Biotopo El Zotz–San Miguel la Palotada
“Zotz” means “bat” in Mayan, and this CECON biotope, predictably, is set up for the protection of the thousands of bats that emerge from the mouth of a large cave at dusk. It’s quite an impressive sight to see, the sky darkening with myriad winged creatures making their way out in search of insects and fruit.
The biotope also protects an archaeological site that has been severely plundered and remains unexcavated. You can climb to the top of the tallest mound, the El Diablo Temple, from which you can make out the roof combs of Tikal’s pyramids 23 kilometers to the west.
The forest here remains well preserved and there is a small biological station with guards patrolling the park stationed here. You can camp for free and there is no park admission fee, as in most of the remote jungle parks of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The biotope abuts Tikal National Park to the east, which partially explains why it remains mostly intact. It is part of an important biological corridor ensuring the survival of many of Petén’s most threatened species.
Several Flores guide companies arrange trips to the biotope. Highly recommended is Martsam Tours and Travel, (Calle 30 de Junio in the lobby of Capitán Tortuga restaurant, tel. 7926-0346, www.martsam.com) offering an excellent three-day/two-night trek from El Zotz to Tikal for about $175 per person for two people. It begins in Flores with a private vehicle transfer to the village of Cruce dos Aguadas, west of the park. From there, you hike five hours to El Zotz, see the bat cave, and spend the night.
The second day is spent exploring the site’s temple mounds before hiking to a campsite midway between El Zotz and Tikal, where you bed down for the night before the final 18-kilometer march to Tikal the next day. You explore Tikal on the last day, and the trip concludes with a chance to see the sunset from Temple IV. Tikal Connection (Calle 15 de Septiembre, tel. 7926-4981, www.tikalcnx.com) also runs a similar trip for the same price. Both use local community guides.
Another option is to book a trip from Uaxactún. Campamento El Chiclero can arrange pack horses, guides, and equipment. The trip from Uaxactún affords the opportunity to see a little more of the forest, as the forests along the western approach from Paso Caballos have been somewhat disturbed.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com