Dec 30, 2014

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is in the city of Panajachel about an hour and fifteen minutes northwest of Antigua.

Find a tour company to book the whole trip like I did or you can take about 4 chicken buses to get there.

The perk of booking through a travel company is that you know your shuttle to and from the city will be there, you can often add on extra cities, your tour around the lake is included, and you have a place to stay. All things that are very good in my book.

After awaking at some ungodly hour to catch the shuttle to Pana we arrived in what is quite possibly one of the most picturesque places I have ever had the pleasure of traveling.

I took so many pictures while I was there. It's almost embarrassing. Almost.

The tour we had lined up for the day would take us by boat to three different cities.

San Pedro was an expat's dream. A bar with free beer and football games on the tv. It was a sleepy little town that had a few language schools and some pretty incredible views of the lake.

Nothing like travelling alone to get your solo picture taking game on point.

San Jaun del Lago

When you arrive in this town, you will have to scramble over boats to get to the dock. The town was built and then the lake flooded and never receded, so your first view is of houses under water. But this is an artists town. The women dye the fabrics and make them into these beautiful scarves, there is music playing all around, and the walls are painted in these insanely gorgeous murals.

The last city we visited was Santiago. This is the first time I was disappointed in Guatemala. Santiago is just not a pretty city. There isn't really anything to do there. Right where you dock there is a market that leads up the hill to the city, but once you pass that you are lead to disappointment. Only two restaurants that aren't authentic and a church. The end. Nothing further. If you can, book a tour that skips Santiago. I highly recommend doing that.

Once we arrived back in Pana, we decided to take the chicken bus up to Solola and see the Mayan men in their traditional clothing. Mostly throughout Guatemala the men dress in modern clothing, but in the town of Solola the majority of them still dress in traditional Mayan wear.

I love the chicken buses because they bring a piece of home for me. I didn't grow up riding buses going to school, but it made me feel connected to the US a bit after feeling so foreign.

On the ride back into Pana, we stopped off on a cliff, yes a cliff, to take the most spectacular views of the sunset ever (and a little lightening storm).

Dec 16, 2014


Climbing a volcano is not something that ever really crossed my mind as something that I wanted to do, but then the opportunity arose to climb one of the smaller volcanoes just outside of Antigua and I leapt at the opportunity.

Enter Volcan de Pacaya or just Pacaya. I went into this trip totally blind. Knowing that I was to be picked up at 6am and dropped back off about noon. Pacaya is about 30 minutes away from Antigua, so that left 4 hours of volcano time.

There are other volcanoes in Guatemala that you can climb and stay the night and watch the eruptions, but that required a weekend excursion and I just wasn't sold on using one of my 3 precious weekends for a volcano.
Fuego (with the steam) and Actenango
Hiking Pacaya was the perfect solution.

Now let me warn you. You don't actually climb Pacaya. It is way to dangerous and active to actually climb. It erupted this past March and the land around it is still covered in hardened lava.

That being said, I absolutely recommend climbing, err hiking next to, Pacaya. There are generally two tours that go, one at about 8 am and one at 3 pm (at least out of Antigua. I am sure there are others). Take the morning tour. Guatemala tends to get cloudy in the afternoon and then you won't see the volcano. #fail

I read a lot of reviews about Pacaya and people were saying that the hike is really tough and to take the guided horse tour. That my dear friends is a lie. The hike is about 6km total. So just over 3 miles round trip. No part of it is especially strenuous either. Be careful on the cobblestones at the base of the hike, but other than that you should be just fine.

The tour guides are knowledgeable and friendly. I think our tour was entirely in Spanish, but that may have just been the three dudes from Spain and Colombia that were walking in front of me. The guides stop along the hike and let you take pictures/catch your breath. It is quite spectacular.
Nothing like being on a hike for one volcano and seeing the other two on your route.
The trail is full of history. The natural landscape of Guatemala is just breathtaking. The guide told us about almost everything we pointed at along the way.

If I remember correctly, this is a 400 year old Oak tree. I could be wrong on the age. Either way it was giant and beautiful. I am fascinated by trees. Especially ones that have a history.
furry caterpillar friend.

 There she is. In all her glory. The volcano. Not me. You could see the plumes of smoke and where the lava was flowing down the side of the volcano. Pretty cool if you ask me. Oh also all that brown, yea, that used to be lush and green. Volcano eruptions tend to kill those types of things...
We really lucked out with the weather. There was not a cloud in the sky for the most of the hike. And when clouds did come in, they moved right on by rather quickly.
If you ever get the chance to walk on a recent lava flow, I highly recommend it. And if they offer you the chance to roast marshmallows, then by all means you do it.
I can't say enough about the views. So I won't. Just look.
this is one of my absolute favorite pictures ever

nerd alert.
I can't recommend enough going on a hike next to Volcan de Pacaya. You won't regret it and you definitely won't forget it.

Dec 11, 2014

La Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is the capital of Guatemala.

With a fairly small population compared to the entire country, I was actually surprised that Antigua is the capital and not Guatemala City.

Guatemala City is hustle, bustle, and everything you would expect in a metropolitan city.

Antigua is not. It is small big city. The people are warm and friendly. The roads are in a grid. The streets are cobblestones and the restaurants are plentiful.

Being set up on a grid makes it easy to navigate even for the most directionally challenged. But I will warn you, the streets and avenues are rarely numbered. So if you are on a street and see the number start counting up or down. That's really the only way to know where you are.

If you get lost, expect to stay vaguely lost. Guatemalans are overly friendly and don't want to admit they don't know where something is. So if you get directions, take them with a grain of salt. After about 3 days I had a fairly accurate grasp on the city.

Antigua is definitely a walking persons city. With the roads being cobblestones you need a mouth guard and a helmet when riding in a vehicle. The sidewalks aren't much better, each varying with width and height. A person in a wheelchair or walker may find Antigua tough to navigate.

But the city is magical. Absolutely magical.

It's a little like being transported back in time. Most of the cars are fairly old. There are no stoplights and people aren't allowed to honk. It's quite awesome.

But then you get passed by one of these.
Those are chicken buses. Or as people in the states would say, school buses. These are how the majority of people in Antigua (and Guatemala) get from place to place. They are awesome. So much fun. And cheap too. Each one is decked out and as different as the next. Each driver has their own theme and a person who stands at the doors shouting where they are headed.

Antigua is full of beautiful architecture. Some of it lays in ruins from prior earthquakes and it is like being transported back in time in the middle of the city.

Don't worry if you don't speak spanish. the city is fairly english friendly. Not everywhere, but most places you can get by. Or you can do like i did and take spanish classes. Antigua is full of Spanish schools. Your school courtyard may even look like mine.
In short, Antigua has many nooks and crannies to explore. If you get the chance, absolutely make a trip to Guatemala. As of today it is the greatest place I have been...well, place without surf...