We took a bus from Belize City to Flores, Guatemala. A tiny city-island on a lake connected by a bridge. It admittedly looks way cooler from some kind of aerial view, which is not available to a budget backpacker with both feet firmly planted in the ground. It was our base to do some trekking in the area though.
We immediately booked a tour to do a sunrise tour of Tikal the next morning. We got up at 3 or some ungodly hour like that, got on our shuttle, and made the trek through the ruins and up the famous temple.
Tikal is cool. The hype was worth it. And since we got up super early we beat most of the traffic, although there was another group of people doing a sunrise tour.
The next day we started what would be a five day trek through jungle to a different set of Mayan ruins, El Mirador. The ruins at El Mirador are some of the oldest Mayan ruins, and the largest temple, La Danta, is one of the biggest pyramids in the world. Bigger in volume than any of the Egyptian pyramids. And nobody has ever heard of it!
The trip entailed two full days of hiking to the ruins, a day visiting them, then two full days hiking back out of the jungle. The hiking wasn’t extremely strenuous, but the mud was thick. I was wearing my beloved Chacos, and my feet were slipping and sliding inside the straps. It was bad. The mud was unavoidable. The mosquitos were relentless. But we did have a mule to carry our shit, so all in all it was one of the easiest multi-day hikes I’ve ever done!
One of the coolest thing about this hike was that we didn’t see any other tourists. When we reached the campsite on the second night, there was another small group, but they left in the morning and since we camped in a different location we never even spoke to them. So besides the brief moment of walking past their campsite on the second day, for five days straight, it was just MJ, our guide, and me, traipsing through Guatemalan jungle in search of ancient ruins.
When we got out of the jungle on the fifth day, the beer tasted so. good. We headed back to Flores to, most importantly, wash our clothes. Then, we were off to…
Semuc Champey is kind of in the middle of nowhere. The bus drops you off in Lanquín after what I thought was a pretty bad road. Then we piled 18 of us into the back of a 4x4 truck, with me and another guy literally hanging out the back, and made our way another 45 minutes to our hostel, just in front of Semuc Champey National Park.
The attraction is along the river, where there are a series of waterfalls and pools.
We made our way down to Antigua, a beautiful colonial town nestled between several volcanoes.
We spent almost a month here. We lived in a homestay with a family (actually two, we switched family’s after a week to get a family with more interaction). Our host family was so sweet. They had a daughter who turned 15 while we were there, and we went to her birthday party. In Latin America, the 15th birthday is the most important birthday (more so than 16 in the US), and they throw a huge party. It was a lot of fun.
I took two weeks of 1 on 1 Spanish classes, which was fun. Although at this point I could easily carry on conversation, I had pretty much self-taught up until this point, so it was nice to have someone I could ask questions.
We also took two weeks of salsa classes. I ended up kind of hating our instructor, which was a bummer, but we got pretty damn good at it, if I do say so myself!
The Volcano Acatenango
At the end of our stay in Antigua we decided to climb the volcano Acatenango. It’s a two day hike, where you camp near the top, then get up at about 4AM to make it to the top and watch the sunrise. The views were incredible.
The day after Halloween is a big celebration in Guatemala. Everyone goes to the cemeteries and decorates the tombs. The cemeteries are basically a big, colorful party. They also make and fly huge kites. We went to one of the biggest festivals in Sumpango to enjoy the event.
I got to reunite with Mario and Tirza, whom I worked with in Cancún. They were working at a hostel in San Marcos La Laguna at the time. So we spent 5 days chilling out on the lake. I loved it here. If we hadn’t just spent almost a month in Antigua I probably would have stayed here awhile to relax.
The next place we went was Quetzaltenango, or Xela (pronounced Shayla) as everyone calls it, presumably because Quetzaltenango is too difficult to say. It’s Guatemala’s second largest city. Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, but I felt quite at home during our limited stay. At 2380m (7800 feet), it’s at an even higher elevation than Antigua, and it was pretty damn chilly at night. I loved it–it felt like Autumn!
Central American capitals are, well, usually not worth going to if you’re on a time-budget. But, we weren’t, so we went. I actually enjoyed it. Barely any tourists, so it felt more real. We went to a couple of cool museums on Guatemalan history. We were pretty much too afraid to be out after about 7PM so we didn’t get into too much trouble!
That’s about it for Guatemala. I highly recommend it if you get a chance to go to Central America!
Penned on December 29, 2015 by Kevin Sweet.