The first stop in Guatemala was on the way to Flores, the famous ruins in Tikal. The ruins were impressive and spread out over a big area to explore, with some still underground due to be excavated. You were able to climb up some of the ruins, which is often restricted in Mexico, but the one with the best view was reached climbing some stairs. The view was amazing, and it was nice to chill on the steps overlooking the jungle with the tops of the other temples rising above the trees.
Next stop was Flores, and we headed over the bridge to the island which was beautiful with cobblestoned roads similar to those of Trinidad, Cuba. I really liked Flores, and the hotel we stayed at had an incredible view of the Lake Petenitza. Michelle and I had the room on the highest floor in the corner with our windows and balcony looking out over the lake, it was so beautiful! One night we went on a little bar crawl and ended up on the wall next to the lake drinking our beers as two drunken men were fast asleep in the bar, hogging the tables and chairs.
We got an early morning bus to Rio Dulce and took a 5 minute boat ride to reach our Jungle Lodge Tixal. The little cabin rooms were built over the river and our keys had a floating keyring in case we dropped it into the lake, as everything was connected by the wooden bridge pathways. The swimming pool had such a pretty setting: the palapa in the background, two “hot tubs” at the side, and lined with green trees. We were all quick to jump in and enjoy the pool with some tasty cocktails. Mmmm. Strawberry Daquiri.
An early morning start took us on the boat across the river and into the Lake Izabal as we made our way to the waterfall of Finca Paraiso. The lake was so beautiful and picturesque, lined with mountains either side and it was a gorgeous day. The driver couldn’t speak English so I made friends with him speaking Spanish and he let me drive the boat woo. When we touched land we made a 30/40 minute walk through a really rural part of Guatemala to reach the waterfall. We walked past a couple of ranches, cows walking the deserted roads, chickens running in the garden, and the women washing their clothes in the river at every big stone. It was a really nice walk under the sun, and interesting to see how life is for some Guatemalans.
As soon as we caught sight of the waterfall, Astrid and I just screamed “Wooow” it was just so incredible! What an incredible waterfall with the hot river cascading down off the rocks to meet the cold river below. We were told about the waterfall before, and how the hot water meets the cold, but I never expected there to be such a difference in temperatures. We could see the steam coming from the waterfall, it was crazy! You can also see how steamy and hot it was from my pictures, as my camera was constantly fogging up. We had such a great time bathing in the hot waters, and going under the rock into a cave like formation to enjoy the natural sauna almost. An incredible, incredible place- so worth the trip.
I noticed a Guatemalan Senor, with a sombrero, so I asked him about the mud bath and where to find it…. He immediately jumped to his feet and started to put on his wellies as he pointed up the steep rock face showing us the most unlikely path. Astrid, Sarah and I decided to give it a go, clinging on to the roots of the trees as we passed the bat cave and made the vertical climb up to the top of the waterfall. Then we headed bare foot through the muddy jungle trail, avoiding the army ants, until we reached the natural hot bath at the top. The water was so hot that it almost burnt us, our legs were bright red, but the man reached to the side and handed us all a ball of clay which we then spread all over our bodies. Such a cool experience and after we made it back down to the cold river with the hot water flowing down onto us, we washed off the clay and admired our baby smooth skin. Amazing morning and we were able to enjoy this natural beauty to ourselves.
Another amazing boat ride followed, as we made our way to Livingston, where the Garifuna people from the Caribbean have settled. On the way we stopped off at a hot spring and at a little place in the lake full of waterlillies “Menufas” and three little girls in separate canoes were suddenly attached to our boat trying to sell things. The scenery was so impressive as the boat winded inbetween the towering mountains covered in trees. So green, and so beautiful. Livingston is a really nice place, and Michelle tried the traditional dish called Tapado which was a curry/soup base with crab, fish with the tail and head still attached, bananas and shrimps.
At 5:30 am we headed out at sunrise to kayak searching for howler monkeys and it was thunder and lightning the whole ride to the mangrove section in which they were hiding. We powered through and chilled to the gorilla sounds of the howler monkeys. Sweeeeet.
We headed to Antigua for a couple of days, the first place where the weather was slightly cooler and the city was so different to any other place I’ve been… It is a fairly small place where you can easily walk from place to place or take the little tuctuc taxis (the red three wheeled things which look like they came straight out of Asia.) Linked by the Central Plaza, the buildings surrounding the park are old and colonial style, which looked really similar to those in Merida. The difference being the impressive scenery which surrounds Antigua; the volcanoes and mountains just add that extra something special. A really beautiful place and cool to see the clouds settling on the volcano.
The days exploring Antigua involved checking out the ruins, which were left after an earthquake destroyed the city, visiting the markets, fixing my laptop charger at a repair shop, visiting the chocolate making factory, enjoying the chocolate fondue at the chocolate making factory and a really interesting visit to the Jade shop/Mayan museum.
On the way to Lake Atilan we took 5 chicken buses and broke the journey up by making a trip to Chichicastenango market which is only open two days a week. We spent around two hours having a look at the market stalls and there was everything you could imagine, mostly hand made crafts, purses and bags. Next destination: Panahachel.
The views of the lake were absolutely incredible. The most beautiful thing I have seen so far on this trip. Absolutely stunning! Lake Atitlan.
The next day we took a little boat across the beautiful lake which was surrounded by mountains and volcanoes to Casa del Mundo, for a delicious breakfast in the nicest surroundings. Afterwards, we made a 2 hour hike up and down the mountain, right on the edge of the cliff towards San Marcos. The route was stunning, and the upwards walks were pretty steep and left us breathless at times. Worth it though, and from San Marcos we took another little boat toward San Juan, on the other side of the lake. I really can’t describe the beauty of the lake and its surroundings, and the pictures don’t do it justice either… just beautiful.
We arrived in San Juan and were guided around by two little men to show us the traditions of the little town, in particular, the way of life for the women of San Juan. The town was packed full of art galleries with really nice and colourful paintings for sale. The women usually paint, deal with medicinal plants or weave. The clothes of the women were so colourful and traditional. Their long skirts with different patterns are tied up with a belt at the waist, with their blouse tucked in. We stopped off at a house where a group of 22 women are working together to save their traditions. One lady showed us how to make the cotton string balls from the cotton “leaves.” She then explained how they naturally dye the cotton from plants, vegetables and seeds of fruits. It was incredible how they get such vivid colours from boiling carrots and avocado seeds for example. Really interesting. Then she showed us how she uses the contraption to weave the strings to make rugs and scarves for example which takes about 7 or 15 days depending on the size. We then visited a medicinal garden where the women were growing different types of herbs which they passed round for us to smell, with an explanation of its uses.
The night in San Juan, Maddie, Michelle and I stayed with a family who welcomed us into their home, and we went with the little 8 year old girl to the school to play with the kids. I played basketball with different groups of kids and it was all really cute. We had little face paints for the kids and they were running around drawing on everyone’s faces little hearts and stars etc. We spent around 2 hours playing with the kids at their school. We came back to the house to find that the mum had prepared us a lovely traditional meal, fried chicken, rice, potatoe and a curry tomato style sauce. The family speak in Mayan usually which was cool. Interesting experience and it is really nice to see their whole town trying so hard to keep their culture and tradition.
Overall I loved my time in Guatemala, and the ruins, waterfalls, and Livingston were all incredible, however the highlight has to be the the sheer beauty of Lake Atitlan which I won’t forget in a long time.