It’s taken a while, but I’m finally in Guatemala! The day’s ride from San Ignacio to El Remate, a chilled out little settlement on the banks of Peten Itza lake, was quiet and easy going. From there, I struck north to visit the vast ruins of Tikal, one of the most impressive kingdoms of the ancient Mayas, before moving onto Flores, further round the lake.
Crossing the border into Guatemala, country number five… No complications; even the gang of money changers, brandishing their fat wads of currency like monopoly money, were easy going. Arriving by bike also meant I was untouchable by the typically pushy taxi cab drivers. These guys inhabit every border of the world, and swarm round backpackers like bees to honey.
Meal number one in Guatemala. If it was anything to go by, I’m not sure if this country will manage to match the culinary delights of Mexico. In Guatemala, it’s all about frijoles: beans beans beans.
Evening in El Remate. My first taster of the incredible sunsets over this vast lake, the second largest in Guatemala at 32 kilometres long and five kilometres wide.
Colourful night’s accomodation. Guatemala has a well established gringo trail, and there's plenty of cheap hotels and hostels, offerings basic rooms or beds for just 30 Quetzales - less than four dollars. This northern part of the country is set in a basin in the jungle. It’s hot and humid, and in the afternoons or evenings, the heavens open for a short deluge of temperature-relieving rain. The state of El Peten accounts for a third of Guatemala’s size. It's home to dozens and dozens of Mayan ruins, many of which are still half engulfed by the forest.
My favourite view in Tikal: looking out over the forest towards Temples 1, 2 and 3, from Temple 4, some 70 metres high. I whiled away a couple hours here reading a book and watching the light change. Howler monkeys screeched in the forest canopy, and toucans fluttered this way and that.
Tikal was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya, reaching its heydey from 200–900 AD. At that time, its population might have been close to ninety thousand. This is the Great Plaza, flanked by two temple pyramids. Last time I was here, I stealth camped in Temple 2 – the Temple of the Mask.
The next day I rode onto Flores, the capital of El Peten, an island in Peten Itza lake that’s linked to the more scruffy settlement of Santa Elena by a causeway. The sunset that evening was like a painting.