Black jaguar (panther) at Guatemala zoo
After 6 and a half years of being together, Mal and I tied the knot in October 2014. Instead of taking a conventional one or two week honeymoon to one destination just after the wedding, we decided to leave it a few months, save up and take more of an extended trip. After a little deliberation of destinations (Australia, the Caribbean and various countries in Central America) we decided we weren't content on visiting just one country and we settled on travelling around Central America for a month if possible (depending if we could get the time off from work). Originally we put together a little plan of travel consisting of all of the countries in Central America but then we realised one month would be pushing it a little to see all of them in a decent timeframe so we downscaled our trip and we decided to start our travels in Guatemala.
First leg: Manchester to Guatemala (Saturday May 2nd)
We had three flights on our journey to Guatemala: Manchester to Washington, Washington to Newark and Newark to Guatemala. The flight to Washington left Manchester around 10:55am local time and lasted 7.5 hours. After
Iguana at Guatemala zoo
a very turbulent descent we landed in Washington at 6:25pm UK time (1:25pm in Washington) feeling slightly worse for wear! Luckily we had just over three hours to recover before we set off on our next leg to Newark. This flight was short and sweet lasting only 40 minutes. The only concern for us is that our connecting flight to Guatemala was supposed to be boarding at the time we landed with take off 40 minutes later. We were made more anxious by the delay in attaching the passenger walkway to the plane, which set us back by ten minutes and hence we attempted a sprint through the airport to our gate. Thankfully they had delayed boarding and take off and we made it with time to spare! This final flight departed around 7:50pm and lasted five hours. By the time we arrived into Guatemala at 10:45pm local time (Central America is 2 hours behind North America, hence the discrepancy in the timings) we had been awake for 22 hours straight and had been travelling for 15 hours in total so we were certainly quite tired.
Our stay in Guatemala City (Saturday May 2 - Tuesday 5)
Antigua central park
Whilst in Guatemala City, we stayed in a family run hostel called Hermano Pedro which is within walking distance to the airport. The hostel is run by a husband and wife and is almost like a family home. The couple speak a little English but mostly they can only speak Spanish and would best suit visitors who can get by 'en Español'. Despite the language barrier, there is no disputing the kindness and helpfulness of the owners -they helped us to book a taxi to Antigua when our shuttle bus didn't turn up, they offered us a lift to the bus station when were leaving for Flores and the husband even came to pick us up from the aiport when we landed. Furthermore the hostel itself was always clean and our room was pretty decent. The bed wasn't particularly comfortable and we didn't seem to have hot water in the shower but we couldn't complain much seeing as the room was very cheap.
On our first proper full day in Guatemala City on Monday 4 we decided to go to the zoo as Mal was keen to go back again (he worked there 10 years ago).
Antigua cloister - where the nuns went to fast
After a leisurely 30 minute walk we were at the zoo. The entry fee was exceedingly cheap compared to UK zoos at only 30 Quetzals (the currency in Guatemala) per person, which is around £3. The zoo itself is a fairly decent size and kept us busy for a fair few hours. Alongside the animals you tend to see in most zoos, such as elephants, giraffes and monkeys, there are also some more unusual species to see here such as the coati, panther, puma, jaguaroundi, tayra and racoons. We even spotted a full sized iguana on the path, no cage in sight. Alongside geckos, they are native to the country so it isn't too unusual to see them "in the wild" as it were.
After the zoo we took a short walk to the musem of archeology and etymology, which is just round the corner from the zoo. This museum charts the musical and cultural history of the Mayans and includes displays of Mayan instruments, pottery, clothing and stelae (carved or engraved stones). The highlight for us was the central courtyard which is open-topped, with a beautiful fountain at the centre and numerus stelae around the perimeter.
The museum was certainly informative. However, whilst the main displays provide information on the exhibits in both Spanish and English, there are a fair number of areas where only Spanish is present so there was some bits we missed out on.
After the museum we headed to the main shopping complex which was a 10 minute taxi ride away. We had gone there in search of shampoo, conditioner and some sandwiches and quickly realised that Guatemalans don't seem to buy many hair products as we found it extremely difficult just to find shampoo, let alone conditioner! We did find a nice cafe hidden away in a bookshop though and we got the sandwiches we were after, even if they were a little expensive.
On Monday 4 we headed off to Antigua, which was not only the former capital of Guatemala City but also the former capital of the whole of Central America. We had booked a shuttle bus to pick us up from our hotel at 10 and after 45 minutes waiting we knew they weren't going to turn up so we ended up taking a taxi over, which took around an hour.
Antigua was certainly worth waiting for and when we got out of the taxi, I knew straight away why this is such a tourist hotspot. It is a rustic little town with both Hispanic and Mayan roots. The streets are cobbled and the houses are quaint. The whole town is beautiful but there were some areas that were particularly striking. For instance, the central park is similar to American style parks and contains a fountain in the middle featuring women with fish as their bottom half (not a mermaid as such) and who have water coming out of their breasts (which they are holding). There is also a lemon yellow coloured church decorated with statues of saints, showing a Hispanic influence, and also featuring depictions of fruits and vegetables, showing a Mayan influence.
In order to get the most out of our visit we decided to pay for a guided tour. We had researched them online and found one English person offering tours. However when we got there we were approached by a tour guide named Fausto who has lived in the area all of his life and he convinced us we were safe in his hands. His tour was personal as it was only for the two of us and it lasted around 2 and a half hours at a cost 320 Quetzals for us both (approx £32). He showed us the beautiful church, the famous arch, the cloisters and also the silver and jade museums. The cloister was especially fascinating as it had a lot of the original bulding still in tact - including chambers where the nuns would go to fast for several days, an underground echo chamber for repentance and seven holes on the outside of the building for the cross (though it's rumoured these chambers in the wall may also have been used to punish nuns).
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