Guatemala 2006

Cruce dos Aguadas - El Zotz - Tikal

December 21 - 27


This hike is another in a series of jungle walks that takes the backpacker from Mayan ruin to Mayan ruin. If offers enough jungle for the expert but is only moderately difficult for the beginner. You will see plenty of monkeys and will hear all sorts of other creatures wandering about in the bush, especially at night. I was treated to a battle between a monkey and a puma one night. The monkey lost. All precautions for jungle travel should be taken---treat all water, carry a machete, take malaria prophylaxis, wear snake protectors, and so on. You do not need guides for this hike, no matter what anyone tells you in Flores.


This journey begins where most Guatemalan jungle journeys begin, in the town of Flores, which lies across a causeway from the more typical Guatemala jungle town of Santa Elena. This town has about all you need to prepare for a week or a month in the jungle, including myriad internet cafes, a nice selection of restaurants, travel advice and laundry service. Flores is a great place to relax after a demanding jungle hike. I stayed in the hotel La Jungla---clean, friendly and helpful. It also kept a duffle bag for me while I was out in the wilds.


Arranging transport to the beginning of this hike is simple. You have two choices, public or private. Public transport takes about 3 to 4 hours---more if the track (I hesitate calling the route from Flores to Cruce dos Aguadas a road) is muddy. I chose private transport arranged with Mayan Princess Tour Operator. It cost $40. Private transport is much quicker and more secure, and you can pick the brains of the agency you deal with concerning the entire Petén. Their guides will have the latest information concerning weather, problems, access and so on. I advise choosing private transport, especially if you are a solo traveler. Public transport means that you pack will be placed somewhere on a bus out of your sight. Not a good idea. And you can set your time to leave for Cruce so that you do not have to contemplate staying there for any amount of time. There is nothing really there, just the entrance for the trail to El Zotz.


Generally, backpacking in the Petén should be done from February through April. The reason is rain. During those months you are guaranteed more dry days than wet ones. And in Petén, when it rains it pours. Rain means mud, bugs and mud. I went in December because I had no choice. That was when I had vacation, so damn the weather! But I was lucky, as 2006 was an El Niño year. This meant drier weather than normal for December. It rained only one night while I was comfortably ensconced in my tent. And oddly enough, there were very few bugs---except for two vicious horse flies whose bites I still have with my on my hand.


The route from Cruce to El Zotz should present no problems. It is direct and clear and suitable for a 4-wheel drive with high ground clearance. An hour or so out of Cruce you meet the entrance to the biosphere of El Zotz. Here the track narrows and you are blessed with plenty of shade as you walk. It is 24 kilometers (18 miles) to the ruins. I do not advise walking it in one day, though many do who arrange for guides and horses from Flores. It is more enjoyable to simply wander slowly and exult in your surroundings.


There is no secure water source along the way, though I ran into a xate worker who showed me a small cleared area where he and his fellows often set up camp. They had collected rain water which I was allowed to use. To be safe you should carry five liters of water from Cruce. This will allow you to camp along the way and have more than enough for the second day when you arrive at the ruins. Total walking time (with a heavy pack) was 8 hours.


The entrance to El Zotz is an obvious one. You will come to a sign and a large cleared area with several huts. This is where the workers stay. As is usual with such men who labor in the Guatemalan jungles they much appreciate company. They allowed me to set my tent and use the rain water collected in a huge tank---the usual way to get water in Petén as there are few rivers. The ruins are 20 minutes away. They are in themselves unremarkable unless you have a fine imagination, but their setting is simply magnificent: lush rainforest, numerous trails leading into the bush and some temples rising 180 feet from the jungle floor. Climb atop the highest temple and you can see far away directly east Temple IV at Tikal. This is where you will end up if you continue your walk from El Zotz, and it is 36 kilometers (24 miles) away. You can easily spend 5 hours wandering around the jungle here.


Ten minutes from the workers' encampment is another cleared area occupied by workers from a Guatemalan university. They see to the travelers who pass though, those who almost always are accompanied by guide and horses. I do not advise camping here as you might be around non-Guatemalans---unless you are lonely for company from home and are bereft of Spanish!


Do not forget the caves from where you can see thousands of bats emerge at dusk. The sight of such a thing astounds. Stay away from the place right below the caves unless you want to be covered in bat guano.


The route to Tikal is obvious and begins at the second clearing. Tikal lies directly east of El Zotz. There is water along the way near a cleared area with an encampment called Yesal. It is a bit brown and bitter. I brought five liters from El Zotz and so did not have to depend upon this source. Yesal is about half-way to Tikal. I did not camp there as this is where all the guides with their charges stop for the night. There is good camping and solitude further along the trail. I set my tent about two hours from Yesal.


I arrived at Tikal the next day at 3 PM. The trail emerges at Temple IV about 30 minutes from the camping area. You will have to walk with your heavy pack along paths full of tourists from all over the world. You will be quite a sight!


Camping at Tikal is cool and safe. You will be near several places to eat---comedores---and enjoy a cold beer or three. Go ahead, you earned it. You can shower and wash clothes as well. And do not forget to spend a day at the ruins---without the pack of course. Even with hordes of tourists they are remarkable. Walk down the old air strip and see two lagoons where there are some lazy crocodiles.


From Tikal you can either return to Flores by public or private transport, or head for the ruins of Uaxactún 20 kilometers (3 hours) away by bus. From these ruins it is 96 kilometers (60 miles) to Dos Lagunas and 127 kilometers ( 78 miles) to Rio Azul and on the ruins of El Mirador near the Mexican border. This route is a 4-wheel drive, high ground clearance track only and probably inaccessible during the rains.


If you have a week's worth of supplies you can make a route to the ruins at Nakum and on to Yaxha. I described this journey (in reverse) here. It is wild,  very difficult and not for beginners. You have been warned.


Relaxing in Flores with a biography of Caesar





Santa Elena


Near Flores


Lagoon near Tikal




Santa Elena



With Guatemalan Special Forces soldier, Flores








Camping at Tikal. Those little huts are called palapas.


Entrance to El Zotz


At the upper camp, El Zotz


Cook for workers at upper camp, El Zotz


Outhouse at lower camp, El Zotz


Xate worker


Trail to the ruins, El Zotz


Camping at lower area, El Zotz


El Zotz


Leaving Cruce dos Aguadas


On the way to El Zotz


Entrance to El Zotz Biosphere


'Road' to El Zotz




Camping with xate workers

Xate camp

Near Cruce



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