A Travellerspoint blog

Guatemala - Tikal

A day trip to Guatemala?? Why not!

Who would have thought heading to a different country for one day would be so easy?! Not me. But everyone on the internet seemed to think it was a great idea and it turns out they were right all along. Getting into Tikal, Guatemala from San Ignacio, Belize is probably one of the easiest border crossings we have done so far....with the help of Max and his tour company.

We left our accommodation at 7:30am and arrived at the border about an hour later. After a quick stamp of the passport we were on our way to Tikal. From the border Tikal is around an hour and half drive - the last half an hour of this is through the national park that houses the ruins of Tikal.

Adam has had Tikal on his "to do" list since we first decided to come to Central America. Me, I wasn't too fussed by it. In the end so glad we came. You can do tours from Mexcio to Tikal but that seemed like too much effort and way too expensive.

Tikal is a Mayan City 64 km square with only 16 km square cleared. So a massive, massive site. Unlike places like Chichzen Itza it is purely Mayan; not a mix of cultures. Apparently Mayans never used any metal so when the Spanish came looking for gold and silver amongst the Mayans all they found was emerald and pottery. I don't think they were too happy with that!

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The national park around Tikal is up there as one of the highest oxygen producing forest in the world. They also have many species of plants and animals that are found in the area. The only animal we saw was a turkey....very disappointing.

The ruins are quite beautiful and if you want to see all of it you need at least 3 days. We had 3 hours and saw the main attractions and were not disappointed with our time there. Amazing to see the similarities between countries and their building techniques.

Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. Probably a bad review on my part but I think I'm all ruined out. They're all starting to look the same.

p.s. more photos of Tikal to come

Posted by carlagregory 19:17 Comments (0)

Stop 33 - Caye Caulker

Come for 4 nights, stay for 19!

sunny 29 °C

Well the day had to come that we finally left Mexico. My initial thoughts of Mexico were "I could stay here forever!!" but if I'm being totally honest I haven't enjoyed Mexico all that much since arriving in Merida. So it wasn't with a heavy heart that I left our hot concrete box accommodation in Tulum and set off on a new adventure.

Hello Belize! I'll let you in on a secret - we were actually going to skip over Belize as it was too expensive. Then I read it was no more expensive than Mexico and thus began our research and the realisation that we HAD to go.

We caught an overnight bus to Belize City which seemed like a good idea in theory but with a departure time of 11:30pm and two kids in tow it probably wasn't that practical. It also meant a 3am border crossing. Land border crossings aren't usually that painful but the guys working the border were trying to scam as much money out of everyone as possible. Not what you need when you're tired and cranky. And to make things even worse, the guy in front of us in line was in the country illegally. He had overstayed is visa by about 10 days. I think he was expecting to pay a bribe and get out but the officials weren't letting him. This was possibly because we were also in the room when he mentioned paying a bribe; he actually didn't hold up the departure of the bus and he didn't get deported. I'm assuming once he was in the room alone they were more willing to take his bribe. This is just my theory so don't quote me on it as being the actual happenings.

Arrival into Belize City was around 7am which meant we were on the first boat out to Caye Caulker. I thought maybe we had arrived in some outer part of Belize City because there was absolutely nothing there....nope, that's the city centre. Its about a 1/2 hour boat ride out to Caye Caulker so we arrived with the whole day ahead of us. Hooray!!

Originally we were supposed to stay 4 nights....we left after 19 nights. I think everyone would still like to be out on the island but our time in Belize is running out and there are a couple of other things we'd like to see. Didn't think to do a border crossing either which is something we have already done since leaving the island. That's not the point....the island is great - it has such a relaxed vibe and everyone is so friendly! Its the type of place you can go and sit in a hammock for days on end without feeling guilty. You definitely don't need to be doing something in order to have a good time.

When we did get out and do "stuff" we certainly weren't starved for options. Our first trip was out snorkelling to their barrier reef. It is the second largest reef behind the great barrier reef and full of so much life. Everywhere you look there are large schools of quite large fish, eels, crabs, lobsters, conch, little schools of fish, schools of baby fish (are they called fry??); just so much going on! We also got to visit shark ray alley and swim with the sharks and rays which was a lot of fun and not as dangerous as it sounds.
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Basically your boat arrives in the "alley" and the sharks and rays come swarming in from all directions. The captain and his mate feed the sharks and rays while you swim with them. It should be pointed out the sharks are nurse sharks and they're not going to hurt a fly. We were able to touch them and to my surprise they are actually really rough - it was like touching coarse sandpaper. And after me asking Lucas several times to "take a photo of me with a shark" and after him yelling at me "I've done it, alright!!" we get back and find out there are no photos of me with a shark. Lucas's response "I got you with a stingray and look how good my shark selfies are". Not happy Lucas!

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One of the other cool things you get to do on your snorkelling trips is visit the other side of the island and see the seahorse and tarpons. The tarpons hung out in big schools close to the mangroves. They are large and silver and kind of look like a barracuda. When you hold a sardine over the side of the boat they jump out of the water to eat it. It is so fast and you don't see them coming. One minute you have a fish and the next second you don't.

We also did a couple of fishing trips which proved quite successful and gave us a scrumptious dinner each time. The first trip we stopped at a spot to catch snapper - everyone caught something so we were all happy with our efforts. The second stop was at a reef where we would be able to find lobster and Adam could go spear fishing. Turns out my hidden talent is finding lobsters hiding in rocks - who knew?! I actually haven't tried to spear any of them so its a pretty useless talent if I can't catch them....but luckily we had a captain who was more than willing to catch them for us. Adams attempt at spear fishing was pretty dismal with the number of fish caught by him a big fat zero.
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Our second fishing trip was the same program as the first however only James and the captain caught snapper at the first spot *Insert lots of sad faces here* On our way out we saw some manatees which are actually quite big! We also saw a pod of dolphins, which again, are actually quite big. We all know I usually don't find things big (pyramids, big pineapple, whale sharks....) so maybe its a sign I'd spent too much time on the island and lost all sense of perspective. Or maybe I gained it...either way they were big. After we gave up on catching snapper we headed to the reef to look for lobster and try our hand at spear fishing (again). Sadly we didn't get any lobster this time. We did find two but they were too small to catch. But when life gives you lemons you make lemonade and fortunately my demise as a lobster hunter was Adam's rise as a spear fisher! He caught a couple of fish then handed it over to Lucas who also caught another couple of fish. We were going to eat that night.

Our accommodation was located at the top end near "the split". Caye Caulker was actually split in two by hurricane Hattie forming two separate islands (obviously if its split in half!). On the large side (where everyone stays) the land around the split is now the beach where everyone goes to swim for the day. There are a couple of food stalls and a bar with tables on the sand and in the water and a lot of music playing. There is also a diving platform that the local kids do some amazing tricks off. We spent a bit of time at the split but we had a better bar out the front of our place with swings, tubes, a basketball ring, volleyball and slides. All these activities were in the water with the bar built out over the water. Lots of fun and quite cheap for drinks during happy hour.

The other place to spend the day in the water is on the other side of the split at King Koko. Take the ferry over from the big island and hop off at their dock. They have a bar which also serves food, inflatables in the water, tubes you can laze around in and a pool if you're not in the mood for the ocean. There are also sun lounges and cabanas for use - everything you need to enjoy your day there. The kids had a ball and we would have gone back but unfortunately things had to be packed away because of the hurricane.
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We had some amazing weather whilst staying there. A couple of times we had a quick downpour during the afternoon but that is to be expected of a rainy season. On our second to last day there all shops boarded their windows and we went on storm watch.
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There was a lot of rain and wind but pretty uneventful in the end. It also meant that mother nature was against us staying longer. The weather cleared and as a result we were able to leave and head to the mainland.

All of us were sad to leave but I'm pretty sure each of us will be back here at some point in their lives. Absolutely loved it!

Posted by carlagregory 17:21 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

Stop 32 - Tulum

Ruins and famous (not so secret) secret beach

sunny 35 °C
View Waite World Tour on carlagregory's travel map.

About a year ago Adam and I were watching a TV show about the best hidden beaches in the world. One of them was at the base of a cliff under some Mayan ruins. Well we found out where the beach was - its in Tulum, Mexico! So we've made our way here to visit both.

Turns out Tulum is heavily geared towards tourism and if you want to stay on the beach be prepared to spend $200 a night. We ended up staying in place called Zazil Kin which is more reasonably priced, beachfront and located quite closely to the ruins. The place is a taxi drive out from town but the food onsite is really good! We stayed in a cabin which was literally four concrete walls, a thatched roof. We had two beds with mosquito nets and a dodgy pedestal fan (a far cry from our 5 star all inclusive experience a few weeks before). The power was only available from 7pm - 7am, the only window in our place opened onto a sand dune and was therefore useless, the shared bathroom facilities were at the other end of the property to us - this could be seen as a pro or a con - definitely good for less smell and noise but not good for midnight loo trips. It was so hot and the only person that got a good sleep was Lucas who had the fan next to him. Annoying!!

We visited the Tulum ruins early one morning; as per Chichen Itza it was super busy! There were people and tour groups everywhere! And so much for a secret beach - the water was absolutely packed! large_DSC_0244.jpg

Our visit there, around and back took a little over an hour. Possibly the least time we have spent at ruins. The ruins are not as impressive as others we have visited but the view is beautiful. We turned our visit into a "spot the iguana" game. Everywhere you look you'll see iguanas. Not the pretty green ones either just ugly brown ones shedding their skin. They're not that scared of you and you can get quite close before they run away.
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Tulum is also good for visiting cenotes. We only visited one and compared to the two we visited in Valladolid it was incredibly busy and quite small. This one was quite shallow but had a lot of caves off to the sides of the main pool which was pretty cool.
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The beach here is a gorgeous colour. Beautiful clear water and powdery white sand. A lot of seaweed though. Its still a good spot to sit under a palm tree, read a book and drink a beer; which is how I spent a lot of my time.

This is our last stop in Mexico (*insert me sobbing here*). I loved Mexico and will definitely be back at some stage. There is still so much to see and do!!

Next up for us is an overnight bus trip to Belize City and quickly heading out to Caye Caulker. We've just missed the lobster festival but apparently they're still around in large quantities and incredibly cheap!

Posted by carlagregory 15:21 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Stop 31 - Valladolid

Finally visiting Chichen Itza

sunny 34 °C
View Waite World Tour on carlagregory's travel map.

Leaving Cuba behind we head back to Mexico. A quick pit stop in Cancun (awful place!) and we're off to Valliadolid.

The main reason for stopping here was to take a day tour out to Chichen Itza but it ended up being a really beautiful spot. Again, lots of pastel painted buildings and a square in the centre of town.

After looking forward to visiting Chichen Itza for quite a while the day had finally come when we would visit the beautiful ruins and their majestic pyramid. We arrived 5 minutes after the park opened and were overwhelmed by the number of visitors already inside - soooo busy!! We opted for no guide but there were so many groups with English speaking guides that you could stand next to them and have a sneaky listen.

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The pyramid was the first thing you see as you walk into the ruins. Impressive to look at but not that big. And, only two sides have been restored. Its like they've just decided that no one will look on those sides....like when you don't decorate the back of the Christmas tree because its facing a wall and no one is going to see it....The day we visited wasn't part of the solstice so we didn't see the serpent shadow but we did stand in front and did the clapping thing so we could hear the squeak.

James was super keen to see their large ball court. It was quite big compared to the others we have seen. Other buildings around the site include an observatory and many places where they would conduct rituals. I'm beginning to think that if they have no evidence to support what the building was its automatically a place for conducting rituals; because what else could it be?!

We stayed for about just over an hour and were quite disappointed with that. Unfortunately unlike the other sites we have been to you are not allowed to climb anything so you just look from the outside and then move on. Also, it is spread out across a large area with no real directions / route to follow so you feel like you're double backing.

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What better place to cool off after a hot day than a refreshingly cool cenote. Not too far from the centre of Valladolid (a 5 min walk) is Cenote Zaci. This is an uncovered cenote and the first we visited. People online had said it is not that impressive but we thought it was beautiful. We had breakfast onsite the day we visited which allowed us free entry into the cenote. The water was beautiful blue and filled with little black catfish and the little fish that massage your feet. Free foot spa!! This cenote has lots of places to jump in from and all at different heights which all of us enjoyed.

The second cenote we went to was cenote Oxman. This one is down a long dirt road and apparently the buses cant get down so its usually quieter than the others. Again, it was stunning with beautiful blue / aqua water, lots of little fish and as its still partially covered a lot of tree roots dangle in from the ceiling. This one had a tarzan rope that Lucas thought was the greatest thing ever! For a kid who wouldn't go on a swing when he was little he spent a good portion of his time here swinging out over the water and letting go at ridiculous heights. This cenote also has a restaurant and pool that you can use if you're tired of the cenote...or in my case freezing cold after 2 hours in the cenote.

Thus ends our short stop in Valladolid. Next up Tulum!

Posted by carlagregory 15:11 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Stop 29 - Varadero

sunny 33 °C
View Waite World Tour on carlagregory's travel map.

Our next stop in Cuba is the resort town of Varadero. This was our holiday from our holiday; an all inclusive resort for 7 days. We had the best weather, the most gorgeous beach and even had some kid free time. Hooray!!

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The kids thoroughly enjoyed the all you can eat and drink lifestyle. I don't think I saw them without food or softdrink the whole time we were there. James also discovered the joys of kids club which he'd take himself to and once Lucas found out they had playstations he too spent a lot of time there.

Not much else to report. We came, we drank, we ate, we swam and we left.

Posted by carlagregory 19:33 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

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