Tikal was the largest city in the Mayan world. An ancient city that took a thousand years to build and dates back to 200 A.D. It’s six square miles of paths through the wet, sticky hot jungle. We spent six and a half hours seeing the sights, and we didn’t see everything, so plan accordingly.
We felt like we had the place to ourselves because of Covid. The only sounds we heard as we walked were tropical birds and howler monkeys making their eerie horror movie sounds. Occasionally hard round fruits would fall onto the path, bitten by spider monkeys in the canopy above.
There are some workers there, quietly digging the giant pyramids out of the jungle that covers them. Several sites have not yet been excavated at all and just appear to be large hills covered in towering trees and vegetation.
We spent one night at The Jungle Lodge which is right at the entrance. This was a nice treat after walking and climbing stairs all day with a pool, restaurant and bar but it’s pretty expensive ($100 US per night). Another option is to stay in the beautiful island town of Flores, an hour and a half away on lake Peten Itza. We had a great hotel with a pool and several choices of restaurants within walking distance for just $55 US. We stayed there the night before we went to Tikal.
Tikal is truly amazing in size, height and grandeur. Add the feeling of being the original explorers finding these edifices hidden in the jungle and it’s an unforgettable experience. It’s a great time to visit!
We arrived to Antigua before our room was ready so we headed next door to Antigua Brewing Company. Climbing the stairs to the shady terrace we settled into a flight of six house brews. Taking the first sips we heard exclamations from fellow patrons and looking up saw ash spewing from the top of Fuego Volcano!
There is plenty to do, see and eat in Antigua! You can find international and regional restaurants, breweries, and wine bars, some built within old ruins. There are gorgeous cathedrals and ruins of majestic buildings that were part of the old capital of Guatemala before the big earthquake hit in 1773 and the capital was moved to Guatemala City.
You can spend hours just visiting the town square, feeding pigeons at the fountain and walking the colorful streets of Antigua.
A popular hike to Pacaya Volcano is currently closed due to the volcanic eruptions. We took a trip around the volcano to the other side where we waited until nightfall to get some good pictures. The lava flowing down with occasional loud explosions of ash and lava was pretty magnificent.
Traveling is fun, but after five weeks it’s nice to have a little R&R so we headed to Lake Atitlan. Because the small community of Santa Cruz de Lago is a great place for relaxing we splurged on a private home rental at Los Elementos for $55 a night.
The volcanoes were hidden by mist for the first couple days which made their unveiling quite spectacular when the sky finally cleared.
Many of the villages including Santa Cruz are only accessible by boat. You are let off at the main dock unless you can sweet talk (or pay) to be let off at a dock nearest to your accommodation. The lake front portion of Santa Cruz was about a mile long and getting around is solely on foot via boardwalks and paths meandering though tropical brush, in front of gorgeous villas, and up and down steps, across stone walls and so on. You pass romantic eateries, private homes and a slew of accommodations from upscale hotels and a few hippie hostels.
The expat community in Santa Cruz is remarkably welcoming. Alough it’s a quiet village we still found some nightly fun at a couple bars and even a rowdy game of pool.
You can catch a ‘lancha publico’ boat to visit any of the other villages around the lake by standing on the nearest dock and waving your arms. We visited San Pedro, known for its tightly winding streets and hippie vibe.
And of course swimming and kayaking are great ways to enjoy the beautiful lake!
Soaking in volcanic hot springs while watching hummingbirds and butterflies is a great way to relax. Fuentes Georginas is a ‘must do’ for any romantic or nature lover out there!
From Quetzaltenango we caught a bus for 7 quetzales ($1.00 US) each which brought us to Zunil. Then we got a camionetta (a pickup truck/taxi where you ride standing up in the back and there are metal bars to hold onto) for 25 quetzales each for the final 5 mile stretch up the steep valley to the hot springs.
You pay 60 quetzales ($7 US) to enter the site and get your ticket. Then we asked to rent a cabana for the night. We checked out 3 cabanas before we picked number 7. Number 1 was right next to reception and the restaurant (noisy) and smelled musty. Number 5 smelled like a porta potty. We picked number 7 because it just smelled like a fireplace (how romantic!). It wasn’t available until later so we carried our bags to the main pool and changed into our bathing suits in the changing/bathrooms. We felt secure leaving our bags on a bench within sight although lockers are available.
We soaked in the green hot spring water until we got hungry and then dried off with our sarongs (best universal pack item), grabbed our bags and walked back to the restaurant area at the front because the main restaurant next to the big pool is under renovation.
After an OK lunch with decent margaritas we checked into our private cabana. On Mondays the main pool is closed at 4 to drain and refill it. So we walked down to the smaller but hotter hot spring that is at the entrance to the resort.
We had dinner at the resort with a great view of the volcano. Sunset was amazing as clouds poured into the valley, billowing into shapes and making the volcano disappear and reappear.
Trouble in Paradise! That night Ian happily made our fire and lit candles to enjoy the ambiance. The wood was a bit green but he got it going. After some time passed smoke started rolling into the room. We’re pretty sure the chimney needs cleaning. We ended up opening the windows and doors and letting the smoke clear out. We enjoyed it while it lasted!
Todos Santos is a traditional indigenous village in the mountains at 8,000 feet. The local language is ‘Mam’ from the ancient Mayans but they also speak Spanish. We learned how to say ”How are you?” in Mam and most people seemed delighted. In the year 2000 a Japanese man and his Guatemalan bus driver were killed by an angry mob when visiting tourists where taking photos in the market. The locals believed they were there to steal children. We took extra care to be respectful!
Both the men and women wear traditional dress. This is one of the only remaining villages in Guatemala were the men still have traditional clothing. The men all wear red and white striped pants with a mostly white stripped shirt with cuffs and collars made of individual hand woven colorful patterns. The women wear multi colored dresses set on a black background and beautiful fringed aprons.
Got Spooked, but Luckily We Stayed
Our first night we wandered around until we got spooked by some drunks that followed us like zombies. Not many tourists have been through these parts lately and we were the ONLY foreigners in town. But the next day we had a great time getting to know locals that wanted to have a drink with us, or wanted to take our picture, or were just curious about who we are and where we came from.
Fun at Funky Museum
We visited a museum that was actually a family’s home and farm with a very small, dark and musty smelling collection of items. Some ranged from 2,000 years old! Our guide played some marimba music for us and sold Ian one of his shirts for a good price.
Very Small Ruins
A relatively short hike up and out of town leads to some ancient Mayan ruins which are mostly covered by earth and grass. On the way we stopped and chatted with a sheep herder boy with his sheep in a field of corn. We didn’t take his picture.
Bustling Market Day on Saturday
Saturday is market day, so we woke at 7 AM to the busy sounds of villagers selling and buying everything from shoes to live turkeys. We bought an individual sheet of Ibuprofen from a lady with a whole table of pills and medicines which had been dumped out of their boxes. People come from all the neighboring villages to sell and buy on market day.
Travel Tip: there are no colectivos or buses in Todos Santos on Sunday so plan accordingly. We had planned to leave on Sunday by colectivo but after waiting around a bit and asking questions we had to pay 125 quetzales for a taxi to take us up the dirt road half an hour to the main highway in order to flag down a colectivo (10 quetzales each) to Huehuetenango an hour away. You can see the price difference between taxis and local transportation!