Traveling on a Dime: Petén
Petén is Guatemala’s Northern-most province and it is full of wonders left behind by our Mayan ancestors, and rich with Nature’s splendor.
This province is home to Guatemala’s one of the only two international airports and getting here by plane makes the trip much easier and insipid too. You can choose this alternative to make thing easier, but if you want to experience and be immerse in local culture, you have to travel Elí’s way, and it also could save you some money.
If you are near Guatemala City, you have to take one of those luxury buses running the route to Petén and they usually go for Q200 one way.
An alternative to save money is to travel to Coban, in the province of Alta Verapaz. There are chicken buses running this route and you can board one for Q40. From Coban you can get on one of those minivans used as rural buses to Chisec or Raxruha, which will cost you about Q20. From Raxruha you take another one of those minivans to Sayaxche, which is another Q20. And from Sayaxche you just have to pay a small fee of Q2 to have one of the local’s boats cross you the river and you can board another of those buses waiting close to the shoreline. These buses take you all the way to Santa Elena for Q20, same bus terminal where all the luxury buses from Guatemala City arrived on.
Yes, this trip will take you about 12 hours, but you’ll be immersed in local culture/food, something you don’t get to see seated on those luxury buses.
From the bus terminal in Santa Elena you can walk for 15 minutes to the Island City of Flores (taxis charged you Q20 for this short ride), a short 10 street blocks away.
There are hundreds of hotels on the Island of Flores, all prices ranging from $200 to Q40.
I usually stay at one of these inexpensive hotels because Elí only needs a clean bed and a shower. It will be a waste to spend too much time on the hotel, having so many things and places to go in on the island and around it.
On my last trip I stayed at a hotel for Q60, and it had an amazing view and I was next to the Malecon, six steps from the lakeshores.
The Actun Kan cave system is located a short 25 minutes walk from the Island of Flores, you can take a taxi or a tuc tuc for Q10. Walking is my choice. The entrance fee is Q25. Just make sure you don’t venture too deep into the caves without a guide or someone who knows them well enough. I had to bring out a group of 12-14 Mexicans who were exploring the caves and were disoriented and couldn’t find their way out. And bring enough batteries!
Tikal is a must stop for those of you visiting Petén. You can get a private bus running this route for about Q100 for a round trip, or you can do Elí’s way. There are small buses used by locals which run the same route for Q40 and they run every 30 minutes, so if you like a place along the way, you can get off the bus and spend time exploring. A must stop is El Remate, a small village on the shores of the lake with crystal-clear waters. Then you get on another of those buses heading to Tikal. Entry fee to Tikal is Q25 for us nationals and Q150 for foreign tourists.
Back to the Island of Flores
Food options are abundant on this island and you won’t have trouble finding the food style you like. But if you are on this island and you don’t try the Tepezcuintle, Lowland Paca, it is the equivalent of going to a tour of Napa Valley and not trying one of their exquisite Cabernet Sauvignons (!).
Drinks with a view
There are dozens of restaurants right on the lake shores, but the best ones face the sunset. There is a Bar on a third floor terrace, one of my favorites for a beer. Another great one, and with very affordable prices is on the lake shore, their drinks are delicious and you can get a great Tequila Sunrise for Q25, margaritas are Q9 and very delicious.
And to top it off
As I’ve said, there are hundreds of food options but for me, there is nothing better than buying a to-go plate of street food from the street grills next to the entrance to the island. You can buy a meal here for Q30, which includes guacamole, longaniza, a piece of grilled meat, black beans, salsa and tortillas. You have to go to the supermarket across the bridge and buy a bottle of red wine Q40 and have your meal seated on the malecon (lake retention wall), shoes off and facing the sunset. Anything better is a sin!
With transportation, food and drinks, if you are money-wise, you can have an amazing three days experience for about Q1,000, $130-$140