  After descending the cliff side, we had a look where the river goes underground which is fairly daunting because the this huge frothing rapidly-moving river just disappears and you can imagine anything that falls in the river anywhere near this point would have no chance.  Indeed, our guide told us that 5 people had fallen in, and all had died (some bodies never to have been recovered) but there was one survivor:  a German Shepherd which somehow had survived the 200m underwater journey.

The Semuc Champey pools from the Mirador (viewpoint):

Next to where the river disappears underground:

This is where the river disappears, reappearing 200m further down the valley:

Refreshing bomb into the cool pools:

After the trek we got to cool off in the (slightly too cold for me) crystal clear pools and having lunch back at the hostel, we took a trip to some local caves where a candle lit tour awaited.  For the entirety of the tour you are in a water which at some stages is over your head.   As I’ve come to expect in Guatemala health and safety is thrown out the window and I took on the caves with just my trunks and a candle (which was to run out three quarters the way through).  At one stage you are offered to haul yourself up a fast moving waterfall and at the end of the cave invited to climb up a rockface (not that easy with bare feet on the dark!) and jump into a pool (that you hit the bottom of) whilst trying to avoid hitting the cave walls!  It wasn’t really a surprise that the day after I was there two people were carried out with pretty severe leg injuries!

Climbing the waterfall:

Jumping into the (shallowish) pool whilst avoiding the cave walls:

The night after the tour I returned to Lanquin and the Zephyr lodge hostel.   The Zephyr is one of those hostels everyone you meet seems to recommend, and as such is always rammed with similar minded travellers wanting to have a bit of a drink and party.  The next day I joined a group of these travellers to tube down the river for a couple of hours which was very relaxing and offered up some awesome scenery.   I spent the last day at the Zephyr lazing around, chatting with people and listening to the masses of cool playlists they play all day long.  Today I took my final minivan in Guatemala back to Guatemala City where I am currently staying as tomorrow I fly to Rio de Janeiro…..


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mum
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 10:53:55

    awesome Dom, great blogging – you look buff in your photo – the diving training seems to have built up your muscles.


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