Guatemala, Part 2 of 3, May to August 2019
Guatemala Road Trip Part 2 of 3
1–7 July 2019: Antigua – 3 hrs from Lake Atitlan, by shuttle bus. Our hotel, Casa Cristina was centrally located and relatively cheap for Antigua at Q280 (£28) per night. Antigua was Guatemala’s colonial capital for 200 years until an earthquake in 1773 ended that reign. Many of the buildings have been restored. The small city is surrounded by volcanoes Agua at 3760 metres, Acatenango at 3976 metres and Fuego, still active, at 3763 metres.
Agua Volcano and Santa Catalina Arch
Market - Mercado de Artisenias Santa Catalina Arch
I was loaned scarves and shawls to ‘cover up’ in order to enter a sacred church with tombs.
Both Ken and I had been poorly, suffering with unsettled stomachs, since visiting San Pedro and none of the off the shelf medication was working. Ken was particularly poorly, totally drained, unable to leave the hotel. We decided to get a local laboratory to analyse our ‘samples’ (Q50, £5) followed by a visit to the doctor (Q30, £3). Ken had picked up two particularly nasty strains of parasites that were well established and I, one strain. Apparently in Guatemala ‘one’ is lucky if ‘one’ is not affected by these intruders! Prescribed medication Q450 (£45) each!!
8-11 July: Our next destination was Quetzaltenango, in the Western Highlands, otherwise known as Xela, pronounced ‘shella’. 4 hours in a shuttle bus from Antigua. We stayed in a hostel, Kasa Kamelot at £75 for 4 nights! So cheap compared with the UK. The town wasn’t particularly nice, unlike Antigua, but the main purpose of our visit here was to climb the highest point in Central America, Volcano Tajumulco at 4202 metres.
Xela Central Parque
View point close to the town, Panorama Y Mirador (the walk up to assist with our adjustment to the high altitude of Tajumulco Volcano recommended by Quetzaltrekkers, with whom we’d arranged our climb).
We met at Quetzaltrekkers (a voluntary organisation where monies raised from their various tours go towards the local school for underprivileged children) to pack our rucksacks with loaned items of warm clothing, water, food, mats, tents, first aid kit and torches. The following day we departed at 0530 having been fed coffee and banana bread. First leg was a taxi to the bus terminal where we had a breakfast of rice, beans and papaya. Then we took two chicken buses (Camioneta) to the foot of the volcano. That was an experience in itself.
1.5 hours on a brightly coloured converted school bus, luggage thrown on the roof, crammed with locals sitting three or four to a seat, trying to avoid the back seats and being thrown around the corners at speed!!
After just an hour into the uphill trek Ken and I were both unexpectedly really struggling, even with frequent stops and snail like pace. The climb was steep and we were concerned we wouldn’t reach the summit before dark. Our guide gave us the option to camp at a plateau half way, but the rain had set in, visibility disappeared and we were feeling rough, clearly not recovered from our recent illness, so we made the sensible decision to abandon mission and return to base. Even the decent was a painful struggle. The chicken bus rides back seemed to take forever and were even more crammed, so it was a great relief, even with the extreme disappointment hanging over us, to offload the gear and be back in our hostel, lying horizontal. Ken slept for 17 hours!
12-15 July: A return trip to Antigua was a necessity in order to have our post medication samples analysed for any remaining unwanted critters; thankfully both were clear! With lots to see and do in Antigua we stayed for another four days.
Santa Domingo Hotel Sculpture Park
16-21 July: Lanquin. 10 hrs by shuttle bus, including two stops and a bus change, but as soon as we arrived at El Retiro Lodge the tedious journey was forgotten.
We ate, most nights, the restaurant’s themed buffet style meal, cheap, plentiful, tasty and sociable, chatting to other ‘backpackers’ about their adventures and gaining knowledge of the dos and don’ts.
Below: Lanquin village, a pleasant mile walk away.
A visit to the Bat Cave where literally thousands of bats exit the cave just before sunset for their mosquito/insect supper. Sadly no photos of this spectacular event, just of the cave!
From Lanquin we took a tour to Semuc Champay, famous for its natural monument, a 300m limestone bridge under which passes the Cahabon River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped turquoise pools.
Before walking up to the Mirador and swimming in the glorious pools we took a candle lit walk deep inside a cave.
Following the cave we had fun on the large river swing
Cahabon River before the pools Beautiful views of the pools from the Mirador
Our first introduction to ziplining was just a couple of miles from the lodge.