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My sister and brother (and partners) joined me in Belize for Christmas 2016.
We planned to base ourselves in San Ignacio, Belize (near the Guatemalan border) and to do a day trip to Tikal from there.
Tikal is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites of Maya culture, along with:
Tikal is deep in the jungles of the greater Petén Basin just south of the Mexican border.
I had read on the internet that there are organised bus trips to Tikal for about US$125 per person. We were 5 adults. That was going to cost us a total of US$625. This price does not include all fees (such as Belize Departure Tax which is an additional US$20 each).
It made sense to rent a car.
It took several hours investigating different rental companies before I discovered one key fact: only Crystal Rentals allow you to take their rental vehicle across the border into Guatemala. So, Crystal Rentals it was.
Crystal provide a ‘Tikal Rental Car Permit’ for US$25. You need this permit at the Guatemalan border. You are advised that your insurance is not valid whilst in Guatemala … if you have an accident there, the onus is on you to pick up the costs.
ALTUN HA MAYA RUINS:
My sister and her husband arrived in Belize early in the morning. My brother and partner weren’t due to arrive until mid afternoon.
The ruins were small and, in my opinion, unimpressive.
We drove the 2 hours from Belize International Airport to San Ignacio and found our accommodation.
Rather than book 3 separate hotel rooms, we booked a Vacation Rental through AirBnB.
Dividing this cost between 5 made it a much cheaper option than staying in an equivalent quality hotel (about 1/2 price).
The Vacation Rental was on the edge of town … not a problem for us because we had our Rental Car. It was an easy 5-10 minute drive to the heart of town where we found several good value restaurants and bars.
It was the end of ‘Rainy Season’ in this part of the country … so it was important to get our timing for Tikal right.
The weather forecast said that we were best to wait one more day so, whilst in San Ignacio town, we looked around for other day trips.
The first Tour Agent quoted US$75 each. We went to another and negotiated US$65 each.
They picked us up in a minivan from our Vacation Rental at 10am the next morning.
It took over 1 hour to drive to the caves … at least half of that time was spent on pot-holed mud tracks.
There were 3 people in each kayak.
We kayaked through the caves for over 1 hour.
SAN IGNACIO TO TIKAL:
The next morning, we set off for Tikal at 9am.
It is only 10-15kms to the Guatemala border from San Ignacio.
We stopped to clear Belize Immigration. They were slow. Each person had to pay US$20 in Departure Tax. Once paid, you took your receipt and passport to another booth to get your exit stamp.
Only the driver is allowed to take the Rental Vehicle through Immigration.
In no-man’s land you are accosted by young boys directing you on how to get through Guatemalan Immigration. You don’t really need them if you are with a Bus Tour or on your own … but, they are helpful if you are going through with your own Rental Vehicle. The average worker’s wage in Guatemala is about GTQ50 / day (US$6.50). If you use the services of these young lads, a US$1 tip is more than enough.
Firstly, the car needs to go through a decontamination spray. This costs GTQ70 (US$10).
You, then, park up your car and queue at Guatemala Immigration for your (free) entry stamp. They were slow.
When you have your entry stamp, you take your Rental Vehicle paperwork to another counter to get clearance for your car. They were slow. They give you a sticker that you have to display on your windscreen.
The whole process of clearing Belize and Guatemala Immigration takes about 1 hour.
There are money touts everywhere at the Guatemala side of the border … even in no-man’s land.
Ignore them. Their rates are bad.
Drive 100m down the main road and turn right into the main street of Menchor De Mencos. You will find ATMs about 500m up the street.
TIKAL MAYA RUINS:
Entry is GTQ150 each. This also gives you entry to the ruins.
You will be approached at the entry by guides who want to charge you GTQ75 (US$10) each for a guided tour of the ruins. They will join you in the car for the 12km drive from the entry gate to the ruins.
There is (supposed to be) free transportation from the car park to the Central Plaza of the ruins. Otherwise, it is a 30 minute walk. This transport is for the elderly and those who have mobility problems. The truth of the matter is that westerners are given low priority unless they pay. Your guide should help you sort this out with the driver. The driver does not seem very consciencious … we had to wait for him to take a 40 minute tea break and, on the way back (even though we were paying) he gave our seats to three Guatemalans that were neither elderly nor infirmed.
The Central Plaza is impressive … but I thought that Uxmal was better.
You can climb Temple 4 (the tallest Temple) but, unlike Coba, they have built wooden stairs on the side of the Temple. These make the ascent very easy.
TIKAL TO SAN IGNACIO:
We retraced our steps back to the Guatemala / Belize border.
We stopped in Guatemala to top the car up with petrol / gas … the petrol is cheaper and a better quality in Guatemala. We took the opportunity to buy a few other things including a 6 pack of Gallo Beer (we wanted to try some Guatemala beer later that night).
The same young boys were still there and helped us back through Guatemala into Belize. These boys seem to be able to move freely across the borders.
We queued and got our Guatemala exit stamp. We queued again at another counter to clear our rental vehicle. They were slow.
We had to spray the car again for another GTQ70.
Our day packs were in the boot of the car. On our way back through Belize Immigration we were asked if we had anything to declare … we said ‘no’ and mentioned the Gallo beers … we were advised to take them out immediately as they were regarded as ‘contraband’ and the driver could get arrested if he tried to bring them into Belize! We retrieved them and drank them in no-man’s land before clearing customs. The customs officers watched us and smiled as we finally went through.
It is not difficult to do, gives you freedom of movement, and can save you US$100s.
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