No Time To See Everything
Our trip to western Belize was brief, only four nights, and we wanted to cover a lot of ground, as well as fit in some rest and relaxation time. Highest priority was a day trip over to Guatemala and spend as much time as possible exploring the partially excavated ruins of Tikal.
So, we selected Ka'ana Boutique Resort near San Ignacio as our base, providing excellent proximity to Guatemala and to a number of nearby Mayan ruins and 'active' excursion possibilities. After some research, we settled on K'atun Ahaw Tours to provide our day visit to Tikal. Taking a group tour would be out of the question.
We exchanged several emails with Elias Cambranes, owner/operator of the company to determine if he could arrange or conduct a private tour (maybe tour is not 100% accurate, since we had a laundry list we wanted to accomplish during the day long trip). Given the 6 square mile size of Tikal, seeing everything is impossible, so some advance strategy played a key element to the experience.
Elias confirmed that he would provide transportation on both sides of the border and conduct the private tour. We did not want to be 'handed off' to another guide once we arrived at the National Park. Elias even adjusted his normal start time, so we could get the border crossing completed and the 50 mile drive to Tikal ahead of most of the morning tour groups.
What about lunch, we're 'vegetarians' and we don't want to just eat 'pollo de goma' in tour restaurants?
"No problems," assured Elias "we can shop for some fresh produce from a Mayan farmer I know, who operates a roadside stand on the main highway. Just select what looks good to you. There's a small family run restaurant outside the entrance to Tikal and they will prepare what we bring and other items typical to the indigenous diet."
We caught a huge break with the weather and general conditions....high overcast (no oppressive sun), only a few sprinkles (heavy showers are not infrequent) and almost no insects (at least those that like to bite).
Wildlife was abundant...a couple of large troupes of howler monkeys roamed the tree tops, squawking parrots flew overhead, toucans seemed ever present feasting on plentiful tree fruit, wild turkeys rambled across the trails and white nose coati meandered about in their seemingly endless endeavors as park omnivores. (btw...that Elias and he is only 'coaxing' the animals to pose for a photo - no food was involved).
Elias proved to be the right guide for us. Well worth the few extra dollars difference from most group tours.
One lazy morning, we drove out to Barton Creek Cave, which proved to be more interesting than expected....a canoe trip into one of the longest (an darkest) subterranean systems in Belize...lots of stalagmites, stalactites, and Mayan artifacts (we didn't spend a lot of time surveying the skeletal remains). Fortunately, there were only a couple of other canoes exploring the cave, so there we enjoyed peace and quiet.....and even a chill or two thinking about what may have happened here years ago.
Xunantunich is nearby Ka'ana and can actually be reached by public bus, a brief hand cranked ferry ride and a comfortable hike to the enormous center core of the site. No need to pay for a formal tour, as there are plenty of 'day guides' willing to offer their services for a nominal and negotiable fee.
One afternoon we drove out to Chaa Creek for a quick walk around (fabulous cottages located in a private 365 acre reserve and a great Luxury Link package) and embarked on a lazy canoe experience down the Macel River, ending up back in the town of San Ignacio. Of course, we got a little too adventurous at one of the rapids and managed to overturn our vessel....nothing damaged or lost...and it proved to be good exercise righting the craft and reloading our gear while standing in waist deep rushing water!
We did procrastinate on completing some excursions such as Cahal Pech and Caracol, which are said to be quite lovely and within easy driving distance of San Ignacio. We thought it better to save some sites for our next visit to Belize, which we hope to schedule in the not too distant future.