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Published: March 30th 2012
Within half an hour of receiving the Guatemala stamp in our passport, our bus came to a halt and we wondered what had gone wrong. A landslide had occurred on the mountain road that we were taking from Mexico to Guatemala and we spent the next three hours sat waiting for the rocks to be cleared from the road – welcome to Guatemala!
Whilst this was a minor inconvenience for us disrupting the traffic and our onward journey for a few hours it was totally scary what these frequent landslides are doing to the lives of the indigenous mountain communities who live here. There were huge boulders from the landslide lying in peoples gardens, up against their houses and the whole scene looked like it could turn into one huge disaster some day. Houses were perched on the edges of mountainsides which looked like they could give way at some point in the future. All this going on next to kids, running around, laughing and playing like it was just another ordinary day for them, which of course it was.
Once the road was cleared and we continued our journey we started to see a different side of Guatemala
and were immediately impressed with its picturesque scenery as we passed through valleys and mountain gorges. As we continued to ascend higher up the mountains, to an elevation of around 1600m, the air got cooler and we could see thick blankets of fog surrounding the mountainside which was stunning. Within a couples of hours of entering Guatemala we got our first sight of a Volcano, a huge perfect cone shaped mountain which stood at something like 4500m and which seemingly appeared from nowhere, it was beautiful.
After a 12 hour bus journey from Southern Mexico to Guatemala it felt great to finally reach our first stop, Panajachel, the main town and jumping off point for Lago de Atitlan (Lake Atitlan). This town reminded us immediately of a typical resort town in Thailand. There were imported tuk-tuks everywhere, bars with loud pumping music, restaurants, shops, market stalls, street performers and a few hippies. The only thing which seemed to separate this place from its Asian cousin was the many indigenous Mayan people who have come to work here, selling their crafts and garments to the passing tourists. We stayed for a couple of days, it was fine but we were
ready to go off and explore some of the real Guatemala.
After Panajachel, we took a small boat across Lake Atitlan to the lakeside village of San Marcos. Lake Atitlan has been described as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, its waters being surrounded by three magnificant volcanoes. Our room was right on the lakeside and we would wake up each morning with glorious views of the water and the volcanoes.
San Marcos is a charming place with narrow streets and friendly locals. Aswell as its population of around 3000 Mayan people, the village is also home to a few hundred artists, musicians, jewellery makers & hippies who have settled down here over the years. They concentrate in this small beautiful town because there is a belief that the lake has a special spiritual energy. Many have made a home here practicing spiritual healing, selling herbal medicines, teaching yoga, massages and various types of meditation. There is a huge emphasis here on healthy living and many of the restaurants provide excellent food in tune with vegetarian or healthy living concepts, which we really enjoyed. We met so many people in San Marcos from many different
countries and walks of life. Pace of life is slow and everyone makes time to talk to each other, within a few hours of arriving we had already been invited to someone’s home for tea. We ended up staying for a week, most days sat by the lakeside reading and admiring the volcanoes towering before us.
After Lake Atitlan, we took a few hours bus ride to our next stop Antigua, the colonial heart of Guatemala. We have visited many colonial towns on this journey and on previous trips but nothing seems to compare to Antigua – it is simply beautiful. The town is the usual colonial mix of cobbled streets, churches, plazas and colourful houses but what makes Antigua extra special is that it is surrounded by three Volcanoes, which can be seen from most angles. We stayed in a lovely hostel which had a rooftop with glorious views over the town and the Volcanoes.
We spent several days exploring the town, Benn managed to climb the Pacaya Volcano and also went fishing on the Pacific coast, just an hours drive from Antigua. The views from the Pacaya Volcano were amazing, the last eruption was only 2-3
years ago which caused quite a lot of devastation but it has been fairly quiet recently. The fishing was amazing too, there were turtles everywhere, Benn must have seen at least 20 during the day swimming about on the ocean’s surface and was also lucky enough to go through a huge pod of dolphins, there were hundreds jumping everywhere as far as the eye could see. The days catch included Dorado, which we ate for dinner, tuna and a sailfish.
If Antigua had not been special enough already we feel extremely lucky that it had even more to offer us. Luckily we had managed to time our visit in the run up to Easter. Antigua is the number 1 place in Guatemala for Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations. Whilst the main celebrations happen during Holy Week itself, each weekend for the entire period of lent during the lead up to Easter the town of Antigua is taken over by one huge religious procession which works its way around the town followed by thousands of people. Locals dressed in purple robes carry statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary and other biblical relics around the streets which have been beautifully decorated
with leaves and flowers only to be trampled soon after as thousands of feet walk over them. It was amazing to experience this and we spent a Saturday and Sunday afternoon following this procession, something we will remember for a long time.
After an excellent week in Antigua we headed across the country to a place called Rio Dulce (Sweet River) on the Carribbean coast. During the 7 hour bus journey we met a french family, who were on a round the world sailing trip on their own yacht – together with their 4 kids! They had been on the trip for three & a half years and were an inspiration to talk to, the kids aged 8 to 16 were full of stories about their real life adventures at sea, totally amazing.
Rio Dulce is a yachties mecca with many boats from the USA, Canada and sometimes Europe stopping by as part of Carribbean or round the world voyages. We stayed in a lovely guesthouse right on the riverbank, which we found very chilled for a couple of days. We spent our time relaxing by the river to the sounds of frogs and other animals which could
be heard all night long. To complete our time in Guatemala we headed to the capital, Guatemala city for a couple of days. We were pleasantly surprised with our time here and had a nice couple of days strolling the bustling city, watching street performers and musicians whilst being impressed by some of the architecture.
Our three weeks in Guatemala have flown by, there was beautiful scenery everywhere we went, we met great people and enjoyed some unforgettable volcano views. There were many places that we didn’t manage to visit but we had a great time and cannot recommend Guatemala highly enough. Next stop, Belize!
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