We took Suz for a ride to Guatemala a couple of weekends ago, just to get out of town and do something fun together. I’ve been to Flores and Tikal before, in 2013, and it was great to re-visit and reminisce about some of the moments. Tikal is beautiful and inspiring, and only a “short” drive away – so I definitely recommend anybody living in or visiting Belize to hop on a bus or take the car and make their way over the border. Now.. I must say, this all wasn’t as easy as we had expected – driving from Belize to Guatemala is quite different from the good ol’ “roadtrip to Mexico” excursion. Particularly when you cross with your own vehicle. You will need to stand in line to declare your car and get a permit to enter the country – and to do so you need photocopies of your passport, your driver’s license, and the original of your vehicle registration (I usually only have the copy in the car). If you don’t have photocopies, eager taxi drivers gather all around to “help you out” and drive you to the nearest town to get them. We were lucky, as the person in border control was a big fan of our employer and decided that we should be treated as diplomats, my car doesn’t have those magic diplo plates so we couldn’t skip the necessary admin stuff – but he kindly offered to help us out with some details and take care of the copies, and we just paid the necessary fees and got out of there. Again, remember that you can only pay your vehicle permit in Guatemalan Quetzal, cash – as expected – but there are of course very kind currency exchange guys who will help you out and change your Belizean dollars at a conveniently outrageous rate. :)
This entire permit deal is an interesting thing once you have it – it’s valid for three months. In other words, you can drive the car in and out of Guatemala as much as you wish within a period of 90 days. After that the permit automatically expires, and you’re then not allowed to enter Guatemala with this car at all for three months! A system I haven’t before heard of. Another option, which we went for, is to cancel the permit when exiting Guatemala. I’m now not allowed to bring Suz to Guatemala again before May. Which is fine since I won’t even be here in March, but I must admit I do feel a little bit claustrophobic.
After the border, the road is ok, in the beginning – then there is some road work and the road is horrible – and then it’s back to your normal Belizean-style pothole fiesta again. Don’t trust Google Maps when it tells you that it takes 3 hours to drive to Flores. In fact, don’t trust Google maps to tell you how long it takes to drive anywhere in Belize. It manages to calculate Placencia and some of the southern districts right – but when going North or West, I very rarely manage to keep up with the estimation, (the surprise road bump suspension massacring frenzy manages to maintain my driving at slow and paranoid mode.) Adding on the border crossing dealings, the fact that we left Belize at rush hour, and that we drove after dark on the Guatemalan (my security focal point should not see this) roads, it took us almost 5 hours to get to Flores. Not a short drive, but a pleasant one with beautiful scenery – and very much worth it.
We stayed at the Ramada hotel, the only reasonably located option that wasn’t fully booked at the time. It was a bit on the steep side of Flores hotels, but the service was honey coated, the room was fresh and pleasant, and Suz got her own secure parking spot. Just what we needed. Oh, and surprise coffee at 3 am in the morning before our trip to Tikal.
Tikal, the old capital of the Mayan empire, is about one hour away from the picturesque and colourful little island of Flores. You will want to go with an organized tour in bus to get to enter early, avoid driving at 3 am, and see it at sunrise – sitting on top of the highest temple while the sun is coming up is one of my favourite parts of the experience. That, and the morning pyramid hang-out a couple of hours later, when you get to sit and look at the site as tourists come and go, and get little moments of silent stillness with the structures, thinking of how insane it is that they have been standing for almost 3000 years and that 90.000 people once used to live there.