Once we completed the Belize - Guatemala border formalities, we picked up a Guatemalan sim card for the phone, filled up on reasonably priced Guatemalan gas (Regular Gas in Belize is approx. US$ 1.32 per litre, CDN $1.80 per litre) and headed straight for the ancient Mayan city of Tikal.
The ancient city of Tikal is located in the Tikal National Park which covers 575 sq km. of jungle.
The city flourished between 200 AD and 850 AD, contains over 3000 structures, including Temple IV, the tallest Pre Colombian structure in the Americas.
A hotel parking lot would be the campground for the night but the sleep would be short as we headed into the ancient city at 4:00 am to catch the sunrise and the jungle coming alive.
The morning was overcast so the sunrise wasn’t great but watching and listening to the monkeys and birds of the jungle wake up was surreal.
From Tikal we headed to the small island town of Flores located in Lake Petén Itzá.
It was then down the East side of Guatemala to the Rio Dulce and a beautiful boat trip down the river to the Garifuna town of Livingston on the Caribbean coast.
Back in Rio Dulce we took time to explore the Castillo de San Felipe, a 17th Century fort that was built to protect Lake Izabel from pirate attacks.
From Rio Dulce we headed west and an overnight stop at Finca el Paraiso and the nearby hot springs.
It was then a “short cut” up and over the mountains to the natural pools of Semuc Champey.
Rain and fog added to the excitement of this steep, winding, slippery, single track journey completing the 120 kilometers in an efficient 7 hours.
Semuc Champey consists of stepped turquoise pools. Absolutely stunning and refreshing after the crazy drive.
The next couple days we enjoyed splashing in the pools and climbing up to the Mirador viewpoint of Semuc Champey.
...and we found an all-you-can-eat lunch of some of the best fried chicken we've ever had.
The weather cooperated the day we headed out of Semuc Champey making for less mud and a slightly less stressful drive out.
We traveled through the town of Coban and Uspantan on our way to the traditional city of Nebaj stopping to camp for the night at the roadside restaurant of Don Canche.
The town of Nebaj was our jumping off point for our hike to the traditional village of Cocup. A tiny, beautiful mountain village, Cocup is one of many Mayan communities with a horrific past.
Dating from the mid sixties until a peace accord was signed in 1996 the civil war included the systemic destruction of over 400 Mayan villages and massacre of Mayan civilians as part of the Government’s counter insurgency operations and may have left as many as 200,000 Mayans dead.
From Nebaj we headed to the town of Chichicastenango and what is known as the largest open air market in Central America.
For three days we camped in the parking lot of the hotel Mayan Inn.
Two of those days we were all alone.
...On day three (Sunday market day) everyone arrived.
The market is partly open all week but Thursdays and Sundays it really fires up.
From Chichicastenango we were off to Lago Atitlan and the hippie village San Marcos La Laguna where we would park it at the best camp site of the trip and settle in for two weeks of Spanish classes.
The drive down into the lakeside village of San Marcos La Laguna was once again “charming”!
Very steep, single track switchbacks (24 of them) with big ass buses appearing out of nowhere coming from the other direction.
Many that do this trip need to stop and let their brakes cool on the way down.
Not the first time we were very pleased with our decision to get the heavy duty truck that can handle all the weight we have piled in the back.
But the drive was worth it.
From the gorgeous views of our campsite, to the laid back vibe of the lakeside villages to the hellish drive to get back out, it’s easy to see why people come to Lago Atitlan and stay for a very long time.
….it was soon time to move on and head to Guatemala City.
If you like big, hectic, noisy cities (and we do) Guatemala City does not disappoint.
It is the biggest city in Central America and like it or not has all of the North American brands mixed in with Guatemalan culture.
The first thing we did was go for pizza.
It also has a ton of history and tradition.
We were in Guatemala city during Semana Santa (Easter Week) which meant many sites were closed but we did get to view a few of the many processions around the city.
Every town in Guatemala, even the capital has a guy with a crew of goats walking around selling fresh milk right out of the teat.
From Guatemala City it was a short trip over to Antigua, our last town in Guatemala for a week of enjoying the historic colonial city, climbing Pacaya volcano, drinking fantastic coffee, sampling food from the varied international community and catching the odd Leaf and Raptor playoff game in the many watering holes around town. Big Thanks to Andrew at the Bullseye Pub for tracking down our games.
Pacaya Volcano last erupted in 2014 creating a 4 km lava field. Smoke continues to spew from it today.
Roasting marshmallows in a hole in the ground of the lava field. Apparently liquid hot magma is found 10 meters below our feet.
Muchas Gracias to Guatemala for a fantastic visit. Next stop...El Salvador.