from a friend, Charlie Trew
A friend and I took a trip over to Guatemala last week to check out several Mayan sites that many visitors do not go to since they are usually heading to Flores and Tikal. Obviously most first time visitors to Guatemala are going to go to Tikal but there are some alternatives for second time visitors or others that want a less crowded experience.
When I rented my 4 wheel drive from Crystal at the airport I requested papers to go to Guatemala. You need to have these if taking a vehicle to Guatemala or Mexico and you need to tell them which country you are going to. They will also photocopy your driver's license and passport since the authorities at the border will need them.
We had no problems at the border. Both Belize and Guatemala have nice new facilities built within the last two years or so. And the OAS is still manning its trip wire post between the two countries border stations.
Currently the USD is trading at 7.64 to the Quetzal. We had to pay 40 Quetzales for papers and 10 quetzales for that dum dum spray wash. Then a lady stationed at the turnpike asked us where we were going. We said Flores and she asked for 50 Quetzales. My friend said that was outrageous but she would not relent. She gave us a receipt for 39 quetzales and no doubt pocketed the rest. They've had this scam going for some time. Whatever....
We checked out Melchor first. They've really fixed the town up since I was last there about a year and a half ago. Most of the main roads are now paved and the place just looks better. I bought quite a bit of coffee at one market. My friend also wanted to check out the "girls" so we went to the venerable "La Fogata" and some other joint I don't remember the name of. He said they have improved the quality of the "product" there recently and I guess he was right. Both places had lots of 20-something good looking Guatemalan women. We had a few cokes (too early for cerveza) and then hit the road.
The first place we went to was Tzikin Tzakan. It's about 13 km west of Melchor. It's right off the highway and suitable for stopping on the way to Tikal if you have time. It's a site from the Classic period. Like El Pilar in Belize the site has had limited excavation. One of the caretakers gave us a tour. You need the guide or you could get lost in this place as there are no signs and only one visible trail going to the site. Once in there you could get lost easy. The main temple is about the only thing partially excavated and it is very unusual. It's big and rectangular. It looks like a castle. Before leaving we gave our guide a 20 Quetzal tip and he seemed pleased.
Another site off the road is La Blanca. About 20 km south from the highway, 40 km west of Melchor. We did not go to that one but we were told by the owner of the El Sombrero Ecolodge it's really nice (more on that place later).
Next we headed to Yaxha National Park. I had been there before but not since they turned the area into a National Park. In the park are two other sites -- Nakum and Naranjo. You can also access Naranjo quicker from a road out of Melchor, like you can El Pilar out of San Ignacio. Entrance to the park is 80 Quetzales for foreigners and 40 for Guatemalans. We headed to Nakum, about 20 km from Yaxha. For the first 10 km it was a great classic jungle drive. Really first class. However the road began to deteriorate rapidly. The park rangers had said the road was ok. But there ended up being vast amounts of mud that even the four wheel was not going to handle so after messing around with that for a while we headed back to Yaxha.
Yaxha has been excavated for some time and they now have many trails and starways to climb the large structures. At the top of the main temple is one of the great views of any site I've been to. Sweeping views of the huge lake there. We were there at sunset and it was truly awesome. I got some pics I will try to post somwhere later. Maybe I'll send Wendy some like last trip. Anyway, Yaxha is a really great place and to cover the whole park you really need two or even three days. There is camping in the park, too. You can also get horses and ride to Tikal through the jungle if you want.
Another site in the area is Tepoxte, accessible only by boat. (This is where they did one of those "Survivor" shows). You can get a boat at the El Sombrero Ecolodge. It's run by an Italian lady and I can't remember her name and can't find the card she gave me at the moment. Anyway, you can't miss this place, it's right outside the park gate. It's also listed in all the travel guides. I stayed there my last trip to the area and it's really nice. There are shared and private cabanas. I think the private ones work out to $42 USD a night. You are right on the lake and her dining area is really, really nice. Plenty of good food and cold beer. And she knows about most of the Mayan sites in Peten (I think there are around 90!).
We had a few beers and talked to her for a while then headed back. We had dinner in Melchor at a place called La Cabana. It's also a nice hotel with a pool, etc. Very good food and pretty cheap.
No problems getting back into Belize. They did a quick check of the vehicle and then sent us on our way. We got through right at closing at 9pm.