As we were just using Flores as a home base from which to explore the ancient Maya site of Tikal we really hadn’t researched much about the town itself. The only thing that had stuck with me from the quick scan of info I had read was that we should be prepared for the Flores Coyotes Go To Post!!!
Incredibly at one time we did not have Semuc Champey on our Guatemala trip itinerary. Thanks to Salem of the Funky Monkey Hostel in Mazatlán we added it in as he said it wasn’t to be missed…he was so right!
Semuc Champey is a series of stepped turquoise pools sitting atop of a natural limestone Go To Post!!!
When we announced that we were selling everything we owned, replacing our steady jobs with uncertain online income and going traveling through Mexico and Central America we were met with mixed responses. For the most part our families and friends were happy for us and maybe even a little jealous but there were also many comments of…”It’s not very safe in those countries.” or Go To Post!!!
“I don’t know what everyone is complaining about, these long haul shuttles around Guatemala are great!” That was our mistaken impression after the 4.5 hour drive from Antigua to San Pedro La Laguna at Lake Atitlan. We had been lucky enough to be the first pick up and therefore had snagged the much coveted front row bench seat which had more leg room and air flow. We were also blessed with a newish van which still had shocks and stuffing in the seats. We later learned that this was a very rare combination. It seems most of the vans are old and extremely uncomfortable and that pretty much every seat other than the front bench was just varying levels of torture. However at about $15 pp you can’t really complain and it is much better than the dreaded chicken bus.
Regardless of the cost in either dinero or bumps and bruises it is all well worth it once the stunning vistas of the glistening lake nestled in the valley of volcanoes and lush mountains comes into view. As we wind slowly down the steep mountain road we pass men, women and children hauling wood in a variety of ways including balanced bundles on their heads and contraptions sitting on their back attached to a head strap in place around their foreheads. After passing through several small Maya villages we arrive at the Panajachel dock in San Pedro where we load our bags into a Tuk Tuk. Depending of where you’re staying and how many bags you’re carrying you can likely just hike to your accommodation but we opted for the $1 Tuk Tuk ride to Hotel Nuala Maya.
We had originally booked Mr Mullet’s hostel but after hearing that it was a full on party place we decided to go for somewhere a bit quieter. Hostels are a great way to travel on a budget and also a good way to meet fellow travelers but if you’re planning to get some early morning starts or get some work done like us it’s a good idea to check Tripadvisor for reviews. Places like Mr Mullet’s and Zoola have great reviews from the backpacking party crowd but if that’s not your scene then a place like Nuala Maya is a great alternative. It’s in a very central location, has spacious rooms with private bathrooms and hammocks on the lovely whitewashed verandah with a partial view of the lake. Plus the best part is at about $18 per night it was actually cheaper than a private room at Mr Mullet’s.
We had been told that San Pedro was a Gringo party town and as we walked through the main street just up from the Panajachel pier we realized that although this may be true it was not necessarily in the way we had imagined it. True the numerous restaurants and bars along this strip displayed menus offering familiar options such as hamburgers, pizza, Thai food and even sushi. Also true the majority of the people we encountered on the street were indeed Gringos. However what was a little unexpected, at least to us, was the large amount of Middle Eastern food and the abundance of vegetarian and health food options including at least three smoothie stands. On closer inspection this made complete sense. The majority of people living in and visiting San Pedro (outside of the locals) were a blend of dreadlocked young and aging hippies, gap year travelers partying their way around Central America and North Americans and Europeans attending the numerous Spanish language schools. What did come as more of a surprise was the large presence of the Jewish community. Apparently this area is a big destination for the Jewish culture and there are many signs and menus written in Hebrew and even a couple of worship centers.
San Pedro La Go To Post!!!
After researching and weighing all the options we decided to fly into Guatemala rather than take the bus (or buses) from Puerto Vallarta. We would have liked to drive down the Mexican coast making stops along the way but we have some commitments that made it necessary for us to get to Guatemala sooner than later. Also, in this case it was actually cheaper to fly than to bus which is very unusual. We found flights from Puerto Vallarta to Guatemala City for just under $200 US pp and the buses would have cost just over $200 pp. Plus if we’d decided to split up the journey there would have been even more additional expenses.
Even though we flew into Guatemala City we didn’t get a real taste of Guatemala until we hit Antigua as we opted to hop a shuttle straight out of that intense city. Shuttles are readily available to Antigua from the airport for about $25 US pp but the Hostal Casa La Asuncion that we were staying at picked us up for free…bonus! There are many hostels in Antigua and you can research and book them through sites like Hostelworld but we would definitely recommend Hostal Casa La Asuncion for a budget accommodation. In Feb, 2013 we paid $30 US per night (including the free transportation from the airport) for a private double room with a breakfast of eggs, refried beans and bread. We didn’t have a private bathroom but as there are only four rooms (one of which does have a private bathroom) we never had to wait. The hostel is basic but it’s quiet, clean and secure with comfortable beds, great staff and decent free Wi-Fi.
We laid low the first couple of days since I was fighting a nasty head cold and we both had work to catch up on but once we ventured out we very quickly decided we were going to like this cool Colonial city. Antigua sits in a valley surrounded by three volcanoes and is laid out in a grid pattern of cobblestone streets lined with a mix of newer (built in the last 200 years) pastel colored buildings, impressive churches and ruins (dating from 1541) of magnificent buildings largely destroyed in the earthquake of 1773. I happen to be crazy for ruins and architecture so I was in heaven and I pulled Nathan around the city for hours exploring preserved monuments and churches and convents. He did actually enjoy it though and of course being a photographer he had plenty to occupy him. There are walking tours of the city sights that you can take from Parque Central for about $25 and there is also a brand new hop on hop off bus tour or horse and buggy rides around the city but we chose to create our own walking tour. We will be sharing this tour plus a video with you soon.
You can take a horse and buggy around the city of Go To Post!!!
It’s fitting that our second to last day in Puerto Vallarta pretty much sums up how we try to live our lives…in balance. Most cultures, belief systems, religions, philosophies and theories talk about balance and the part it plays in our Universe and consequently the importance it has in our lives. Eastern cultures use names like Karma and Yin and Yang. Most Native cultures believed (and still do) that we need to maintain balance and harmony with nature as we all interconnected. Christianity teaches us to “Do unto others…”. Newton’s Third Laws says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and now we have theories by the genius Stephen Hawking and teachings of the Law Of Attraction by people like Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra. Since balance is a part of all of these belief systems we figure there has to be something to it. Plus as I think I’ve mentioned before I am a Gemini so I always see two sides to everything.
Anyway, back to our second to last day in Puerto Vallarta. We started the day with eating a bowl of oatmeal and pinning our numbers to the front of our brand new Warrior Race T-shirts. Nathan had suggested back in December that we sign up for this Tough Mudder type race and God help me I had agreed. In truth this was a much shorter, less challenging race (5km and 15 obstacles) than Tough Mudder but for a cardio and agility challenged person like myself it was more than enough. Now I am pretty fit and I work-out regularly but as I mentioned cardio is a weakness for me. After the first obstacle of crawling under barbed wire through the mud and then running up a steep rough trail I had a moment where I thought my lungs would burst and I would never make it to the end. Thankfully even though unlike Tough Mudder this was not a team event Nathan and I had made a pact to run together so he was waiting for me at the top of the hill (the men started 5 minutes earlier than the women) which gave me the kick I needed to continue. From there we ran together… climbing multiple walls (where Nathan was used as a step up by myself and several other girls), carrying heavy sandbags, swinging across monkey bars over a mud pit (yes I fell in), crossing balance beams and eventually climbing a rope ladder to the top of a huge plywood slide down into yet another mud pit before crossing the finish line where our friends Bob and Gerry were cheering us on.
[caption id=”attachment_1619″ align=”aligncenter” Go To Post!!!