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Published: February 23rd 2012
After a wonderful stay in Mexico, I took a shuttle van to Xela, the first big city across the border from Mexico in the north east highlands of Guatemala. The trip itself led us through several mountainous areas, with winding roads and spectacular views. The border crossing was easy and without hassle, except for the fact that we were told that further down, the road was blocked caused by a landslide and we'd to wait for a couple of hours for the van pick us up from Guatemala side. Luckily the waiting was less then an hour, shorter then they'd told us.
Upon arrival I tried to get some cash from the Cajero Automatico (atm), without success. After having tried several atms with my Visa and debit card, I gave up and borrowed some money from Colm, who was on the same bus. From the Black Cat Hostel, my base in Xela's colonial city center, I explored its surroundings with Colm and Rene and Elliott, a couple of guys I'd met in the hostel. We took a chicken bus to a rural village named Zunil and wondered around town and walked up hill through the fields to
see the view of the village and the valley. After seeing an amazingly located graveyard with great views all around the valley, we chartered a pickup, who took us to the Funetes Georginas Hot springs half an hour uphill in the cloud forest. There we'd enjoyed the steaming hot baths for a couple of hours. One bath was so hot, no one could even manage to stick in a toe. In the evening we went to a local football match. The Superchivos (Xela) were playing a rival city in the professional Guatemalan league. This was my third soccer match I visited in my life! Santa Maria Volcano
Xela is surrounded by a couple volcanoes, amongst them the highest in Central America, the Tajamulco. Instead of doing the relatively easy climb up the Tajamulco I decided to climb the more difficult Santa Maria volcano up to 3772m. We started before sunrise and during the easy first hour we already had some good views on Xela covered in a misty blanket. The last few hours to the top were intense and tiring. I had to stick to my own tempo and "listen" to my breathing in order not to get
overheated. At the summit the views were fantastic. Because there were no clouds, we could see the Tajamulco in the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west and to the east we could see the mountain ranges and the volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan and even Antigua. The highlight of the hike was seeing the eruption of the lower active part of the volcano. For me it was the first time I saw a volcano in action and we were standing on it! Lago de Atitlan
My next stop was Lago Atitlan, the deepest lake in Central America surrounded by three volcanoes. With Nadine from France, who I'd met in our hostel, we took a 5 hour chicken bus ride to the lake. This was my first chicken bus journey, which was an adventure by itself. The crowded bus worked its way through the highlands and especially the descend towards the lake was exciting. While taking sharp turns, the bus was creaking as if it could fall apart any moment.
At the lake in the village of San Pedro de Atitlan we checked in a hostel with a lake view balcony. On the first day we rented some
kayaks and explored the lake, seeing the volcanoes and villages from a different perspective. The second day we took the local water taxi across the lake to visit the villages of San Marcos, Santa Cruz and Panajachel. In San Marcos we found the perfect swimming spot, where you could dive from the rock, 7-8 meters high, with the volcanoes and the lake in the background scenery. The last day we climbed the San Pedro volcano. This much easier climb brought us to the top from where we had stunning views of the lake, although the weather was a bit cloudy. Antigua
I liked Antigua, even though it seems to be a very touristic place. Which is quite understandable, because the colonial town is in perfect shape and its location is beautifully located on the foot the Agua Volcano. After our arrival early afternoon, we went to Cerro Cruz, from where we had a good view over Antigua and the Agua Volcano in the background. Nadine, heading for El Salvador left me the next day, so I had walked and explored Antigua on my own. I wondered around amongst old churches and historical ruins and visited the Santa Domingo
view point west of town. Chichicastenango
During my stay in Antigua, I choose to visit he biggest Mayan market in Central America in Chichicastenango for a day trip. I didn't want to go on an organized tour, because it limits you in your freedom and it is way more expensive. The trip to Chichi is an adventure by itself. I took a 6 am local chicken bus and had to switch 2 times before I got to the market 3 hours later. In the outer more touristy part of the market they sell handicrafts and Mayan embroideries. In the middle I saw mostly traditional dressed woman buying their products from the fresh market, where I had arroz con leche (an anis flavoured rice drink). Semuc Champey
With a hangover from my last night in Antigua, I took the shuttle bus to Lanquin, the base to visit the Seymuc Champey cascades. I wanted to stay at the highly recommended Zephyr lodge, but when I called them, they were already fully booked. Most of the people in the bus went to El Retiro, where they had only one room left, which I shared with Ben from England. The
next day I went on the famous tour to the waterfalls. Upon arrival, we first jumped from huge rope swing into the river, followed by an hour long walk through a cave river (climbing into a waterfall and swimming only lit by the candles given to us). When we finished our packed lunch, I jumped from a 10 meter high bridge into the river. Filled with adrenaline we went for a short but though hike up to a viewpoint, from where we could see the different blue and green colours of the naturally formed pools of the Champey cascades, where we would spend the rest of the afternoon, swimming and relaxing. Tikal
My last stop in Guatemala before entering Belize was Flores, home base for visiting the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. Flores is a small tranquil village connected to shore with a bridge in the lake of Petén. Most of the people I had met in Semuc Champey were on the same bus to Flores. I hanged out with Hernan and Stephanie and the next day we went to Tikal, 90 minutes away from Flores. We took a 04.30 bus, and arrived just after sunset. During the
entire trip it was raining like crazy, but luckily the rain stopped just as we were entering the park. We didn't book a guide, nevertheless we hooked up with the English guide, who didn't seem to mind. We didn't only climbed and saw some amazing Mayan ruins, we also got to see some wild life such as, Toucans, Howling and Spider monkeys, an apparently rare Mexican ant eater and several other small mammals.
After an active stay in wonderful Guatemala, next will be chilling the beaches of Belize.
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