El Paredon – Antigua – Hobbitenango – Atitlan – Chicicastenango – Lake Izabal-Livingston- Rio Dulce – Jungle – Flores – Tikal
We travelled for a month all over Guatemala, from Pacific to the Caribbean and everywhere in-between. From around 38 degrees in El Paredon to using a thick blanket in Chici, Guatemala gave us everything: all kinds of weather, all sorts of landscapes, millions of colours, two food poisonings but also some of the best food we ever tried, many many crazy roads and tons of amazing people and experiences. Our Guatemalan adventure started at its Pacific coast, in a small surfer village called El Paredon. This place was daaaaamnnn hot and did not allow for more than being lazy in hammocks watching the sea. Watching the sea was the only option involving the sea because the waves there were absolutely huge and violent, difficult to master even for experienced swimmers (which is not me). Three days of beautiful black sand, impressive waves and beautiful sunsets were enough and we decided to move to higher lands where the temperatures are bearable.
Off we went to Antigua Guatemala, probably the most beautiful city we have seen on this trip. Antigua used to be a capital of the country but, it being surrounded by impressive (and active!) volcanoes did a lot of damage to the city at some point in history. It was, however, rebuilt and stands beautifully surrounded by volcanoes offering tons of pretty cafés, restaurants, nature tours, volcano climbing adventures and simply relaxing strolls through its beautiful streets. No, we did not climb the volcano to see the impressive Fuego erupting – we only had broken sandals and summer clothes, not to mention only as much energy at this point to let ourselves go on a what many people describe as “one of the hardest things you’ll do in life.” So climbing the Acatenango volcano is now on our “to do list” (after getting a little more fit LOL). Temperature in Antigua was perfect and we slept very well in our van, on a parking lot of a hostel. Antigua is also great for shopping, full of colourful markets selling traditional clothes that almost all women in Guatemala wear. This makes people watching activity so much more interesting, you can’t stop admiring their masterfully embroidered and colourful outfits. Of course I got some of those outfits myself (and was dressed by Guatemaltecas themselves).
Some 5-10 kilometers uphill from Antigua, the narrow and curvy (sometimes scary) roads will bring you to a fun village called Hobbitenango. Its name says already what the village is about 🙂 We had loads of fun visiting little hobbit houses and enjoyed the views over Antigua and the surrounding mountains before heading to Lake Atitlan, one of the spots I was most excited about to see.
We had a very adventourous road to reach Lake Atitlan. It’s as beautiful as it is scary at some point; some parts are really really steep while others indicate signs such as “bridge does not exist, cross the river.” We first thought it was a joke but not at all; the sign was very honest. Rusty did not disappoint though and crossed the river like a champ. We arrived to Atitlan right at the sunset and had this magnificent view of the lake and surrounding volcanoes.
But Atitlan was not really what we expected it to be. It was beautiful and magical, yes, but people kept pushing us to buy things (and sure enough we did, mostly because we wanted to help a family owning a small business), we got loads of warnings about bandidos on the road, and then I also got a food poisoning which made us book a hotel and stay in the room (well, close to a toilet LOL) at all times for one entire day. It was beautiful and it was fun trying on the traditional Guatemaltecan clothes but we decided to move on to a calmer place to recover some more. And we found just the perfect spot in a city whose name is complicated to pronounce – Chichicastenango. That’s why everyone calls it simply Chichi.
Chichi is especially visited on Sundays when all the city center streets become one huge market where one can buy basically everything and enjoy watching the crowds walking through labyrints of beautiful handicrafts. We had a fun day exploring the market but we had even more fun staying in a beautiful camping spot that gave us the best sleep we had in a while. Chichi is on nearly 2000m altitude which makes it significantly colder than other places in Guatemalan flats. It was around 16 degrees at night and we took our blanket out to sleep and it was a comfy feeling we did not have for a while. We stayed 5 days in this place, enjoying home-made food, hot shower, talking to Luis – a kind young man that manages the camping spot, making fire, playing cards, playing guitar and singing, and observing Mayan rituals that happened daily right next to our van.
Now that we were well rested and experienced cold weather, we were ready to continue and explore Guatemala’s jungle and all those other HOT places. We headed to Rio Dulce and the huge Lake Izabal before travelling to other places accessible only by water. That meant that we would suffer the heat again, but we could park Rusty right at the lake which was our only refreshment even though the lake water was super warm. In Rio Dulce we met Mario, the manager of the camping spot, and his son Isac who came for a chat every day, took us on boat ride and taught us how to fish with a net. We cooked a Peruvian dinner for them not only to thank them for their kindness but because the food always tastes better when shared. Also, some great hair days happened here and I felt like a lioness. LOL
Mario and Isac took us across the lake on their fishing boat so that we can catch our next ride to Livingston, a small village on the Guatemalan Caribbean accessible by boat only, special for its Garifuna culture. Garifuna people are a beautiful mix of African, indigenous American and Caribbean cultures that gave us not only great vibes but also one of the best meals we ever had called “tapado” – a kind of fish/seafood soup cooked in coconut milk with some herbs that, they told us, remain a secret. We will try to recreate the recipe but we do know that it will never taste the same as the one we had surrounded by smiling women and served on the terrace of a small family restaurant.
The way to Livingston was a beautiful journey through a fifty-shades-of-green breathtaking jungle. We were excited to stay in a small cabin at the beach that we found on Booking, but, as it turned out, some things on this website can be a little deceiving.
So, Livingston gave us mixed-up feelings. Garifuna culture is beautiful, food even more. The village is very relaxed, the music is great, people seem to like to party and many people will offer you to smoke funny ‘herbs’ on the street. So far so good. On the other hand, a big part of the beach is basically a trash dump. We were so disappointed to see how little effort is taken to clean up what otherwise would be a paradise beach on the Caribbean. We walked through piles of plastic everything on the way to our cabana that looked nothing like pictures on Booking, and when we met Patrick, an old French dude who owns the cabana, we offered to clean up the beach and asked him to give us some plastic bags. Here comes the moment we met the ONLY unpleasant person in this entire trip. Patrick gave us a lesson of how it doesn’t make any sense to clean up because the trash will just reappear again, how he gave up on that and how naive we are thinking something could change by trying to clean up. I didn’t like his attitude at all and his attitude became even worse as the days went by. If everyone would think like him, I guess we would all just be ok with destroying our nature.
Anyway, the Patrick experience gave us a lot of food for thoughts and also mixed-up feelings about Livingston. The last night there we went to another place for another ‘tapado’ experience and as it turned out… I got another food poisoning. It’s something I have to check later on when we’re back home, but based on the 3 food poisonings in this trip I guess I might have an allergy to crustacea. At least this time I could recover from this horrible thing in one of the most beautiful places we stayed at. Some 30 minutes boat ride from Livingston, there’s a Hotelito Perdido (Lost little hotel), in the middle of the jungle. And this place is cure for soul and body. Look at it:
Once I regained my strength and was able to eat again, we went on the most relaxing kayaking through the mangroves, enjoyed reading in the hammocks at the lake, and sharing meals with some wonderful fellow travellers we met at Hotelito. We loved it so much there that we decided to stay a day longer and enjoy the peace only jungle can give you. Our Guatemalan adventures were coming to an end but not before we saw Flores and Tikal, one of the most beautiful and biggest Mayan ruins sites in the region.
Isla de Flores is a small island ‘city’ surrounded by water, sometimes referred to as “Venice of Guatemala.” Flores is beautiful and walkable in 30 minutes and a great spot for a day before going to see the magic of Tikal. Tikal is a huuugggeee and impressive site of Mayan ruins and just like Copan in Honduras, it completely dehydrated us. We were really really having a hard time walking there in humid, probably 38 degrees weather surrounded and bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes. But the sights of beautiful temples and the jungle surrounding them stays in mind, mosquito bites are (almost) forgotten.
With hearts full and with loads of memories of a month-long beauty we have witnessed in Guatemala, it was time for the last jump in the lake and the last beautiful sunset before heading to Belize. I can say with certainty that Guatemala is one of the most beautiful places I have seen and its people some of the kindest I have had a privilege to interact with. This country really has it all: two beautiful coasts, mountains, jungle, cultures, colours, art, music, incredible food, people… It’s also one of the cheapest countries in Central America. So, go ahead, book your flights, there’s no reason to wait any longer 🙂