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After Belize, the next logical destination was therefore Guatemala and following my guidebook, I passed the border to end up in a small village called El Remate. This village has nothing really to offer except a quiet environment and astonishing views of the lake of Petén. But it is also located close to Tikal, probably one of the most famous Mayan cities in Central America.

So the next morning after dropping my backpack in El Remate, I decided to book a tour departing at 3.30am to see the sunrise from one of the main temples in Tikal. Tikal has not been fully restored and cleared yet (only 20% we were told by our guide) but it is definitely the most impressive site I have seen so far... Unfortunately that day, the clouds invited themselves and I could not see the magnificent sunrise in all its glory as we were promised. However I could witness the whole forest and its wildlife waking up (monkeys especially) and this is still worth the extra money paid to enter the park at 4am before the official opening at 6am.

One could easily spend a day or two going around each ruin, each pyramid and besides you do not get disturbed by the cohorts of tourists like in Chichén Itzá for example. There are other people in the park but it is so vast that you can easily stroll around by yourself and feel like you are the only one in the place.

In the middle of the video, I suddenly stopped (2'13'') and tried to focus the camera on a massive spider next to me, unfortunately I couldn't but I didn't talk so some people could wonder what the hell am I doing at that moment... :)

Ok, the monkeys are definitely hard to see in this video but I promise you some better footage in the next posts.

A toucan, shame it wasn't closer...
A nice little creature which I almost stepped on...

Posted by manolo84 11:56 Archived in Guatemala Tagged ruins pyramids mayas Comments (0)

Adventures in Belize

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Still trying to catch up with the blog as I am almost a month behind now, so I'll make a condensed one for a change with mainly pictures... :)

Caye Caulker was then the next destination, a small island located East of the Belize coast, not far from the coral reef. The first thing which strikes you when you arrive in Belize, is the difference in price compared to Mexico. Indeed here the currency is almost fixed on the US dollar (1 US$ = 2 Bz $) and this means that the prices are high. For example, a day trip on a boat to do some snorkelling costs around 65 US$, and other tours can easily reach 90-100 US$... Anyway, my aim by coming to Belize was not to stay here forever, but to see the reef and its wildlife, a few ruins across the country and then head off to Guatemala.

English is the main language of this country (all the other countries in Central America are Spanish-speaking countries), and it was therefore easier for me to deal and communicate with the locals than in Spanish, but I still felt that one week was enough to explore a few chosen places in the country. I am sure my bank account will thank me later on...

The first days then in Caye Caulker were therefore dedicated to snorkelling and I managed to see manatees (impressive!), nurse-sharks, sting-rays, barracudas and tons of other fishes and corals. Really an amazing experience. It would even have probably be better to do some scuba-diving but the high prices just discouraged me. However for those who like to dive (and have a bit of money to spend), you can easily arrange a day trip to the blue hole, one of the deepest in the world. Apparently those who did so warmly recommend it.

Among my group some people had waterproof cameras and I really wanted to show you some pictures taken "under" but I didn't manage to get the pictures yet. I will probably update this post at a later date then once I can get hold of them. In the meantime here are a few shots I took during these few days on the island.

My tour agency... Easy boys!

The streets of Caye Caulker

On the right side you can see the waves created by the presence of the reef underneath. We are at about 1km from the island already.

Let's jump!

Our guide feeding the several nurse-sharks and sting-rays populating the area to attract them near our boat. Fierce battle! A few minutes later, we would be swimming in the middle of these totally inoffensive yet impressive creatures...


The second stop (and last one) in Belize would then be San Ignacio, a town located near the Guatemalan border. From there there are several tours you can do, including visiting Mayan ruins (Caracol), swim near waterfalls, go to some caves adventures, well it's not easy to get bored. However as I said before your wallet will suffer a little...

As I am mainly interested in the Mayan culture and architecture, I decided to opt for visiting the ruins of Caracol instead of the popular ATM tour (caves adventures) and on the way our group also stopped to see a few natural caves and waterfalls.


The streets of San Ignacio

And one week is a short time but I felt it was enough and that time had now come to pass the border of Guatemala, as Tikal and El Mirador were already calling me in the distance...

Posted by manolo84 13:38 Archived in Belize Tagged waterfalls islands snorkelling ruins mayas Comments (3)

Adios Mexico, Hello Belize!

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Here we are, it has been so far more than a month and a half since I have set foot on the Mexican soil. I was originally only planning to spend a few weeks in this amazing country but there were so many things to visit and experience, met so many people along the way that it would have been really hard to go faster. But time is also running fast and if I want to stick to my original plan (September in South America, December in New-Zealand), I now have to go faster and will also probably end up skipping or just crossing some countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama. And to be honest, going to one place after an other is quite exhausting, I always prefer staying a few more days in a place if I like it, rather than trying to travel with a checklist and just crossing off names for the sake of it. I am pretty sure already that I will come back one day in this area, so it is probably best to leave some "mysteries" for later.

But still, I had an amazing time in Mexico and was really far to expect that much when I first arrived. I definitely recommend this country to whoever wants to visit it but weren't too sure about safety or language issues. There are true wonders in Mexico and I just only scrapped the surface. Local people are extremely nice and love to talk with foreigners if you have the advantage of speaking a bit of spanish.

That is what I was thinking in the bus which took me from Tulum to Chetumal, the last town before the Mexican border on the east coast. My plan was then to take directly a boat to Caye Caulker in Belize, where new snorkelling adventures were awaiting along the reef. Coming from Mexico, you have to pay the exit fee (about 300 pesos - 18 euros) and also the boat which is not that cheap, but saves you the cost and time to go to Belize City first and then take a boat for one of the islands (islands which are called Cayes - pronounced "keys").


And although the Mexican authorities will check your bag before you leave the country to make sure you are not taking any drugs with you, the Belize immigration in San Pedro is the best (understand: relax and cool) I have seen so far. They are located on a beach so you just have to go through a little deck to get your passport stamped and at the other end of this deck, there was a little bar with live music... I invite you to check the video below to get an idea.... :)

The immigration checkpoint in San Pedro

Posted by manolo84 23:01 Archived in Belize Tagged music immigration Comments (0)

Meet the turtles

in Tulum

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After Merida, now was the time to head off to the beach but this time to the east coast of Mexico, in the Carribean gulf. After having heard bad reviews about Cancun and Playa del Carmen which are really touristy (mostly people from the States eager to party night and day), I then decided to go to Tulum, a more quiet and cheaper option (and not that touristy compared to the two others town I have just mentioned).

Tulum is little town that have been growing since the last decade and attracts more visitors, especially backpackers avoiding Cancun and who still want to be immersed in the Mexican culture. The other thing that Tulum is famous for is its Mayan ruins, a kind of fort which had been built centuries ago, right on the beach front. So for me all these elements made the choice of Tulum a no-brainer and I took the bus (hanging firmly my camera against me) to arrive a few hours later in Tulum, in one of the several hostel the town hosts.

And then that's when you realise that the world is small and that all the people follow more or less the same route and same hostel recommendations, because when I checked in I could recognise some french people I had met a week before in Merida.

Overall, I stayed in Tulum for about a week, relaxing on the beach, snorkelling with the turtles, visiting mayan ruins and enjoying the night life.
Indeed there are so many activities that it is hard to be bored in Tulum, the only limiting factor being your wallet as some diving tours can be quite expensive, even if they look amazing (like diving in caves or cenotes for example).

Here are a few pictures of Tulum, its beaches and its ruins:

That one is not my picture (unfortunately) but this was really how I saw it

During that time, I also took the opportunity to visit the nearby ruins of Coba:

Coba is estimated to have had some 50,000 inhabitants (and possibly significantly more) at its peak of civilization, and the built up area extends over some 80 km². The site was occupied by a sizable agricultural population by the 1st century. The bulk of Coba's major construction seems to have been made in the middle and late Classic period, about 500 to 900, with most of the dated hieroglyphic inscriptions from the 7th century. However Coba remained an important site in the Post-Classic era and new temples were built and old ones kept in repair until at least the 14th century, possibly as late as the arrival of the Spanish.
source: wikipedia

The problem when you don't arrive early at the ruins: a lot of tourists are also there...
On top of the biggest pyramid

Posted by manolo84 19:08 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches snorkelling ruins mayas Comments (0)

Chichén Itzá

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Although not my favourite maya site I have visited so far, I couldn't not talk about Chichén Itzá and show you some pictures. Compared to other sites I have already talked about before, this one looks a bit like Disneyland... a LOT of tourists, especially waves of people from the U.S coming from nearby Cancún and exclaiming every 30 seconds "wooaa that's so nice" (even in front of the toilet sign). I'm exagerating a little but not too much...
Anyway the site is huge and the buildings have been remarquably well restaured, although you cannot climb anymore on the pyramids and various stairs in order to preserve the buildings intacts. That's why I am comparing this to Disneyland, it's nice, huge but lots of people everywhere and you cannot go anywhere off the beaten track nor climb the structures. Besides what I liked about Palenque was the fact that their ruins were in the middle of the jungle. Here all the trees have been cut to facilitate the access to the public.

I didn't have much time to visit as I made just a short stop on my way from Merida to Tulum, but I was lucky as it suddenly started to rain, making the hordes of tourists to disappear under some shelters and trees, leaving the whole place for me and my camera... :)

For a bit of history, Chichén Itzá was a major economic power in the northern Maya lowlands during its apogee (roughly 600 AD). Participating in the water-borne circum-peninsular trade route through its port site of Isla Cerritos on the north coast, Chichén Itzá was able to obtain locally unavailable resources from distant areas such as obsidian from central Mexico and gold from southern Central America.

Between AD 900 and 1050 Chichen Itza expanded to become a powerful regional capital controlling north and central Yucatán but started to decline around 1250. While Chichén Itzá "collapsed" or fell (meaning elite activities ceased) it may not have been abandoned. When the Spanish arrived, they found a thriving local population, although it is not clear from Spanish sources if Maya were living in Chichen Itza or nearby. The relatively high density of population in the region was one of the factors behind the conquistadors' decision to locate a capital there. According to post-Conquest sources, both Spanish and Maya, the Cenote Sagrado, next to which Chitzén Itzá was built, remained a place of pilgrimage.

The sacred cenote
This is where mayas were playing the "ball game" which included sacrificing/beheading the losers. You can see on the right and at the bottom the structures where the kings and other nobles were standing, overlooking the field.

Posted by manolo84 11:02 Archived in Mexico Tagged ruins pyramids mayas Comments (0)

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