Everyone I know who visits Tikal flies via Guatemala City, but we decided to drive. On the way, we visited parts of Guatemala we’d read and heard about–Rio Dulce, Lake Izabel, and Livingston—and saw miles of near-desert and dense jungle vastly different from the familiar mountains and valleys of the country’s west and center.
Our group consisted of my children, fourteen-year-old Olivia, eleven-year-old Mateo, and I, along with good friends from our Bay Area adoption group, Michele S. and her ten-year-old daughter, Sofia. We hired a driver, Helmuth Leal, who owns the Antigua travel company, Caminos del Quetzal. Literally dozens of tour companies and shuttles run trips to Tikal. We chose Helmuth based on recommendations of others in our adoption community. The service he provided was terrific.
Guatemala is divided into twenty-two regions called departments, similar to our States, and enroute to Tikal we passed through nine of them: Solola, Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, Progresso, Zacapa, Izabel, and Peten. Tkal is located in the middle of Peten, the largest and most northwestern department, bordering Mexico to the north and west and Belize to the East. The distance from Guatemala City is about three hundred thirty miles. We started our trip in Panajachel, which added another hundred.
The trip took six days, with two days dedicated to driving. The cost was about twice as much as the price of five people flying round trip from Guatemala City to Flores, Tikal’s nearest airport. Bear in mind, the price included hotels, transport, and Tikal Park admission.
Before leaving for Tikal, our families had spent a week at Lake Atitlan, and Helmuth picked us up there on Sunday at 6 AM. If I were to do it again, to save travel time, I would start in Antigua. Lesson learned. We stopped for breakfast at the restaurant Chichoy, between Lake Atitlan and Antigua, and snacked in the van until we arrived almost at Rio Dulce. I say almost, because it was while on the road that we learned the meaning of the word pinchazo—flat tire. The incident added to the adventure.
Once in Rio Dulce, we unloaded our luggage onto a riverboat and cruised over to the rustic and charming Hotel Catamaran. The cabins were simple and clean, with ceiling fans we grew to cherish—that part of the country is hot! and humid!–and no internet access. The no-internet theme was repeated for the rest of the week, and for the first time I could remember, I truly felt off the grid. (more…)