My first impression when entering south-central Guatemala from Honduras was surprise at how developed the country is. The roads are nicely paved, the buildings solid and clean, expensive cars on the road… then two and a half hours later when we pulled over on the side of the road in Guatemala City, a chicken bus drove just close enough to pull our driver’s open door straight back and off the hinges. Reality check, we’re still in Central America.
Now nearly three weeks later, my impression of Guatemala is love, love, love. We’ve spent our time in the central highlands experiencing the rich Maya culture, unbelievable scenery, snuggly animals and the other amazing travelers.
Our home base has been Antigua which is a colonial city chalk full of hostels, travel agencies, bars, restaurants and gift shops, a large artisan’s market and numerous church ruins from the major earthquake in 1976. The cobblestone streets are aesthetically appealing and make viewing the buildings and surrounding mountains/volcanos an adventure when cruising around the city.
The highlight of our time in Antigua was spending three days living with a local family and taking Spanish lessons. For $27 a day we had four hours of lessons, all three meals and accommodation. The family was patient with our Spanglish, served us delicious, local cuisine and had children and puppies eager for cuddles, which I loved.
Our first venture out of Antigua was to Lago de Atitlan (Lake Atitlan) where we set up shop in San Pedro. We planned to spend three nights, but ended up staying for a full week. San Pedro was a village with corn and coffee farms, a variety of cheap, diverse food (including Asian and Mediterranean, woooo!) and locally made textiles and other fun stuff to purchase. We stayed at Hostel Pinocchio where we met a fabulous group of travelers from all corners of the world including Israel, England, Argentina and Australia. We also got to watch numerous World Cup games and the NBA Finals at our neighborhood bar!
The lake was beautiful and we found great places to jump in in San Pedro and San Marcos, another lake village a short boat ride away known for the yoga centers and psychedelics.
The second venture out was a bit of backtracking for us, but totally worth it. The place is Semuc Champey and is surprisingly not touted in the Lonely Planet as a must-see, but it is! It is best known for the tours to a 300 meter long natural limestone bridge over top of a raging river and the caves formed by the river. We opted to skip the guided tour and hiked up to the viewpoint with our friends Kate and Millie and back down to swim in the turquoise pools. A fabulous way to spend the morning.
In the afternoon we did decide to join a group to see the caves. The candlelit tour was an hour long, led by a local guide and involved swimming through stalagmite and stalactite formations, climbing up waterfalls and ladders, jumping from the rocks into the pools and even being pushed by the guide through a small tunnel into a wading pool.
In addition to exploring the area, we enjoyed staying Hostal El Portal set just above the river with astounding views and a chill atmosphere.
Tonight is our last night in Guatemala and while we’re sad to leave such an exquisite country, we are excited to descend from the mountains and head to the Pacific coast of El Salvador tomorrow morning. Surf’s up!
Buena onda, amigos!!