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Published: October 25th 2020
It's been a long time again. Even though I did have plenty of time to write and catch up, I didn't do it. This whole Covid-19 situation and the lockdown in Curaçao was difficult for me and I wasn't motivated at all. Luckily I'm doing much better again...and ready to write more often.
After leaving Semuc Champey I continued towards Antigua
. The city of about 50.000 people is a major tourist magnet in Guatemala and I see why. It's gorgeous and colourful colonial city where the Spanish colonial heritage is very well represented. The city was founded in 1524 and functioned as the capital of Guatemala until 1773, when the city was heavily damaged by an earthquake. The volcano "Volcán de Agua", at 3760m, rises majestically in the background and offers beautiful photo opportunities of the city. Antigua's historical center, which is not big and can be easily explored by foot, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1979. There are a couple of museums, opportunities to do a coffee-tour and particularly many language schools. Many foreigners stay in Antigua for an extended period and enroll into these schools to learn Spanish. Take your time, scroll
through its colonial streets and enjoy the architecture and colours. I visited the interesting "Museo de arte colonial", dedicated to the colonial art. Do not miss the Catedral de San José, originally built mid-16th century and after suffering several earthquakes, it was demolished and rebuilt in the second half of the 17th century. A very strong earthquake in 1773 destroyed most of the cathedral and it was never fully rebuilt.
One of the most photographed spots in Antigua is "Arco de Santa Catalina", an arch from the 17th century through which nuns used to cross the street without being seen since that was not allowed. On the hill "Cerro Santa Cruz", with a big cross, you have a view over the entire city and it's a popular spot for locals to hang out and worth a visit. The nightlife in Antigua is also very interesting and vibrant, especially due to the present of many foreigners.
Not far outside of Antigua there are other active volcanoes such as "Volcán de Fuego" which erupted about 2 months before my visit to Guatemala in 2018. I took a tour to visit "Volcán Pacaya" which is 2552m high. Before getting
there we had to hike through a rainforest from 1900m to about 2300m, during which we could often hear the rumbling from inside the volcano which was very interesting and especially exciting as it was my first time hearing such a thing. Later I had the whole volcano in sight and it my first time ever to see lava flowing down from the top. At a very short distance I was able to see cooled lava. It was almost completely changed into stone but I was still able to see fire and glow through it, while the whole mass was slowly sliding down with stones breaking off and rolling down. I couldn't get enough of this whole nature show!
I moved further towards Lake Atitlán
, a popular lake with an area of around 130 sq. km surrounded by towns and volcanoes. It's a stunning spot to enjoy nature and I stayed at San Pedro La Laguna
which is a town with about 10 000 inhabitants. I decided to book a cooking class where I was taught to make Tamal. It started with a visit to the market, where we bought the spices, leaves, flour and chicken. Then
we went to the house where the process started. Tamal is made with potato or maize dough with chicken or meat and a special sauce. Then everything is wrapped in a leave called "maxán" and then boiled; just like Venezuelan "hallaca's" but without the strings. The maize dough was prepared one day in advance and started to knead the dough, then peeling potatoes and cleaning the maxán leaves. At the end the result was pretty good and I ate two of my own made Tamales and took two other to the guesthouse. It a very nice experience and the first time ever I took a cooking class when travelling!
I also went ziplining on an afternoon. I took a tuk-tuk to the place, where we had to hike for about 10-15 minutes to reach the site. The zipline takes you over a valley above the rainforest and then back. Needless to say: it was amazing, floating above the forest while enjoying nice views of Lake Atitlán. Another day I booked an early hike up to the "Naríz del Indio" (Indian Nose), a hill with gorgeous views over Lake Atitlán from where we witnissed sunrise. The sunrise was fantastic, the colours
of the sky, the reflecion on the lake and the volcanoes in the background with smoke coming out of one of them: just magical!
My last stop was Guatemala City
, capital and largest city in Guatemala with about 4 million inhabitants. After the earthquake caused destruction in Antigua, Guatemala City was made the capital in 1776. Many tourists avoid the city due to its negative reputation of being dangerous. Yes, it is probably the "least safe" destination in Guatemala but still worth visiting for a day or two but of course you have to be alert! I stayed on walking distance of the "Plaza de la Constitución" which is the city's main square with a big fountain, where also the "Catedral Metropolitana del Apóstol Santiago de Guatemala" and the "Palacio Nacional" with a huge Guatemalan flag are located. The Palacio Nacional was built between 1939 and 1943 by president Jorge Ubico with Baroque architecture. It's a museum now, but is still used for the government's official ceremonies. You get a very good guided tour of the premises and it was very interesting!
Walk through the city centre, through Paseo de la Sexta, which is mostly a pedestrian
mall and is often busy! There are many things to be found in this area if you want to shop, and the prizes didn't seem too bad! If you want to have a local lunch and a local price, do not miss the Mercado Central! To get a broader insight of Guatemala's history I visited "Museo Nacional de la Historia". A very "different" site was the "Mapa de Relieve" (Relief Map). It is literally a big relief map of Guatemala, made in 1905 by president Manuel Estrada Cabrera. It is unique and as a Geography teacher I obviously found it extremely interesting! The map is pretty big so you have to walk around it to see the different parts of Guatemala. At certain points you can climb on a platform to get a better view from above.
Outside of the city centre I also visited the "posh" Ciudad Cayalá, a new area with shops, restaurants, a cinema, church, apartments and more. It is really like a new, little city. The fact that while Ciudad Cayalá is painted in white, makes it very particular. I went there with Jennifer, who I knew through Facebook since we are both huge fans of
The Amazing Race (Latin America edition).
Guatemala was, without a doubt, a gorgeous country I thoroughly enjoyed. So many things and sites and it's difficult to choose a favourite. And I'm aware of the fact that I spent just two weeks there and that there is still a lot more to be seen, but I got an excellent taste and variety of the country.
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