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jczinn Mar 21st, 2006 10:46 AM

Tikal on our own from San Ignacio
We're in the very pre-planning stages right now but trying to figure out what's doable. We were in Belize several years ago and stayed at DuPlooy's. From there we visited Caracol and Xunantunich but always regretted not going to Tikal.

This trip, we're planning to stay near San Ignacio again...probably Chaa Creek, and Tikal is a must--maybe even overnight there. Thing is--we don't want a tour; we're birders and want to be able to wander on our own and not be tied to a group. As birders we'd also want to leave San Ignacio as early as possible in the a.m., probably earlier than any tour would go. Generally we are not tour-people and have travelled extensively on our own in the Yucatan, Chiapas (Palenque), and of course Caracol.

So anywhere else we'd just drive ourselves, but I know that driving a rental car to Tikal is out of the question. So what's our best bet? Is it possible to hire a private driver? How would we go about finding one? We'd consider staying overnight in Tikal, but then what happens with the driver? Do we get two drivers, one to take us and one to take us back?

thanks for any suggestions!

Katie_Valk Mar 21st, 2006 01:36 PM

There are great guides in Tikal who are expert birders and naturalists and know the history of the site. Easy to book a transfer from the border to Tikal and back,whether you overnight or just spend the day. You're not responsible for the guides overnight room or meals. They live in the area. I walked from Chaa Creek to duPlooys and canoed from duPlooys to Chaa Creek tis weekend, both are wonderful.

hopefulist Mar 21st, 2006 03:46 PM

Consider Macal River Jungle Camp, Chaa Creek's wilder cousin: . We saw motmots, aricaris, toucans, and parrots from our beds, the dining area, and hammocks - lovely place.

When we visited Tikal we bused to the border, changed money, crossed, and hired a van driver on the other side to drive us to Tikal and return the next afternoon to drive us back to the border - piece of cake. I recommend the Mundo Perdido area at dawn if you enjoy birding (and howlers, spider monkeys, agoutis, coatis, etc.). Definitely spend the night to take advantage of the evening and early morning hours when it's cooler, the wildlife action is better, and fellow human visitors will be limited. I don't think the border opens before 7 or 8 so you won't make it to Tikal till it's starting to heat up.

I'm giving my final presentation for my current Spanish class tonight on the ruins at Tikal and Copán and have been pouring over my pictures and journals...sigh....

Happy trails!

Suzie2 Mar 22nd, 2006 03:54 AM

I know you said you don't want a guide but do I have one for you!

His name is Luis and he is an incredible birder. He grew up in the park where his father was a park ranger. He speaks very good english and had a walk on on Survivor Guatemala.

We stayed at the Tikal Inn which is in the park. We birded 1 1/2 days there and then spent the last afternoon looking at the ruins. We had already been through the ruins and moved on but decided to go back primarily for birding. He is extremely knowledgable about those as well and we learned a lot more than what we had from our first guide previously.

We just spent 2 days with him in the Tikal park as well as a few other days elsewhere. Our first day in the park we saw 83 species of birds including an Ornate hawk eagle. He knew where the birds lived. He has eyes like an eagle when it comes to finding birds.

We have been to Caracol and Xunantunich as well and they were just a warm up for Tikal. Yaxha is also very interesting and less traveled. We saw a bunch of white wiskered puff birds there. The parrots at Tikal are almost deafening at times.

He is well known in the area and can help arrange hotels and transportation.

If you are interested let me know and I will dig up his email, phone#, etc.

If you prefer something nicer than the Tikal Inn I would highly recommend the Villas Maya. It is a large complex with its own lagoon and would probably offer some good birding as well. We didn't get to do any while we were there unfortunately. We will definitely go back there.

Suzie2 Mar 22nd, 2006 04:07 AM

hopefulist, My husband is retired and has decided to go back to school. He was skipping classes while we were in Guatemala (with permission from his professors). His assignment for his spanish class was to give a presentation as well.

The people at the Tikal Inn set up a desk for him on the porch of our bungalow so he could study for his exams that he was taking when we got back.

hopefulist Mar 22nd, 2006 05:52 AM

Ah - a kindred spirit. :)

Donna_M Mar 22nd, 2006 07:12 AM

Jczinn and Suzie - if you had to choose between Caracol and Xunantunich which would you go see? We are traveling Easter week with 2 teenage boys and staying at Blancaneaux. Does anyone know how long it would take to get to either one? I don't think we'll attempt Tikal b/c of the long ride and I'm afraid it would be crowded that week. Next time, for sure! ( I haven't even been to Belize yet but there is so many things to do I know we'll have to come back! )

jczinn Mar 22nd, 2006 07:29 AM

Suzie2, we meet again--we seem to be travelling the same paths ;-) When I said I didn't want a guide, I didn't mean a bird guide! I just meant that we don't want a guide who will concentrate solely on the ruins and we don't want to be in a group, because we prefer exploring on our own. A bird guide is a totally different story ;-) So yes I very much would like the name and contact info for your guide--he sounds perfect! We are very far in advance of the trip, however--this is for next winter--but I am trying to get ideas. Can you email me via my website,

I am still trying to figure logistics. Originally I was thinking four nights at Chaa Creek, with a daytrip to Tikal; and then we were going to head to Placencia for a few days R&R (have already been to Ambergris and didn't really care for it.) We only have seven nights.

The problem is, how can we split the CC time if we want to overnight in Tikal? It would seem that it might be hard to book a split stay of 2 nights, then come back for one night, especially in peak season.

Ideas how to make this workable?

jczinn Mar 22nd, 2006 07:35 AM

hopeful--I have looked at the Macul River camps, and they look enticing, BUT, this is actually going to be one of those "special birthday" trips and I sort of wanted a little luxury, so I am hoping to splurge for one of Chaa Creek's honeymoon-type properties.

It does sound like overnight at Tikal is the way to go. Maybe even two overnights. But I still can't figure out the logistics--what do you do with the car then? I hear its not wise to leave it overnight at the border.

Suzie and Hopeful, I'd love to hear your exact itineraries for this part of your trips--did you post trip reports?

Thanks! Tonight is the night I have to phone the airline to try and get frequent flyer seats for this trip, hence the sudden planning..

jczinn Mar 22nd, 2006 07:43 AM

DonnaM--Caracol and Xunantunich are very different sites. Xuanantunich is right nearby and oh, maybe a half hour or less from San Ignacio if I recall. Its a well-excavated site and rather small, but an easy introduction to the ruins of the area.

What I remember of our trip to Caracol was a very long ride...maybe three hours...and lots of vehicles stuck in the mud (not ours, fortunately--but we did stop to help winch someone else out.) But this was years ago and I understand the roads are now greatly improved. The site remains greatly unexcavated so you need a bit of imagination to see what's there. We were a bit disappointed after the long exhausting ride. Personally I'd not go back to Caracol, I would go for Tikal--I think that would be much more interesting expecially for teens. Failing that, Xunantunich is a nice small site.

hopefulist Mar 22nd, 2006 07:59 AM

Caracol will be less of a trip from Blanc than from San Ig, but the roads can still be problematic, depending on the weather - long day of driving, which is why we chose not to go there, though I'm sure we would have loved it. Xunantunich is only about 6 or 8 miles west of San Ignacio - really lovely. You might want to consider combining a visit there with a visit to Chechem Ha, another place we loved. You drive up into the jungle, then hike in about a mile with a guide and explore a cave that contains ancient Maya pottery. There is also a lovely waterfall on the property and a view of 1000 Foot Falls. That would fill a day without with more variety than driving to Caracol, I would think. At some point, stop at the zoo - very unique. Our kids took truly incredible photos of jaguars sleeping in trees, monkeys, toucans, etc. with no fences evident.

Here is a link to our travelogue:;f=10;t=000362

We loved everything we did and everyplace we stayed.

No point in staying only 1 night at Chaa Creek - not enough time to explore. If you stay 2 nights there and 2 nights at Tikal, you could easily catch a morning taxi/shuttle back to the border and bus/drive to Belize City to hop a flight to Placencia. Driving clear there would be a long day but doable if you got an early enough start. One of the many reasons I avoid rental cars is the "where do you leave them when you're not using them" bit. Absolutely not at the border. You could contact the folks at The Trek Stop which is in San Jose Succotz (walking distance to the Xunantunich and only a few miles from the border) and ask if you could park it there for a fee - don't know if they do that or not. It's easy to grab a passing taxi or bus from there.

Happy trails!

LA_FadeAway Mar 22nd, 2006 07:12 PM

It's super easy to do Tikal on your own from San Ignacio. Here is a link to my trip report from last summer, including all the details of how we did it:

Suzie2 Mar 23rd, 2006 04:54 AM

Luisí email address is: [email protected]

His mailing address is:

Luis Oliveros

El Remate

Flores, Peten


And if you ever want or need to call him: 011-502-55-81-2441 or 011-502-57-32-4767

jczinn Mar 23rd, 2006 10:21 AM

thanks Suzie for the info--I will contact him when we get more defined with our plans.

hopefulist, I think your plan sounds better...two nights Chaa Creek and two nights Tikal. Again, being that its my birthday I am leaning towards more upscale than normal and so I am looking at La Lancha for Tikal--even though its not in the park. Maybe we could work in Yaxha as well..

Then somehow get to Placencia... We could just get a driver, but we really do like to do our own driving so that we can stop and bird etc., make unexpected detours to something interesting, etc. We just feel so much more connected to a place when we do our own driving. Just returned from Costa Rica --3rd trip but first where we drove--and it just seemed so much more "real" and tangible this time, hard to explain.

Fortunately, we do have lots of time to figure this out, just getting started. The logistics for this trip seem very complicated!

Suzie2 Mar 23rd, 2006 02:30 PM

We were disappointed with La Lancha. The building we were in had leaks on the front porch (they tore the roof off after we left). We were told we would be sharing a duplex with our friends which didn't happen. We had made the reservation 3 mos in advance and they had plenty of room. The food wasn't all that great, and they ran out of the beer we were drinking. We were able to drive a short ways down the street and buy some for our room.

We really enjoyed a couple of nights at the Villa Maya and will stay there again. They have their own private lagoon and the pools were very nice. They also have a hot tub. It is only a 20 minute cab ride into Flores if you want to go there to eat. The food at Maya was very good we thought. There is also an International maya in Santa Elena that we visited for future reference and would not stay there under any circumstance. The smell of sewage was horrible.

Another option that looked really nice is the Camino Real Tikal. It is just down the street from La Lancha. They have a nice shuttle bus that goes to the park.

jczinn Mar 24th, 2006 05:33 AM

Thanks again Suzie for all the good info, especially for the heads-up on La Lancha. I see mixed reviews for it around the web. And it really doesn't look all that special. Villa Maya looks perfectly fine and certainly less expensive! Camino Real may be a bit big, I imagine it gets package tours, we'd prefer something smaller. Maybe we'll end up staying in the park at the Jungle Lodge--I have to really think about the pros and cons. It may come down to Villa Maya vs. Jungle Lodge. My actual birthday would be in Chaa Creek, anyway!

anyway no luck on getting frequent flyer tix (a year in advance--thanks Delta :-( so looks like we're gonna have to pay for tickets. That means we may have to economize a little more than I'd hoped.

Suzie2 Mar 24th, 2006 06:02 AM

I would like to recommend Tikal Inn over the Jungle Lodge. The Jungle Lodge was very budget looking. The Tikal Inn was very pretty and the people very nice. We walked next door to the Jungle Lodge for dinner both nights to eat off the menu in their restaurant rather than have to eat the mass produced food which looked good but not terribly exciting at the Inn. The breakfasts were good at the Inn.

There was a serious birder who saw an Ornate Hawk Eagle fly right over while he was sitting by the pool.

I can't believe Delta is already blocking FF's for that far away. I guess we had better look into our big trip next year as well. We will be heading down to Peru. Hubby took early retirement and we are having a ball traveling!

What did you think of Palenque? Several people we talked to at Tikal said it was a must do.

hopefulist Mar 24th, 2006 06:14 AM

We stayed at the Jaguar Inn and enjoyed it very much, though we ate at the comedores. Our first choice was the Tikal Inn but it was closed for fumigating when we were there. (!) Unless you meant 11 months (instead of a year), keep checking for saver seats - we've been told that none of the seats are released more than 11 months ahead of the flights, so checking earlier than that results in "no saver seats available" messages. Happy trails...

jczinn Mar 24th, 2006 09:33 AM

thanks hopefulist--I do mean 11 months (331 days exactly for Delta--I called right after midnight) They did say to keep trying and they put me on some sort of waitlist (didn't know you could do that for FF). Anyway I'm not counting on it. Its a holiday week and we have to leave on Saturday, the agent said they may not release any seats at all on that flight. Anyway who knows if Delta will even still be flying in a year (but that's a whole nother topic ;-)

jczinn Mar 24th, 2006 09:45 AM

Suzie, am I confused? I thought the Jungle Lodge was the "best" of the three lodges in the park, with the Tikal Inn being in the middle, and the Jaguar Inn being the low-end one. At least this is the impression I got from Trip Advisor... I can't seem to find much info on Tikal Inn.

A Hawk Eagle would be mighty cool. We are hoping for Harpy Eagle in Brazil next summer!

Palenque is fabulous, certainly my favorite site in the Mayan World (so far...!) The setting is just beautiful, very lush and tropical, not as arid as the sites in the Yucatan. Much more jungle-ly even than Coba. I am imagining the surroundings of Tikal as similar. We drove from Cancun (with overnights of course) and it was a fantastic trip, you must do it..

You will love Peru, we were there this past summer, check out my website for some photos if you like. We are off to the Pantanal this coming summer!

Also on a side note, and getting back to the original topic of this thread--I wrote Chaa Creek and they responded that I could definitely leave the rental car in their parking area while we go to Tikal. So that problem is solved!

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