Sun 18 – Wed 21 November - Day 23 to 25 - Chichicastenango & Panajachel & Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Published: November 22nd 2018
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Sun 18 – Wed 21 November - Day 23 to 25 - Chichicastenango & Panajachel & Lake Atitlan

After breakfast we left Antigua and drove towards Guatemala's most famous market town, Chichicastenango. This village's population swells from approx. 1000 to over 20,000 on market day (when we visited). The local indigenous people, mostly descendants of the K'iche' (Quiché) Maya people, come down from the nearby hills to sell everything from kitchen pots and pans to live turkeys! Handicrafts, bags, jumpers and wall hangings are just a few of the very colourful bargains to be found here.

Chichicastenango, also known as Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, is a town in the ‘state’ of El Quiche. It is located in a mountainous region about 140 km northwest of Guatemala City, at an altitude of 1,965 m. The Spanish conquistadors gave the town its name from the Nahuatl name used by their soldiers from Tlaxcala: Tzitzicaztenanco, or City of Nettles. Its original name was Chaviar.

Chichicastenango is a K’iche’ Maya cultural centre. According to the 2012 census, 98.5%!o(MISSING)f the municipality's population is indigenous Mayan K'iche. 21%!o(MISSING)f the population speak only K'iche, 71% speak both K'iche and Spanish, and the remaining 8% speak only Spanish.

Chichicastenango hosts market days on Thursdays and Sundays where vendors sell handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, pom and copal (traditional incense), cal (lime stones for preparing tortillas), grindstones, pigs and chickens, machetes, and other tools.

Among the items sold are textiles, particularly women's blouses. Masks used by dancers in traditional dances, such as the Dance of the Conquest, are also manufactured in Chichicastenango.

Next to the market is the 400-year-old church of Santo Tomás. It is built on top of a Pre-Columbian temple platform, and the steps originally leading to a temple of the pre-Hispanic Maya civilisation remain venerated. K'iche' Maya priests still use the church for their rituals, burning incense and candles. They had just completed a service and were walking out of the church when we arrived. In special cases, they burn a chicken for the gods. Each of the 18 stairs that lead up to the church stands for one month of the Maya calendar year.

Tom & I found a hotel to have a coffee and then we walked around the markets again. We also found the colourful Gucumatz Arch which was built in 1932 on the foundation of the town. We then continued towards Lake Atitlan, a body of water in a massive volcanic crater. On the way we stopped off at several view points which was stunning to see the lake surrounded by 3 extinct large volcanoes.

Ringed by steep, green hills, it is known for its Mayan villages and volcanoes with striking pointed cones. We were staying in the busy village of Panajachel, where vendors sell traditional textiles, pottery and much more.

After checking into Hotel Posada De Los Volcanes, we all walked to a wonderful restaurant which served organic food, not that was the main attraction for us as the food was excellent. I had a very tasty mixed vegetable and fruit juice. And a chicken salad. Tom had a club sandwich which was very filling.

After lunch, Alfredo our guide took us for an orientation walk around the little town, finding wonderful restraints, ATMs, and supermarkets and artisan markets. We noted a crepe and chocolate place which included a chocolate museum which we returned to that evening for a savoury crepe for dinner. We all walked back to the Sunset Bar which is were we stayed for the sunset!!! The sun set between 2 volcanoes, one of which I was to trek up the next day (San Pedro).

Our 1st full day we had in Panajechel was spent climbing San Pedro. Corina from Swaziland and Savannah from NZ came with me. We had breakfast at 7.00am and then walked to the public ferry to cross Lake Atitlan to the town of San Pedro (25GTQ – 5.5 Quetzals to $1AUD). On arrival after the 30 minute boat cruise, we caught a tuk tuk (10 GTQ) up to the trail head. We paid the 100GTQ park fee and decided not to have a guide even though it was included in the price. It was compulsory for a guide to accompany us to one spot where we could have taken the wrong path. There were large arrows painted on the rocks of an old landslide which we were to look for on our return, so we took the correct path.

The weather was perfect with blue skies as we started our hike. The guide told us about some of the culture of the villagers and chatted to us in good English. We arrived at the arrows and we said our goodbyes to the guide, continuing through the avocado and coffee plantations, starting at 1800m.

We were pretty pumped as we set off by ourselves. First the path was climbing over rocks as well as some dirt paths. As we climbed, the coffee and avocado crops changed to corn fields. After about 30 minutes of climbing, we arrived at the 1st view point. Incredible! What more can I say. I do hope you love the photos….. but wait until you see the photos at the top.!!!

From there on, the climb got very challenging, even though there were small logs making up the steps, it was relentless. I was missing my hiking poles which I had decided not to bring. After another 30 minutes, we reached the 2nd view point which was a 2-level structure with breath taking views of all the villages around Lake Titlan.

Half way up, we came across a car tier which was tied to a rope for a swing. It swung out in mid-air. The 3 of us had great fun taking turns at swinging – with phots of course!

Two and a half hours of climbing, we reached the camping site and we had another 500 metres to climb. A part of this section needed a hand rail to help pull ourselves up. We started to hear other voices and suddenly we saw massive boulders which was top of this very extinct volcano. It had erupted 1000s of years ago. The last few 100 metres was tough but wow, what a reward. This was top-of-the-world. What was more magic was that it wasn’t cold up the top. There was a gentle breeze with a few puffs of clouds dotting the sky. Just magic!

After sitting on the rocks, taking it all in and having our photos taken we noticed that there were a few white clouds gathering around the summit of all 3 volcanoes. We were so lucky to reach the summit when we did.

Just a bit on timing for those who are reading this blog and may be planning to climb San Pedro – 3 hours up and 1.5 yours down (although some take longer to climb down). You don’t need a guide as you can’t get lost. Do it yourself. A travel agent quoted 450 GTQ for all transport, breakfast and a guide but we paid a total of 170 GTQ. It’s very easy.

Our climb down the volcano was easier of course but the quads were feeling it a bit by day 3. But there might be another volcano to climb in Quetzaltenango, our next stop!!

That afternoon, after returning by tuk-tuk then boat, back to Panajachel a shower to get rid of the dust etc was magnificent.

Our 2nd full day in Panajachel, 2 English guys (Francis & Eric) joined us for a visit to the Nature Park (70GRQ) & Zip line Park. When catching tuk-tuks, the price is always 10GRQ so you don’t have to haggle. In the Park was where we saw spider monkeys, a canyon-style series of waterfalls and numerous swing bridges traversing the deep valley. Climbing up the steps from one swing bridge to another, I could feel my tired legs slightly. It was very pleasant walking through more thick, tropical jungle. As you would expect, the area was very fertile. There was accommodation there also.

Leaving the Park, we walked back to a nearby Hotel Atitlan as there was a botanical garden to owners had set up. Eric & Francis decided not to visit as it was 75GRQ. As it turned out, if you had food at their restaurant, this amount would be deleted from your food and drinks bill. We were amazed at the gardens which included a wedding, rose, azaleas, succulents, BBQ, etc, etc sections. The area was very well manicured and had many, many gardeners furiously working had in its maintenance. The owners had bought in plants from all over the world.

As the hotel and gardens were on the side of the lake with the infinity pool looking west, out to the water, as did the restaurant, we ended up having a cold drink and the tastiest lunch. I had a salad with apple, orange, carrots, blue cheese, croutons, rocket, onion, tomato, cucumber, macadamia nuts, some with toffee, some not. The spicy salad dressing was extra special. All the waiters spoke very good English. We noticed there were a lo of Americans staying at the hotel. The gardens also had a section where tropical birds were displayed in large cages.

It was then back to the town by tuk-tuk (down the steep hill) were Tom & I then decided we might catch another public ferry to Santiago, another village around the lake but timing was not right. Instead we ended up at a little cafe for fresh lemonade (con agua mineralle) and coffee. The weather was so beautiful, we decided to go back to Hotel Atitlan for sunset drinks. My 2 climbing mates, Carina & Savannah joined us. It was another beautiful sunset with reflections on the hotel’s pool. Beautiful!!

Our last night in the town, most of us got together at a restaurant that was known for its meat dishes. Tom had the best stake ever (fillet steak). For the first time this trip, my tummy was feeling a little off, so I had a light dinner.

For the 2nd day running the town of Panajachel was out of power. The previous day it was off nearly all day until 5.00pm so many of the shops and restaurants were closed. On our departure day it was off again. Our hotel had a large generator as this was a common occurrence in the village. The only problem was that the very loud generator was in the outdoor foyer but fortunately, we could have breakfast is the small restaurant behind closed doors. We departed for Quetzaltenargo at 9.00am.

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