Guatemalan immigration laws state that American tourists are given a 90-day visa upon entry. Before the visa expires one, and only one, extension can be made for another 90 days, known as the prórroga. After 180 days are up, one must physically leave the country. We had already done our prórrogas at the capital back in October, so it was time for us to leave Guatemala. As we’re only about 25 miles from the El Salvador border, no big deal, right? Wrong! Unfortunately for us, there is an agreement between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, known as the CA-4. This allows the residents of these countries to travel about freely without the need for a passport. The downside is that going into one of these countries does not qualify as leaving the other country, as far as immigration laws are concerned. So, as we could not afford five plane tickets, our options were 1) México, 2) Belize, and 3) Costa Rica. We had already been through México, and although it was the closest of the three (about 8 hours away), there would not have been a lot do other than cross and come back. Costa Rica would obviously have a ton of stuff to do, but it was also the furthest, about 14 hours away. We would also have to drive through El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and we did not want to mess with multiple car imports back and forth.
So, Belize was it. We started doing some research and decided on staying as little time as possible in Belize, just crossing over and back like we would in México. We would instead tour Tikal, a well-known Mayan ruin site. We left Thursday morning with an 8-10 hour drive ahead of us. The route took us close to Puerto Barrios, one of the major ports of Guatemala. We were warned that although the road itself is safe as far as road conditions and crime are concerned, there would be significant 18-wheeler traffic to contend with. That was an understatement. Amanda drove the whole way (she’s the better driver) while I ‘navigated’ (mostly played Candy Crush but sometimes helped her know which way to go).
After the first three hours, we saw signs for some Mayan ruins. We made the spur-of-the-moment decision to stop and investigate Quiriguá.
Just as it was getting dark, we arrive at our hotel in Flores, a city-island (or, maybe it’s an island-city?). We rest up and do our fun at the border the next day. Visa stamps in hand and car import renewed, we line up some fun. We rent a boat to take us on a tour of the lake with stops at a zoo accessible by water and a climb up a buried pyramid to catch a nice view of the island.
Tikal. What can we say? It’s been on our wishlist since we started thinking about going to Guatemala. It would complete our ‘hat-trick’ of ancient American civilizations, having visited Teotihuacán in México (Aztec) and Machu Picchu in Perú (Incan).
For those who are interested in Tikal’s less-important draw (historical/archaeological footnotes), here’s a few photos of some ruins….
As Tikal is surrounded by miles of jungle, there’s a nice amount of wildlife around. Please enjoy…