Guatemala was never on our list of must do countries. As we were visiting the Yucatán in Mexico, with a short stay in Belize, we researched the most beautiful Maya Ruins and Tikal was one of them. So after arriving in Belize City we were transported to San Ignacio. We stayed in the Midas Resort only 13 km away from the Guatemalan border.
After a fairly early start – our transport’s 4×4 refused to start but he managed to find another – we arrived at the border between Belize and Guatemala, Melchor de Mencos. Customs took us maybe 40 minutes in total as there were quite a few people and lots of vehicles parked in any way you can think. A luxury van waited for us and after buying our tickets to Tikal, we were off. The countryside was beautiful and charming. We passed Lago Petén Itzá, the second largest lake in Guatemala, 32 km long x 5 km wide.
Lago Petén Itzá
Tikal National Park is located in Northern Guatemala’s Petén Province within a large, lush forest region sometimes referred to as the Maya Forest. Tikal was a major Pre-Columbian political, economic and military centre and is one of the most important archeological complexes left by Maya civilization. Tikal is a Unesco World Heritage site and its most striking feature is its towering, steep-sided temples in a magnificent jungle setting. The panoramic view from Temple IV is absolutely magnificent. Plazas and temples, cleared of trees and vines, have been partially restored. As you visit the sites remember to step softly beneath the dense canopy. You might meet up with Howler and Spider monkeys or even a school of Agoutis. Enjoy the loamy aromas of moist earth and vegetation. Be sure to spot the Tree of Life, a truly beautiful tree!
View from Temple IV
Tree of Life
After experiencing the rich Maya heritage, the diverse cultures and the lush surrounds, we decided Guatemala will become a new, maybe daunting, but definitely exciting adventure.
We leave Copacabana on a regular bus only to stop at the Bolivia/Peru Border a couple of kilometres later. We do not understand the language but by observing and with smiles, we are welcomed in Peru. We arrive in Puno and stay at the Casa Andina Classic Puno Tikarani. The roads are wet and muddy but the hotel has large and comfortable rooms. We have dinner at Mojsa right on the main square of Puno. The food was true Puno flavour and delicious – vegetable soup, trout kebabs and alpaca steak. Stunning! Tomorrow we visit Puno Uros, the floating Islands of Uros.
Floating Islands of Uros
The Uros people are one of the ancient people of Peru. They were forced to live on these floating islands made of Tortora Reeds, when the Incas expanded on their land. The Tortora reed is used in their homes and furniture as well as boats shaped like canoes but with animal heads at the prow. The reed base of the islands is between 4 and 8 feet thick. The base disintegrates from the bottom as it is soft and mushy. Therefore reeds are always added on top. We partake in a tourist exhibition of daily life and afterwards buy colourful handiwork.
A miniature canoe
The speed boat awaits us and we leave for Taquile Island. It is a tiny spot in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Time never advanced on this little island. The plus minus 350 Quechua speaking families that live here, operate a 14th Century collective agricultural system. They are renowned for textiles knitted primarily by men. We enjoy a traditional lunch of soup and fish at a private family residence. Typical music and dance of the area is another treat added to the itinerary. The island has a stunning landscape and excellent views of the snow-capped Cordillera Real Mountain Range.
Taquile Island views
We leave Puno after breakfast. We will be driven across the Altiplano to arrive in Cusco in the early evening. The word Altiplano is the Spanish for high plain and in this case it is the area where the Andes are the widest. It is the most extensive area of high plateau on Earth outside Tibet.
Sleepy village of Pukara
We drive through sleepy villages and stop in Pukara, a small town known across Peru for its archeologic site of Pukara. Opposite Santa Isabel, perched on the Plaza de Armas, is a small local museum with interesting exhibits and it appears that Pukara is the centre for the production of the ceramic cow decorations. Known as “Torito de Pucara” they are placed for good luck, crop and livestock fertility and of course to bring prosperity.
Torito de Pucara
Our next stop is Rach’i, an Inca archaeological site. This site was built by the Incas as a control point on the main road originating from Cusco and ran to two other sections of the Inca Empire. It has a lot of buildings and ruins but the most important one is the Temple of Wiracocha. Wiracocha was according to Inca beliefs to be a giver of life, the creator god that according to mythology created the sun and moon.
Temple of Wiracocha
We enjoy typical Peruvian food in the form of a buffet in the town of Sicuani.
We visit the white washed church of San Pedro Apostol in Andahuaylillas. The dazzling collection of colourful murals, coffered and painted ceilings and an ornate gold-leaf altar, earned it the name of The Sistine Chapel of the Andes.
Sistine Chapel of the Andes
We arrive in Cusco just as the Sun finished its “Good Night” display. It was a long and exciting day and we are happy to check into Wakapunku Boutique Hotel.