Guatemala began in its border with Belize. It felt like going back to Mexico. The eastern part of the country feels like a mixture of Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula. The most noticeable difference: thicker tortillas. The region is very Mayan and the language, dialects, and accents reminded us of the dear-ol’ Yucatan.
We arrived in the main town of the region, Flores, which is on an lake island. It has a strong colonial taste and has vivid narrow stone streets, bars and hostels. Our hostel was no different and enjoyed cheap beers at the bar.
From Flores we took a 2 h shuttle to Tikal. The tourists from the bus included two particular girls. Young and stupid, probably in their early 20s. They were fully glazed in makeup and talked like with a potato in their mouths–a Swiss and a US-American. We had been warned several times in advance that a passport and enough cash were of utter importance for the excursion to Tikal. Guess who did not have cash and wanted to pay the entry fee with a card? Yes, the not-so-bright girls. Not long after stopping to pay the entry fee, the girls’ potato-filled chit-chat turned into an “it’s not my fault, it’s your fault!” tantrum scene. Along with white privilege phrases like “I’ll complain to your supervisor” and “I’m leaving bad reviews”, the girls unsuccessfully threatened the poor tour guide who was about to leave them there at their mercy in the entrance. About an hour later, the bus took off with a very pissed older German couple and the girls on board after the driver had lent them money on promises of paying back on their return. The older German guy did not miss the chance of letting the Swiss girl know how stupid she was when he learned that she was Swiss–“Du dummes Weib!”–he said. After a short exchange of unpleasant phrases, the Swiss girl went back to her seat next to her US-American friend and stayed quiet for the rest of the drive.
Tikal was gorgeous. It reminded us of Coba in Quintana Roo, but bigger. The howling monkeys also gave us a nice experience with their never-ending howling.
Back in Flores, we took that same day the night bus to Guatemala city. The bus picked us up next to the hostel and drove to the central bus station where it waited about 20 min before departing to Guatemala city. At the central bus station of Flores, Olga lifts my carry-on backpack and asks me if my laptop was inside because it was very light. Oh-oh! Of course, I forgot it at the hostel and had 15 minutes to go get it before the bus left. I ran out to grab a taxi to go back to Flores Island and got delayed by some “posadas”-like festivities that were taking place on the island. Amidst the confusion, the taxi dropped me off a couple of blocks away and told me to pay on my return because he was going to wait. I came back with my laptop to the corner where I had been dropped off, but the taxi was gone. I had to run a couple of blocks to the main street to find another taxi and get to the station. With less than 5 minutes left for departure, I got back to the bus where Olga met me with relief.
We contacted through our friend Oscar, a friend of his who lives in Guatemala city and arranged to get picked up at the bus station at 7 am. We had the bad luck of no traffic during the trip and arrived two hours early to Guatemala City, at 5 am. Without internet and means of communicating with Jorge (Oscar’s friend), we had to wait until 7 am at the station. He picked us up, drove around Guatemala City as part of a quick tour and then took us to his house. During the drive, and with his suggestions, we made plans for the rest of our stay in Guatemala. First Lake Atitlan, then Antigua Guatemala and the Acatenango Volcano.
Public transportation in Guatemala is based on “camionetas” which are chicken buses or “guajoloteros” in Mexican Spanish. They are mostly pimped US school buses. Below you can see some pictures because it is hard to describe them. Jorge dropped us off at the bus stop and waited with us for the right bus to go to Atitlan. The bus arrived, he gave us his blessing, and off we went to “Los Encuentros” where we were supposed to change bus. These buses are a high-adrenaline experience. They drive over 100 km/h on very curvy mountain roads to the point where the driver has to hold himself from the window and grab the steering wheel with one hand while turning.
Unfortunately, fast driving was not the strongest experience of the ride. After different kinds of people asking or begging for money playing guitar, rapping or just with children and a sad face, two guys in their early or mid-twenties stood up, pulled a gun out, and shouted: “this is a robbery, lower your heads and hand in your wallets!”. Olga did not get it at first and thought it was just another act, but I pulled her down and explained to her it was for real. The robber proceeded by the one with the gun watching over the bus, and the other one going row by row taking the money out of the wallets and putting it into a bag. Luckily, we were on the back of the bus and had the time to take most of our money out of our wallets and leaving some local Quetzal bills so it does not look mysterious. By the time the raider got to our row, he seemed to be in a hurry. He quickly checked Olga’s pants without finding anything and missing the point that her wallet was in her fanny pack. Half pissed proceeded on checking me and got relieved by finding my wallet on my back pocket with the approximate amount of 20 USD in Quetzales, plus 3 one dollar bills. He took the Quetzales and threw my wallet and the 3 one dollar bills to the floor. We found very odd his lack of interest in the dollars. Soon after he signaled the driver that they were getting off and left without taking the money from the bus. Apparently, the chicken buses in Guatemala are a big mafia, and not even robbers dare taking their money. Still in shock, we got off the bus in “Los Encuentros”, and fortunately had the money we were able to hide to take the next bus to Atitlan.
The Atitlan lake is said to have some mystical powers. Enclosed by volcanoes and with majestic clear deep blue waters, it accommodates in its shore a handful of isolated towns. We stayed in Panajachel, the biggest easiest reachable town. The town offers a touristic beach-like atmosphere and dozens of tours to the lake and its surroundings. There are also public shuttle boats to reach different towns across the lake. We stayed for the night and the next morning we to the boat shuttle to San Marcos. San Marcos is a hidden town for yoga, spiritualism, self-exploration and medicinal psychoactive plants. One can do all kinds of healing and spiritual retreats–from ayahuasca to san pedro.
La Antigua Guatemala is the old Capital of Guatemala. A set of strong earthquakes in the 1700s led to the relocation of the capital city to the actual Guatemala city. However, many inhabitants refused to relocate and stayed in Antigua. Most of the colonial ruins are still standing because now reconstruction was ordered. This gives a particularly nice taste to the city.
We stayed in the cheapest hostel that we found online, but ended up being a perfect pick. The hostel was also the central office of CA Travelers, a travel agency that offers the best Acatenango hiking tours.
Acatenango and the Volcan de Fuego
Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego are twin volcanoes less than 3km apart, with the particularity of Volcan de Fuego being active and Acatenango inactive. Because of this, one can hike the Acatenango and have an incredible view of the Volcan de Fuego. Many agencies sell the Acatenango hike tour for less than 100 USD, but without any doubt, the bests are CA Travelers. The tour consists of one long hike the first day, camping at the 3700m high basecamp and hiking to the 4000m summit before dawn. During the night at the basecamp, one can see hear and feel the continuous explosions of Mr. Fuego. The next morning, the summit is reached just before dawn in order to experience a magical sunrise competing with Mr. Fuego for the spotlight.
Thanks to Jorge, our friend and Guatemala host