Upon reflection of my a week long vacation in Belize and Guatemala, I couldn’t be more pleased with my experience. The vast amount of history that remains undiscovered compared to the breathtaking excavated remains left my imagination running wild. While I will be the first to admit that the beach is usually where I find my calling, I was incredibly shocked to find myself basking in the fresh air and peacefulness around me. There is something about roaming aimlessly around the grounds of an ancient thriving city.
When I began planning my vacation, as I always do, I started on the trusted Tripadvisor. As most of you know, I am not that big on organized tours unless absolutely necessary. I encountered two attractions that were either impossible or very difficult to see without a tour guide. One of these two will be discussed later in this post.
To being, I will start with the cheapest and easiest ruin to see from the popular tourist city of San Ignacio, Belize. From our fabulous hotel, Rumors Resort, I was able to catch a taxi to my first ruin Cahal Pech. This ancient city was occupied from around 1100 BCE to about 850 CE. At its height to housed an estimated 20,000 Mayans and was a critical stopping point for people traveling along the Mopan River.
I saw where my hotel offered organized tours to this site, often paired with Xunantunich.
I decided to go with my gut instinct, and thank goodness I did. The taxi ride only cost me $5 BZD ($2.50 USD) per person. This is the price to catch a taxi just about anywhere in and around San Ignacio. After arriving I was beyond happy that I did not sign up for an expensive tour which would have set me back $75 USD. The entrance fee was a standard $5 USD for non-Belizean residents and I negotiated with the tour guides on site. We finally settled on a price of $20 USD for 3 people. Our tour guide, whose name I cannot remember, was very informative and answered all of our questions. After the tour, we caught a taxi back to the Rumors Resort for $3 BZD ($1.50 USD) per person. In total, I was able to visit Cahal Pech for less than $15 USD allowing me to save $60.
We also had plans to visit Xunantunich, but due to heavy rain causing the river to flood we were not able to go. Our expected cost for visiting Xunantunich on our own was about the same price for Cahal Pech. Of course, this all depended on how low I could negotiate the tour guide price.
The next ancient ruin will require you to cross the border into the Spanish speaking
country of Guatemala. If you’ve ever been to Central America then I’m sure you’ve heard about Tikal. This ancient Mayan citadel is situated in the rainforest of northern Guatemala, a couple of hours from San Ignacio. The town thrived between 200 and 850 A.D and includes the massive Temple IV which stands at an impressive 70 meters tall, making it the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas.
There are three options for visiting Tikal…. two of which require a guide and one that allows you to enter on your own, I highly advise against the later options because there is simply no way you can gain adequate knowledge about the site without a tour guide. Visitors are given the options of a Sunrise Tour, Sunset Tour, or regular Daytime Tour. After doing some research I opted for the sunrise tour, mainly to avoid the intense midday heat and late night creepy crawlies. Yes, I was well aware that the sun rises at Tikal are often cloudy leaving tourist with no view. I didn’t let that deter me. It was very easy to walk back up Temple IV once the clouds cleared.
Because of the irregular time frame, I was visiting I had to go with an organized tour guide. The final cost totaled $400GTQ ($54 USD). The breakdown can be seen below.
Guided tour with transportation: $150 GTQ
Tikal entrance fee: $150 GTQ
Sunrise/Sunset fee: $100 GTQ
Total: $400 GTQ
While I did see other hotels offering guided tours for a bit cheaper, I wanted the convenience of being picked up right in front of my hotel. After all, I was already going to be waking up at 2 AM to get there… I didn’t want to take away from my sleep by having to catch a taxi to a pickup location. Thankfully our hotel, Hotel Quinta Maya provided us with breakfast so that saved us some money also.
Overall I was extremely satisfied with both experiences and wouldn’t change them or recommend someone go another route. Cahal Pech was definitely worth seeing on your own. No point in lining someone else’s pockets to do something you could plan yourself. As for Tikal, if you’re most important aspect of traveling is doing so on a budget I would suggest visiting during daytime hours to save the most. But, if you want to truly understand the ancient Mayans and their history, a guided tour is invaluable. The sunrise tour was worth every penny to me, even though my tour arrived late and we subsequently missed the sunrise. Hiking through the jungle while simultaneously listen to the jungle awaken will always remain as something I could never forget. I mean how opten is it that you get to hike under a canopy filled with howler monkeys?
I hope this quick synopsis of these ancient Maya sites helps you plan your vacation to the region. Stay tuned for my reviews of Tikal, Cahal Pech, and Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) and more about my travels through Central America.
Check out my review of the coveted Actun Tunuchil Muknal Caves.