The drive from Antigua to Tikal is quite long. The road heads south out of the mountains and passes through Guatemala City. Just getting through the capital is a challenge enough as the highway heading east - out of the city towards Tikal and Honduras - turns from a highway into city streets back into a highway. Along the way there are many detours and dead ends and it is very easy to get lost. Gettinglost in Guatemala City is not necessarily a good idea; the city has its fair share of crime.
Jeff and I drove into the city the day previous to have the back window on the Blazer repaired after it was broken on New Year’s Eve. Another problem we faced is that there are 5 or 6 identical sets of addresses in the city. There may be a 1001 Main St. Zone 1, 1001 Main St. Zone 2, Zone 3, etc. There are 5 or 6 zones in the capital and unless you know which zone you are looking for and exactly where that zone is, you are likely to get very very lost. We asked for a lot of directions and after a while we found a glass shop and I had the window repaired. And it wasn’t cheap.
Charlotta, our Swedish friend who worked for the Red Cross had wanted to see Tikal and she came along with us. Once we cleared the center of the city and headed east our highway seemed to just evaporate from under us. We drove around what looked like a suburb for about 15 minutes and each set of directions that we took from passing pedestrians seemed to get us more and more lost. Eventually we saw a sign that had the name of the town to the east of the capital and we took that road. In no time we were heading east.
The entire drive took about 8 hours and after heading east for a good part of the country we began our turn north. Along the way we passed all sorts of semi-arid brushland, little towns and a few mountains. We passed from one traffic jam to another (above). About an hour from our intended rest-stop at Finca Ixobel we came to the mighty Rio Dulce River. The river was so wide that I couldn’t even get it to fit into my camera and ended up capturing only the southern bank:
From the Rio Dulce we drove due north until we arrived at the Eco-tourist lodge named Finca Ixobel. It was all the rave in our travel books, on websites and recommended by several other visitors that we had met in Antigua. Everyone who had stayed here gave it top reviews and it sounded like just the place for us.
It was originally founded by an American husband and wife team back in the early ’70s. The couple wanted to set up a farm and not long after they were in business they began to receive a steady stream of travelers and decided to turn their farm into a bed and breakfast/hostel. Before the hard ball roads were installed the trip from Guatemala City to Tikal could take as long as 20 hours and the farm was an inviting retreat for weary travelers. Eventually, hosting tourists became the primary endeavor of the couple and it is still serving tourists today.
Finca is “farm” in Spanish and Ixobel means “place of Obel” (a local plant) in the local Mayan Mopal language. So quite literally translated it means Farm at the Obel plants.
Finca Ixobel is situated in a clear-cut area in what used to be a thick rain forest. Unfortunately, farming has decimated most of the forest in this area. The farm was quite relaxing with open meadows, horses and other animals and a very hippie and laid back vibe.
In the shot above is the main lodge area with the restaurant, administration, bar and lobby. When we checked in we were told of the wide range of accommodations available from $5 per night shared rooms to $15 per night doubles and even $30 and $40 private suites. Some rooms were in remote and private “off to the side” areas and some were even up on stilts. There seemed to be a room size, style and price to fit every budget or luxury desire.
… one of the “hostel” style houses that ran about $5 per night…
Inside the main restaurant and bar area are big picnic tables to meet and eat with friends, comfy hammocks to rest on and a gorgeous library full of all sorts of travel books (below). Each night after dinner we had beers at one of the large picnic tables and chatted with travelers from all over the world.
Inside the library I found the archive volumes of the guest sign in books that date back to the 1970′s. I saw all sorts of traveler comments from people all over the world. It was interesting to compare their travel experiences with what it is like now. We had it relatively easy driving on our own truck compared to most who had to endure a chicken bus on a 20 hour gravel road.
The staff at Finca Ixobel were very friendly and gave us a super tour on arrival. We were explained how the “money” system works on the farm: any guest is free to help themselves to beer, soda, snacks, order anything they want from the restaurant and can order any tour that is offered. No payment is taken at the time of purchase and no one keeps track of your purchases. Near the front administration desk is a book where your name is entered on arrival and you – get this – write down what you bought as each purchase occurs. It is an honor system and you are expected to write down if you had a burger, coke and fries and then had a beer in a hammock. At the end of your stay, your total is rung up and you pay. When we finally checked out on the third day, after taking a horseback riding tour, after dinner drinks, meals and all lodging included, our bill came out to $20 per person per day. Not bad at all!
Despite much of the surrounding area being clear-cut, there were still a lot of jungle animals around and at night we could hear monkeys and birds making all sorts of jungle noises. The bathrooms are all outside – each stall is enclosed but the outside of the stall, where the bathroom walls would be are missing. The effect is that while showering you feel like you’re standing inside a shower stall that is located in a jungle. The cool air circulating up and around was an unusual experience and stepping out of the shower, you had a nice view of the jungle as you shave or brush your teeth at the sink.
Finca Ixobel offers hiking tours, horseback riding tours, guided tours of the ruins at Tikal, whitewater rafting tours and a few others. We decided to take a horseback riding tour. And while the tour was touted as a “jungle” horseback tour, we sadly found that much of the jungle has been cut down. The proprietors at Finca Ixobel have worked with some local initiatives to reforest much of the area, an effort we applaud them for.
… Jeff and Charlotta on horseback…
My horse was not what I considered “full size,” and I felt as though my toes might drag on the ground. Perhaps I was just too tall but he was a good horse and he seemed strong enough to carry my weight. In the photo below our guide is behind Charlotta; he didn’t speak much English but we understood enough of his Spanish to get along ok. In the background you can see what was once a rainforest has been cut down to make farm land.
A day or two later, Jeff and I both found ticks – it’s probably not a bad idea to wear some repellent and to check for bugs following a horseback ride in Guatemala.
If you are going to Tikal, I can recommend Finca Ixobel enthusiastically! Drop by, you won’t regret it. And, if the archive guest books are still out, check for January 3-6, 2002 and maybe you’ll see our guest comments :-)
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