10 days in Guatemala!
Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
77Trip End Feb 22, 2012
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First stop, the colonial city of Antigua de Guatemala. The Lonely Planet says there is a 'shuttle' bus from the airport to Antigua so I decided to miss out Guatelama City. The shuttle bus is a cramped, pimped up minibus and the very friendly driver informs me that its $10, everything is great, except there are no other passengers yet so why don't I go and get a coffee while I wait. So I wait, and wait, and wait .... until 2 hours later two Canadian girls turn up wanting to go to Antigua and we're off! The girls had just arrived from Canada, and they got in to the minivan and started looking for the seatbelts - I couldn't help laughing as I told them that I haven't seen a seatbelt in 6 months
Anyway I arrived at my hostel in Antigua, Jungle Party Hostel and was feeling pretty sick, coming down with a cough. Unfortunately my bed was almost next to the bar but after choosing a hostel called Jungle Party I couldn't really complain
First, a climb up Volcan Pataya! Disappointingly the volcano is no longer spewing red lava, which is the attraction for tourists, but I climbed it anyway for the views. I felt pretty sick but was determined to do it and it was so worth it. A local dog accompanied us and the guide cooked marshmallows over the steam vents. There were some holes with steam coming out of them that were big enough for us to climb into, and so we did :) Safety is also a concern here with previous reports of armed robbery so now all tourists go in groups with a guide on a horse, who I noticed had a machete strapped to the saddle, and armed military guard the trailheads
Next stop was the stunning Lake Atilan and the lakeside villages. Yet again, warnings of armed robberies - Lonely Planet went so far as to say that one particular trail between two villages carries a 99% risk of armed robbery for tourists - anybody fancy a walk?! Yet when you ask at the tourist boards here they say it's fine ... nevertheless this time I heeded the warning and took the boat instead. I stayed a the most spartan hostel I've ever seen, 'Marvelous Hostel' (not the best name for this place) but it was complimentary of the travel agency who sorted out my itinerary and they had hammocks on the roof so I was happy, in the busy town of Panajachel. It's quite touristy here with the main street lined with vendors. The problem is when you are eating in a restaurant and women come and beg you to buy their scarves and tablecloths and you feel so guilty having spent the money on a meal that you end up buying stuff you don't even want. The next day I took a day trip to four villages on a little boat - Santa Cruz, San Marcos, San Pedro La Laguna and Santiago Atilan. The Canadian girls had also warned me that the lake was very rough but I didn't take any notice ... how could a lake be rough?! Well apparently it can be - so rough that everyone in the first 5 rows got absolutely drenched and it looked like were going to capsize. Lucky for me I was in the back row and the only person completely dry and laughing my head off as the waves hit my fellow passengers in the face :) They were mostly in their 60s and terrified ... but oh it was soooo funny seeing their faces that I could not stop laughing ... it's a lake not a shark infested ocean, who cares if we go under, I can swim! :)
The villages were lovely, especially San Marcos and San Pedro, very laid back
On to the main village of Santiago Atilan, I was going around with another man from the USA, Stanley, in his 60's and with a female companion who told me that he was NOT her husband. Older kids were waiting to take us on little tours this time, so a nice teenage girl took us to see the cathedral and a few other sights, and then offered to show us to the Mayan God of Maximón .... the god of, er, smoking and drinking ... this was a very bizarre experience! The girl led us down tiny backstreets into what appeared to be someone's house, where we had to pay about $1 to go in an another $1 to take a photo
Moving swifty on, I took another 'shuttle' to the highlands of Lanquin and Semuc Champey. Somebody had told me that Semuc Champey was beautiful so I thought I'd take a look for myself. The 6 hour bus ride turned out to be almost 12 hours, with 15 people crammed into the minibus (they put hard boxes down in the gaps to fit in more people) and our bags on the roof, everyone soon became good friends! The last 2 hours of the drive were over dirt tracks and we went about 5mph, a good thing really considering we were on the edge of a sheer drop most of the time. There was a great bunch of people - a couple from the USA, Kate from Australia and Izzy from Scotland and I were staying at the same hostel, El Retiro, which has the perfect location but very rude staff who overbooked our dorm room - Izzy and I came back from dinner to find that our stuff had been moved and other people had taken over the beds
First we went tubing down a river, then hiked up to a viewpoint. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera so have no photos of my own!!! For now here are a couple of photos I found on google .... there are dozens of crystal clear natural rock pools, cascading down the mountainside - one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. You are free to swim wherever you want and can jump down into as many pools as you fancy. Let's just hope that people don't spoil this little piece of paradise. Right now it's well maintained. In the evening we went to the Lanquin bat caves for sunset, to watch thousands of bats depart the cave as they do each night. It was great fun as we waited inside the cave and suddenly there are tiny bats everywhere whizzing past your head as they make for the exit! Our guide took us further into the huge caves to look at the different formations
The next day we all took shuttles to Flores but were put on different buses. There seemed to be some confusion with my voucher, which had me panicked because I was on an incredibly tight schedule to reach Mexico for Christmas and if i missed a single connection then I wouldn't make it, but they eventually put me on one of the minibuses and I bagged the front seat. Good thing, because the bus had been overbooked and after waiting an hour for a Australian guy who had been shunted off his original bus, we went to pick up a German couple but there was only one seat left. Eventually a Japanese couple on the bus offered to share one seat so that the
German couple could come onboard. Extremely considerate considering it was another 10 bus ride - everybody else agreed that we would not have been so kind
Still no time to relax - next morning a 4.30am pickup for a trip to the Mayan site of Tikal ... cue loads of backpackers waiting bleary eyed outside the hostel in the dark, hoping that their shuttle will turn up and hasn't forgotten them. Sure enough my bus arrived and off I went with 10 other people, everyone sleeping until we got to the gates at 6am. After a cup of coffee we had an excellent tour - the guides here seem to be a very high standard with excellent English and he told us lots about the Mayan culture. Apparently the world is gonna end next year ... it was the day of the Solstice and the hippies were out of force dancing around fires and holding 'ceremonies', which our guide thought was ridiculous - he said that most of the the people don't even know what they are doing there, they are just 'wanna-be's following the crowd and I had to agree
So that was my whistlestop tour of Guatemala and i managed to follow my itinerary to the end! I would recommend Guatemala to anyone with a sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors. All I had to do now was get through two days of buses and boats to cross the border and reach my destination of Queretaro, Mexico ....