Tikal

Tikal are Mayan ruins located deep in the jungle of northeastern Guatemala.  The road into the park enters Tikal about 11 miles from the ruins.  The ruins are quite spread out through the park and despite heavy tourism the jungle atmosphere makes for a pleasant experience.  Many of the ruins remain uncovered and you can see current excavations taking place.  It’s possible to climb some of the structures in the park and to see stunning panoramic views with the tops of pyramids jutting out above the jungle canopy.  The history of the ruins dates back to 400 BC and ends around 900 AD along with the general decline in Mayan civilization.

I took an organized day tour from Flores to Tikal and this is what I experienced…

Upon entering Tikal the shuttle drove by a pack of pisotes. The shuttle stopped at the inn before we began our tour into the jungle. At the entrance there are a few restaurants, two museums, campground, ticket booth, the visitor center and the licensed tour guides. After showing our ticket we walked for about 5 minutes into the park and we came to the photographic map of Tikal.

path in Tikal

photographic map of Tikal

After walking another 10 minutes or so we came to our first structures in the park, complex Q. Complex Q was built to commemorate the end of an era (almost 20 years). Two temples were built, one representing the sunrise and the other representing the sunset. The temples have a staircase on each side. On the north side of the plaza is a building Continue reading

A Day In Flores

view of the lake from the shore

view of the lake from Flores island

Wake up. Throw on some clothes and flip-flops. Wander over to Cool Beans for some breakfast along the shore. Pop open your laptop and take care of your online chores. Go for a quick dip in Lago Peten Itza or take a lake cruise. Walk up the hill for a cheap lunch from the fast food stands and fruit vendors. After lunch shop around for your transport/tour to Tikal and maybe pop across the lake to San Miguel, San Andres or San Jose and have a look around. Clean up for a nice dinner on the island and some drinks afterwards at any of the shoreline bars. Be sure to call it an early night so you can wake up at 4 in the morning for your 1 hour ride to Tikal. Repeat as many times as necessary.

Flores, Guatemala is a small and peaceful island that you could walk completely around the perimeter within 30 minutes. There are several restaurants, cafes, and bars to choose from. There are also many budget accommodation options. It is located about 40 miles from the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal and makes a good base to stay at if you plan to visit the ruins. Continue reading

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One Month In Mexico

Before I spent a month in Mexico my knowledge of the country was very limited. Like many college students before me I spent some nights getting drunk in Tijuana. I remember watching a lot of westerns that seemed to fill my mind with the idea that every corner in Mexico was occupied by a dusty cantina with mean hombres just waiting for a fight. I had also seen lucha libre Mexican wrestling on TV a few times. Besides that, Cancun had long been a party destination for Americans. Both my high school and my college mascots were the Aztecs but I only had a vague notion of where they were from. Mexican food has heavily featured in my diet since I moved to Southern California when I was ten years old. When I spent a year in Southeast Asia one of the things I missed was Mexican food. I came away from my month in Mexico impressed by the history, culture and beauty of the country.

I started off my time in Mexico in the capital, Mexico City. I spent 8 days as a tourist in the city. I visited superb museums. I saw the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Templo Mayor. I went to my first live lucha libre Mexican wrestling match. I saw the National Palace in the Zocalo. I went to the zoo and was surprised that a free zoo could be so big and filled with so many different animals. I also found out that Mexico City was built on top of a lake and that because of this it is sinking! I went clubbing in the trendy Condesa neighborhood. I saw Mexican Hairless Dogs for the first time. I also experienced my first shots of Mezcal. I visited one of the most sacred places in Catholicism, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mexico City is a fascinating place with a lot to see and do. I could have easily spent 2-3 weeks exploring it. The city is hectic and crowded and I was glad that my next destination was Oaxaca.

Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan

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Hostel Review: Jungle Palace

After years of backpacking and hostel after hostel all of the places I’ve stayed in tend to become a blur. Not many places I’ve stayed in are memorable or they are memorable for the wrong reasons. The Jungle Palace in El Panchan near the Mayan ruins of Palenque would be a glaring exception to that rule. You really are IN THE JUNGLE. You live with the plants, bugs, and animals. In fact when you first arrive you begin to wonder if you live with monsters too, as in the mysterious “monster” from LOST. You hear this horrific noise in the distance that surely has to be otherworldly or from another time. If you watched the video clip above you can hear what I am talking about for yourself. As it turns out the noise is actually from the howler monkeys that are your neighbors here in El Panchan.

I stayed in El Panchan for 3 nights and if you can live without wi-fi I recommend that you do so as well. I didn’t stay in Palenque town, but I imagine if I did I would have already forgotten what it was like. If you really are suffering withdrawals from the Internet you can take a 10 minute ride into town if you need to connect back to the outside world. Or better yet, this may be your only vacation from the “internets” in a long time. Although you do not have Internet, the Jungle Palace does have electricity and clean bathrooms with hot water showers. The beds in my room were comfortable and hanging around in my room listening to the sounds of the jungle was relaxing, at least when the howler monkeys were not around. Another important feature is the free use of metal lockers for valuables as many of the rooms feature screen windows that could be easily broken into. The Jungle Palace can also arrange your transportation or tours to nearby places and attractions. In fact I booked my 8 hour trip to Flores, Guatemala with the receptionist.

Another fun thing to do at the Jungle Palace is to strap on some thermal vision glasses borrowed from Arnold and pretend you are in “Predator“. Make sure you turn up the volume to eleven. Check it out-

bridge over the stream

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Palenque

Palenque is a Mayan city state dating from 100 BC to 800 AD. The peak of its power and grandeur was achieved in the 7th Century. It was abandoned around 800 AD and gradually absorbed into the jungle. Today about 1 square mile of the site has been excavated and restored. This area is estimated to cover less than 10% of the total area that the city once covered. It is believed that there are still thousands of structures yet to be excavated and restored. Much of the ruins that we now see are largely attributed to K’inich Janaab’ Pakal or Pacal The Great. Pacal The Great ruled Palenque from 615 to 683 AD. He is best known for the Temple Of The Inscriptions which contain his tomb.

Temple Of The Inscriptions

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Hostel Review: B & B Le Gite Del Sol

entrance to the hostel

My first night in San Cristobal de Las Casas I stayed in a basic dorm room. The next day I lugged my bag over to B & B Le Gite Del Sol. I highly recommend this B & B/ Hostel. The hostel is spotless, the beds are comfortable and the staff and owners are nice and friendly. They also included a tasty breakfast, free wi-fi and the use of a computer and kitchen facilities. The hostel is conveniently located, a 5 minute walk from the main tourist street. There are actually two locations within one block of each other. The friendly owners can help you with bus tickets and reliable bus information. It can get cold during the night in San Cristobal so it is important to have thick blankets and this hostel passes that test as well. While the basic rooms are somewhat spartan, I still feel the hostel is a good value, especially if you are splitting the costs of a room.

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San Cristobal De Las Casas

In San Cristobal de Las Casas the international influence is undeniable. There is an interesting mix of artistic, indigenous, progressive, and cosmopolitan influences balanced throughout the city. Despite the dominance of tourism on the local landscape the resulting ambience of the place is not tacky or lacking culture. Much of the pleasure of wandering around the tourist center of town is provided by walking the long pedestrian-only portions of the streets. Another feature of the city is the wide array of international cuisine on offer:  Thai, Italian, Argentinian, Lebanese, Japanese, and more. In addition, cafes and restaurants feature live music throughout the city, especially Thursday through Saturday night. With several museums around and a few day trips just outside the city it is an easy place to find yourself extending your stay. Unfortunately I stayed longer than planned because of a bout with Montezuma’s Revenge, but even that calamity didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for San Cristobal. Continue reading

Tonina- Mayan Superpower

Tonina is an archaeological site located 8 miles east of the town of Ocosingo in the Mexican state of Chiapas. It is a Mayan site and gained significant power through the use of warfare. Tonina’s greatest rival was Palenque, some 40 miles to the north. It was Tonina that eventually toppled their great rival. The site is imposing, rising over 230 feet over a plaza and features several temple-pyramids over seven terraces.

model of Tonina

The cheapest way to get to Tonina from the town of Ocosingo is by catching a colectivo or combi from the market in town.  It will cost you less than a dollar each way and drops you off right at the entrance to the site after about a 15-20 minute ride.

At the entrance of the site is the museum and you should definitely take a look inside.  The museum contains several carvings from the site and a few models of what Tonina looked like at its peak.

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Oaxaca- A Nice Place To Sit A Spell

Before I had arrived in Mexico I had never heard of Oaxaca.  As I started to plan for my next destination from Mexico City I settled on Oaxaca.  From what I read I was expecting a much slower paced city than the capital and I was not disappointed in what I experienced.  Immediately after strapping my backpack on as I left the bus station I felt a difference in the air.  As I continued walking towards the center of town I came across a park and noticed a lot more people sitting and relaxing than in the hurried streets of Mexico City. After the overwhelming capital it was quickly clear to see that Oaxaca was going to be a needed change of pace.  As I saw more and more people relaxing in the park and less traffic passing by me on the streets I could feel my breathing slow down and I began to realize how hurried I had become in my 8 days in Mexico City.

Settling into the hostel after a mile long walk I accepted my roommate’s invitation to dinner with a happy bunch from the hostel.  A night of laughter and wine amongst new acquaintances led to a late morning walk to Santo Domingo Church and across an interesting outdoor art exhibit, 2501 Immigrants.  The display contained 2501 small ceramic people standing on sides of the street in front of the famous church.  The figures represent people who had left there villages to go to the United States.  It took several years to complete the work and over 25 people from the artist’s village helped in it’s completion.

Santo Domingo Church with outdoor art exhibit

the 2501 Immigrants stand in front of Santo Domingo Church

a few of the Immigrants

It's A Man, Baby!

Walking down the street to the plaza and past the 2501 Immigrants


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