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Published: April 23rd 2020
After one week in Belize, I left San Ignacio by bus towards the border with Guatemala. The crossing and procedures at the migration went smooth and without any issues. Guatemala is the second largest country of Central America after Nicaragua but has the most amount of inhabitants: about 17 million by now. The country has a rich culture and history, and is well known for its active volcanoes and other natural beauty. "Soul of the Earth"; that is the tourism slogan of Guatemala! From the border I took a taxi into a town nearby, Melchor de Mencos, from where I took a bus towards Flores. Flores
is a small city of about 15 000 people located on an island in the Petén Itzá Lake. It's a unique and colourful city, ideal to use as a hub to explore other areas of the region. My B&B was located on the other side of the island and I had to be brought there by boat. The family running the B&B were very friendly and they bring you to the island and back all the time. In the evening, after 10pm I think it was, you just pay a little fee for the
service. In Flores itself there isn't a lot to see and do, but the island is an attraction itself. It has several colourful colonial buildings, streets and alleys with cobblestones, little churches and squares. It is surely worth wandering around and in the evening there is some nightlife, since several tourists stay in Flores. There are some bars and pubs, most of them concentrate on the northern part of the island. I was annoyed by the hundreds of birds invading the powerlines in the city at night; it is crazy! On an early morning I hiked to the viewpoint called "Mirador del Rey Canek". It was worth the hike and the stunning views of Flores and other parts of the lake.
A "must do" when you are in Flores, is a visit to the ruins of Tikal
. It is not located in Flores, but about 50km away. I went on an early morning and there was quite some people already. They had to split the groups in English and Spanish which were the languages spoken by the available guides. Since the Spanish speaking groups were smaller, I joined one of them. The advantages of knowing a couple of languages
come in handy at situations like this! Tikal consists of ruins of a former Maya settlement dating back to ca. 800 before Christ and it existed for abour 1600 years. I found out about Tikal during the TV-show "The Amazing Race Latinoamérica" and since then it was on my list to visit, therefore I was pretty excited about it! The site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1979. The tour was highly informative and educational and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! What you get to see during the tour is just a small, yet impressive part of the settlement, since huge parts of it is buried under the ground. Besides, the whole site covers an area of 576 square km. and had about 200 000 inhabitants back in the day. It's incredible to see what people were able to build so many years ago. The Tikal Temple I is the most iconic and one of the better kept structures on the site. You're able to climb on some of the structures and enjoy the view over others parts of the site, where you see the top of temples sticking out of the dense rain forest. Tikal
is without a doubt one of Guatemala's most popular attractions and worth a visit! Make sure to go with a guide, otherwise it doesn't make much sense not knowing what you're looking at.
After Flores it was time to head further and explore Guatemala. The easiest way to get from A to B in Guatemala, is with the so called tourist shuttles. Especially for those who do not speak much Spanish, it's always a bit difficult to find their way. Nevertheless I used the shuttles too since it takes you from accommodation to accommodation so you avoid having to find your way through a busy, chaotic bus-station after arrival. I left Flores on an early morning towards Cobán. To get there we had to cross the river "Rio de la Pasión" but there is no bridge. The shuttle had to wait in a queue of vehicles moving slowly forward and onto a ferry taking them to the other side. We stoppend in Cobán for a lunchbreak, which was about four hours after our departure from Flores. Then we continued towards my next stop: Lanquín
. It's a small town of about 20 000 people located in a beautiful, green area
and it's a quite popular destination among backpackers. The road to get here was a dirt road which was pretty bad at certain parts and apparently certain parts are not usable during heavy rain events. This part of the trip was pretty long and I was looking forward to the arrival. There are several things to do in Lanquín, mostly nature and adventurous activities and I stayed there for two nights. The most popular attraction is Semuc Champey National Park
. The hostel where I stayed organizes tours towards the national park, since it's not at walking distance. The other participants and I jumped in the back of a pick-up truck and we drove towards the national park, while enjoying the beautiful scenery on the way. Our first stop was the K'anbá Caves, where they gave everybody a candle to be able to see inside the cave. We walked in a line behind each other in the cave while seeing the many stalactites and stalagmites and little waterfalls. It was a particularly beautiful cave, but absolutely not suitable for those with claustrophobia. After coming out of the cave, we stayed in the area nearby along the Cahabón River where we had
the opportunity to swim under a waterfall which is something I always love to do! They also have a big swing from which you can then fall into the water. It's fun but the first time I didn't fall correctly in the water and it hurt quite a bit. The second time I paid more attention and it went well. We also had lunch at this place before continuing to another part of the park, where we started a hike through the rainforest and taking us up a pretty steep hill. It was warm and humid so I was completely wet once I reached the top. The view from there made all the effort worth it and it became one of the highlights of Guatemala. You could see the Cahabón River flow through the green landscape, in between two steep hills, with beautiful blue water, little rapids and natural pools; absolutely stunning! The place itself is called Semuc Champey, like the national park is called. Then I descended and went into the water, relaxing and cooling down, swimming from natural pool to natural pool. These are the kind of places I do not want to leave when I'm there! Back
at the hostel, which is nicely located along a river, I left a Curaçao flag among the many other flags. I wish I could have stayed another day, but being short on time I had to continue the next day. I made three more stops in Guatemala, more about that in my next blog-entry!
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