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Guatemala
Submitted by Lincoln Yates (Catch22) March/April 2002

For those who have read the first part of our trip in Mexico, the first few paragraphs have been repeated

This was our first taste of Latin America its people music and wildlife, and I must say it was an amazing experience, we only had two months for this trip, but as usual time ran short and we had barely scratched the surface, so future trips are definitely on the cards.
Our trip started from Cancun through southern Mexico into Guatemala then onto Belize finishing back in Cancun a circular route that was to take approximately two months, we had originally planned to include Honduras but this was not to be, due to the lack of time.
This region is so diverse, with such a variety of interesting things to see and do - you won't be able to see it all unless you time is limitless, or you rush from place to place
So I suggest take it easy, enjoy today and see what tomorrow brings!!!

Before I begin I would like to mention that it is a good idea to have a little Spanish under your belt, as once you leave the confines of the cities not many speak English.
There are plenty of places in Guatemala to take a Spanish lessons ie Around Lake Atitlan, Antigua just to mention a few

As with all border crossings, it takes time and effort and a great deal of patients so just enjoy the experience, once across the border life becomes slower and obviously less westernised, transport is by old buses not the air con coaches we had been used to in Mexico.

Huehuetenango

For travellers, this small town really is just a resting point after the journey and border crossing from Mexico.
We stayed in one of the cheap Hotels we happened to come across, which was very basic, just somewhere to rest our heads.
After an early start and breakfast, we boarded a local bus headed for Los Encuentros where we change buses for our next destination Panajachel nicknamed Gringotenango (place of the foreigners) on the shores of Lake Atitlan, this beautiful lake which in itself is a collapsed volcanic cone is surrounded by towering volcanos.
The views from the bus as you wind your way down to the lake are stunning. Panajachel is a busy little town, has a market selling handy crafts etc, from here we headed across the lake to San Pedro la laguna.

San Pedro La Laguna

From the jetty we headed up the cobbled street towards the other side of the town to a beautiful little hotel called Hospedaje San Francisco. We had a double with bath and a little balcony overlooking the Lake, all this for 2.00 per person per night (fantastic).
Thermal Pool On the journey to Atitalan we had met up with other travellers headed in the same direction and had become friends. We all stayed in San Francisco, and over the next few days became very close. There are many good restaurants serving fresh lake fish (watch for the bones) also a video or two can be watched followed by live entertainment in some of the bars. There is even a restaurant that has a thermal pool, it is a solar heated pool and therefore only used in the evening, but must be booked in advance. Had some good partys, in and around the thermal pool !!!!!!!.
You can hire canoes, climb the local volcanoes's, take a Spanish course, or even join one of the meditation schools. We thought it was time to improve our language skills and embarked on a Spanish course, (4 hours a day)
The days spent around Atitalan were lazy, very enjoyable and time seemed to fly by, 10 days later we where still here, we had stayed too long but kept putting off our departure "just one more day" why move when so much fun was to be had?
Eventually we left the beauty of the Lakeside and headed for the city of Antigua (approx 80 km away).

Antigua

Is one of the oldest and I think one of the most beautiful cities in Central America, at a height of approx 1530m it is surrounded again by volcanoes, some very active.
There are plenty of places to stay catering for all budgets, I can't remember on this occasion where we stayed, it was basic, clean and cheap. The restaurants and bars were excellent, the city had a vibrant feel to it, and once again we did not have enough time to explore all of it, one trip we did do and would recommend, is to visit the Live Volcano Pacaya!!

Volcano de Pacaya 3500m

Volcano Pacaya We booked the day trip with a local agency called "Centramericana Tourist service" on Calle Poniente. You had to make your way to the office on the day of the trip, the tour included transportation, an experienced guide and also security by the national police, this was because of a spate of muggings that had taken place on the trail.
The trail starts at San Francisco de Sales , and climbs gradually up and up through various terrain, the views are spectacular, and the plumes of smoke coming out of the cone make it very exciting and also a little worrying, especially when you see signs telling you to be aware of falling rock that may be spewed out of the mouth of the volcano at any time.
Eventually you reach the cone which looks a lot harder than it is, so don't be put off as my girlfriend was, her exact words where "ill never make it up there" but she did and loved it
The final ascent to the top of the cone is like walking up sand dunes, two steps forward one back, your shoes laden with volcanic dust and stones.
The summit at 3500 is something else, and looking into the scorched mouth at all the bubbling red hot magma is fantastic, but viewing is not as easy as it sounds.
To avoid suffocating or burning your eyes you must get your timing right, wait until a plume of smoke comes bellowing out, which is quite regular, then hold your breath and peak inside, if you get a whiff of the plume or get it in your eyes you will most certainly know about it !!!!!!!!!!.. But what an awesome experience to be at this height and on the top of a live volcano.
The trek down the volcanoes was like skiing, and quite exhilarating, and before you know it you are back on the bus, and heading home.

Puerto Barrios

From Antigua we boarded a local bus and headed NW to a Puerto Barros, the reason for this was we wanted to get a boat to Livingstone the Garifuna capital, There are no roads in the only way is by boat.
The boat leaves every day from Muelle Municipal and takes about 2 - 3 hours, it can get quite rough as we found out on the day as the swell of one to two metres, broadsided the boat, Karen did not like this at all.

Livingstone

is very different from the rest of Guatemala, it has a African Carabean feel to it, more like Belize and very laid-back. Reggae was playing out loud at most establishments, we decided to stay a couple of days, it is only a small place and quite easily to find your way round.
The beaches are not brilliant, you have to walk quite a way to find a decent place to sunbathe. There is a lovely waterfall with a great swimming hole about 6km along the beach and well worth the effort
Livingstone is a very interesting experience, and worth the effort, most people spoke both English and Spanish and were very friendly.
The trip out of Livingstone, was by a long speed boat, and the journey up the Rio Dolce was fantastic. Surrounded by towering cliffs, mangroves and tropical jungle, we stopped several times to swim. One place had a mix of thermals which heated the water and was like swimming in a warm bath. The cost to get from Livingstone to Rio Dolce was around $8 - very reasonable.

Rio Dolce

We did not want to stay in the town here as it was crowded and dirty so we headed towards the lake in the back of a pick up truck, which was the local bus There did not seem to be many places to stay on the lake shore, but eventually we found a small family run guest house.
At the entrance to Lake Izabal is the beautiful Castillo de San Felipe built in 1651 this castle was built to stop constant attacks by Pirates in the Gulf of Mexico and incursions into Guatemala through the Rio dolce
We had a pleasant few days exploring the area and swimming in the lake. Our next stop was to be another beautiful lake called Lago de Peten Itza and the town of Flores.

Flores

is built on a island in the lake connected by a bridge. The town itself has some pretty churches and narrow cobbled streets with numerous restaurants and small hotels. Some of the best restaurants are on the lake shore.
The main reason for our vist was to organize a trip to Tikal, the ruins are situated in the midst of the vast "National Park of Tikal". Lush and beautiful the towering pyramids rise above green canopy, it is a truly awe inspiring place, peaceful yet full of bird and animal sounds.
The highest temple is a staggering 44m tall and the panoramic views across the jungle are something else. Be careful climbing this mammoth structure, as several people have fallen and badly hurt themselves.
I have to say it was the best and largest ruins we had encountered, the area of the city is about 15 square kilometres and most of the plaza's have been cleared and its temples restored, but you still get a feel that there is much more to be uncovered.
A full day was spent exploring the area, but this was not enough, it is such a large area.
At the time of our visit there was a large army presence, this was due to a fate of muggings and attacks. Time was drawing to an end, and we booked our next leg of the journey by tourist mini bus - all the way to the city of Belize
so with great sorrow we left Guatemala and headed for some R & R on one of the islands of Belize

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