We flew from La Paz to Guatemala City, landed around 2pm and then caught another flight out to Flores. Flores is the capital of Peten, the northernmost state and is an easy jumping off spot to visit Tikal, ancient Mayan ruins that have been uncovered.
Flores is a beautiful place, situated on Lake Peten Itza connected to the mainland by a causeway. The town has an European feel with cobblestone streets that wind around the island, beautiful colorful homes that cluster the island and narrow alleyways. It took us all of 20 minutes to walk the circumference of the island. We stayed at Los Amigos Hostel (amigosholstel.com) where we rented a private room with AC/BR for 350Q (8Q=1USD). It is a great Hostel, teeming with 20 somethings buzzing around the garden area where there is a pool table, hammocks, a restaurant/bar and a travel agency. Yes, John and I felt quite old and Journey's eyes were lighting up at the future possibilities of traveling and staying in Hostels. It was quite warm and muggy so we quickly settled into our room, turned on the AC and then made our way for dinner. The restaurant has an excellent international menu serving salads, felafel, hamburgers, pasta,etc. We made our travel arrangements for the Sunset Tour of Tikal the following day.
Tikal National Park is the ruins of an ancient city unearthed in the rainforest of Guatemala. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and dates back to the 4th century BC. We explored the ruins, watching Spider monkeys fly through the trees above us, and listening to the eerie calls of Howler monkeys as they shrieked in the tree tops. We learned about the history of the Mayans and ended the day by watching the sunset over the rainforest canopy while sitting on top one of the pyramids.
After 2 days we flew back to Guatemala City (1 hour flight) and then hired a driver to take us to Panajachel (about 5 hour drive) which is on Lake Atitlan. We stayed in another hostel but this time in a mixed dorm that slept 8. Initially we were the only ones but over the 5 days we stayed, the room filled up. Fortunately, we had lovely "room mates" from all over the world. At night we would share our stories from the day and discussed future plans for the next outing.
The lake is surrounded by several volcanos and if the weather is clear, one can have breath taking views. Small ferries take you to the many little villages that dot the lake to explore for an afternoon or one can choose to stay in these villages. We explored a few of them and enjoyed the unique personalities of each village.
On Sunday, we headed to Chichicastenango affectionately known as ChiChi where it is said that it is the largest market is Central America takes place and is open on Sunday and Thursday. Chichi sits at about 6500 ft elevation and is an easy day trip from Pana. Indigenous Mayan K'iche make up the largest percentage of villagers. Most people speak K'iche as their first language and then Spanish. It sounded like a combination of Russian with tongue clicking. People are dressed primarily in traditional native dress of colorful textiles. Artisan goods, chickens, vegetables and so many other products are sold here. The streets are a maze of stalls making it difficult to make decisions about what textiles to purchase as one was as lovely as the next. We can confidently say we contributed to their economy that day.
From Pana, we took another bus to Antigua. This time we tried our first Airbnb. It was also Semana Santa, or Holy week. To be clear, this is an EVENT! During this week, millions of Guatemalans flock to Antigua to honor the crucifixion and resurrection of JC with parades of floats, elaborate carpet-making and candlelight vigils.
We got to our apartment and it was lovely! Everything was as promised via the owner. We had a 10 minute walk to town through cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. Antigua is a lovely city with interesting architecture, dilapidated churches that somehow are charming, boutiques shops and restaurants that will satiate the palate. We wondered the streets, enjoying a parade (day and night), as well as the alfrombas (sawdust carpets) as we explored.
We hiked Pacaya Volcano which is an active volcano and when we got near the top, we watched the steam rise from the cone as we slid on lava. At night we could see Acatenango volcano spewing lava and by day blowing ash into the sky.
After 2 weeks, we were ready to come home to Mexico. We returned to La Paz on 3/31/16.
|Los Amigos Hostel, Flores, Guatemala. Journey taking it all in.|
|Typical alley way in Flores.|
|The chaos of Chichi. These are the "chicken buses."|
|Lake Atitlan with Volcan Atitlan|
|The colors of Chichi.|
|Beautiful Alframbas or sawdust carpets made during Semana Santa, Antigua|