If you are looking for practical info, prices and timetables are at the bottom of this post.
I am waiting for the bus to the Mayan ruins of Uaxactun, Val is sitting right beside me. She is not coming on this trip with me and it feels weird to leave her behind, especially when you spent so much time together as we do. But, her broken foot still isn’t healed and I really feel the need to go on this solo adventure. How could I not? Being so close to Tikal, one of the most famous Mayan sites in the world.
The chicken bus full of locals arrives and I kiss Val goodbye. If she wouldn’t hear from me in four days, she had the right to be worried and come and look for me. Normally I should only be gone for two or three days. As I enter the bus I can’t help but think about how the first black Americans to ever ride a bus must have felt; eyes staring, heads turning… No, this is definitely not the normal way for tourists to visit the ruins. And indeed it isn’t, the entrance fee to Tikal was too high for our budget, so I had to look for an alternative. Luckily I found one, even with some bonuses along the way.
Instead of going straight to Tikal and pay the 15 euro fee, I first went to visit the temples of Uaxactun, which only has a five euro entrance fee. This unknown ancient Mayan site lays on the same road as Tikal, just a little further up west and used to be one of the most important astronomical centers in Mayan times. It took the bus about an hour more to complete the extra 23km, not only because of the bad road, but mainly because of the state of the bus itself.
It was already getting dark when I arrived in Uaxactun and I decided to put my hammock under a roof at the only campsite in the small town. The next day I woke up very early and scooped around the archeological site for a few hours. I was the only living soul there and it gave me a peaceful but weird feeling. I liked the site but in order for my plan to fully work I needed to move on, start walking the 23 km back to Tikal and reach it well before closing time at 6 pm, so I would have the time to properly visit it.
I started walking on the road in the blistering heat and was sweating a lot. I didn’t take me long to drink the three liters of water I had in my backpack and after all it is kind of normal when you are walking in the jungle. I expected to see a lot of wild animals, but in the end all I saw were a few monkeys high up in the trees and a black raccoon-like animal that scatted away as soon as I looked at it. No jaguars or snakes for me this time… After about 13 km it started to rain, but I was lucky to be picked up by a passing truck. He dropped me off a couple of hundred meters before the Tikal control gate and I happily walked into the ruins of Tikal at around 2 pm, giving me enough time to visit the famous site.
I didn’t have a plan of the site, so I went on a hunch and followed a small path when I noticed some stairs going up into the trees in the distance. After I big climb I was rewarded by the most beautiful view over Tikal, with a rainbow-bonus in the background (seems to be recurrent thing during my travels). I sat there for a while, had some food and headed down to check out the rest of the site. It was an amazing experience walking from the Hidden World to the Seven Temples, accompanied by the sounds of tropical birds and some strange animals I had never seen before in my life. After a few hours I decided to call it a day, when I suddenly spotted a sign saying ‘Gran Plaza’. Well, I said to myself, that must be worth a small detour and it more than definitely was. Such a beautiful place, it immediately felt like there must have happened some very important gatherings a few thousand years ago. However, the truly magical thing was meeting a friendly Belgian couple there, who were visiting Guatemala and Mexico for three weeks. We felt an instant click and ended up talking for hours about very profound topics. An encounter I won’t easily forget.
The strange thing about this whole solo adventure is that I knew I was going to be picked up by someone during my walk, I just didn’t know when and that also I knew I was going to meet someone who I would have a nice conversation with. And not because I wanted to, but because I just knew. Such a nice feeling!
It is a lot cheaper to stay in El Remate than staying in Flores and it is closer to Tikal if you want to visit the ruins. We stayed at a very nice local place, called camping El Paraiso and payed 20 Qtz per person per night.
Chicken bus to Uaxactun from El Remate (Once a day at 3.30pm): 25 Qtz.
Entrance to Uaxactun: 50 Qtz. (Tikal is 150 Qtz)
Camping in Uaxactun: 20 Qtz. (You easily camp in the ruins, there are no controls)
Camping in Tikal: 50 Qtz. (You can pass the campsite and wild camp at the far end of the parking, but there are guards patrolling the area, so it is not easy)
Bus back from Tikal to El Remate: 20 Qtz. (My ride was for free!)
Ps: 1 euro is 10 guatemalan quetzal