Category Archives: Central America/Mexico

Xela – Marvelous Markets and Mountains

Xela, also known as Quetzaltenango, sits at 2300 meters above sea level and is surrounded by towering volcanoes! You can hike in almost every direction, and take in the great sights and surrounding town markets.

The first morning here, I headed out to a little town called San Francisco el Alto. Every Friday morning this mountain village turns into a rambunctious market for textiles, food, and all kinds of livestock! Farmers are leading sheep on leashes, carrying their prized baby piglets, and prodding stubborn mules! I’ve never seen anything quite like it! Do get there early, as the late morning gets insanely crowded – straight up pedestrian gridlock and locals pushing you forward even though there’s nowhere to go!

I recommend checking out the fantastic day hike up the Volcano Santa Maria. This is a steep climb up to 3700 meters and affords great views of Xela and the surrounding area. Check out the photos! The altitude really gets to you – I just took my time up the last half hour. It’s totally worth it!

Another good day hike is to Laguna Chicabel, a crater lake and sacred site to the Mayans. Locals still make prayer offerings at traditional altars around the lake. This is an easier hike and takes half a day. Afterwards stop by Fuestes Georginas, natural hot springs, to relax your tired muscles! Get closest to the rocks where the hot water drips down for the warmest water!

Now onto Lake Atitlan and the peaceful abode of Santa Cruz!

Cheers, Shawn

Antigua and Volcano Pacaya

Antigua is a very chill little town that used to be Guatemala’s capital city. Back in the 1700s an earthquake leveled the city, which left behind many interesting ruins that can still be viewed. The setting of the city is fantastic, as it’s surrounded by volcanoes!

I made a trip to Volcano Pacaya – an hour drive away. The top of the mountain was covered with clouds, so I didn’t get the best view of the surrounding volcanoes. But this was actually great for the top of the mountain along the lava fields. It was like entering the land of Mordor (the evil land in the story Lord of the Rings). The whole landscape was charred with solidified lava – some was still warm. We even roasted marshmallows in the volcanic vents! So cool!

We made it to the top for sunset that produced a beautiful and somewhat eery setting. For the hour trek back I pulled out my trusty flashlight and enjoyed a peaceful walk down – along with the group’s pet dogs! They must be in great shape running up and down every day!

In the town of Antigua I wandered around, and made it up to a lookout point above the city with its towering cross. Antigua is a relaxed place with great restaurants, cafes, and barbers! My hair and goatee should be good until I make it back to Canada! Two months to go!

Cheers, Shawn

Lanquin – Caving, Hiking, and Tubing

After 9 hours of Guatemalan mountain roads, I arrived in the little jungle/mountain town of Lanquin. I’m staying at a lodge right on the river fully equipped with hammocks, good food, and plenty of beer! If you make it out here, the lodge El Retiro is a great place to stay.

After a good night’s sleep, I was ready for a full day of adventure in the nearby Semuc Champey Park. You hop in the back of a truck for 45 minutes – be sure to hold on tight! You then walk/swim through a cave system with a candle for light. You’ll need shoes or sandles with straps, as the rocks can be quite sharp. You climb up ladders and ropes, and even drop through narrow rock crevices to make your way back to the entrance. Lots of fun!

You then get to tube down the river for half an hour, try out a rope swing, and jump off a bridge. All kinds of adventures! After a break for lunch, you hike up to a fantastic lookout – check out the photos below. You can see a series of cascading pools that you can later swim in. After the hike, I was soaking from the heat and humidity – a cool dip in the river was awesome! After the swim you hike out to the truck, and make the return journey to Lanquin. This trip is an absolute must while in Guatemala!

The fun doesn’t end there, though! The next day I walked to the Lanquin Caves, about 30/40 minutes from town. The caves are fairly well-lit, so you can walk around quite easily. If you have a flashlight, you can venture off the main path – which I recommend! The rock formations are quite stunning, as you can see in the photos. It’s really humid as water is still dripping from the cave ceiling – do bring some water along.

From here I head to Antigua, a town near Guatemala City. Time to climb some volcanoes!

Cheers, Shawn

Flores and Tikal – Mayan Might!

Flores is a beautiful little town on an island in Lake Peten Itza. It’s a nice area to go kayaking/canoeing, but the main draws are the nearby attractions – especially Tikal.

1500 years ago, Tikal was the key Mayan city in the region and fielded many temples, palaces, fortifications, and trade routes. The site covers an area of 60 square kilometers. It’s worth taking a full day to explore the area and the many out-of-the-way temples. Bring plenty of water though, as it can get very hot and humid!

You can easily do a day trip to Tikal from Flores via a shuttle. It takes a little over an hour to reach the ruins from town. Another great and less known day trip is to the Biotopo Cerro Cahui, a national reserve teaming with wildlife and has very well maintained trails. Get here by taking a public bus (more like a van) from the main town market in Flores/Santa Elena to El Remate. From El Remate it’s a 15 minute walk to the park entrance along the lakeshore road.

The loop trail in Cahui takes around 3 hours, and you’re likely to see all kinds of wildlife. I saw 3 monkeys, hummingbirds, giant butterflies with what looked like an owl eye on its wing, and a funny rodent critter that was leaping from tree to tree. At the park entrance a ranger will give you a map and can answer any questions that you may have. They don’t speak much English though, so some Spanish knowledge will be useful.

My journeys in Guatemala continue onto Lanquin, and little town with beautiful parks, hikes, and caves!

Cheers, Shawn

Cayes of Belize

Belize port of entry – San Pedro on the beautiful Ambergris Caye. My hostel was right across the street from the beach and was a great place to relax, meet cool people, and drink the free rum punch! Most alcohol is relatively expensive on this island, but the rum is cheap and very good! Enter the Caribbean!

It was easy to get here from Chetumal, Mexico, via a 1.5 hour ferry that runs every day. Customs was simple (as a Canadian), and I was able to enjoy the local language of English, albeit mixed with some creole.

In addition to chilling on the beach and laying in a hammock, I made two great dives from San Pedro. I swam with nurse sharks and sting rays, and meandered through some underwater canyons. Some highlights include beautiful coral, fish, eagle rays, barracudas, and a moray eel!

From San Pedro I took a ferry to the nearby Caye Caulker, which is much smaller and less developed. The laid back vibe was great, and afforded amazing swimming, snorkeling, diving, and kayaking. If you make it here, rent a kayak near the split for $5US for 3 hours, and head for the area with “No Fishing” signs. You’ll see a vast array of fish and sea horses. I also did a day of diving near the Spanish Bay, an underwater wall with coral, sea turtles, and plenty of fish.

My time in Belize has been a blast. Now I catch a ferry to Belize City and take a bus to Flores, Guatemala!

Cheers, Shawn

Tulum – City of Dawn

I think Tulum would have been the best Mayan city to live in. The location is stunning with picture-perfect beaches, warm weather, and an abundance of rich lands and fresh water from nearby cenotes (see my last post for more info about cenotes).

There are several temples with beautiful engravings, and a central palace where the key Mayan official would reside. Quite a cushy posting! The area surrounding the ruins are also gorgeous – the tropical jungle and some of the best beaches on the planet! If you visit Tulum, you can walk to the public beach in about 10 minutes. I headed out there to swim and work on my tan!

I had a nice lazy day, and went for a walk back to town. After visiting with some Aussie friends at the hostel, I thought I’d work on the blog! Hope you enjoy!

Cheers, Shawn

Chichen Itza and Cenotes!

From Tulum I made a day trip to the spectacular Mayan temple complex of Chichen Itza! This used to be a key political and religous centre for the Mayans that dates back to the year 800. The main temple of El Castillo is over 1,000 years old!

It’s fascinating how the Mayans combined the religious, economic, and day-to-day life together so smoothly. In this site you can visit sacred religious temples, palaces, ball courts, and much more. I admit that the tourist traffic does detract slightly from the ambiance, but its popularity is well-earned.

You will notice in the photos a circular loop-type fixture in the Mayan ball court. Two teams would play, and would win by hitting a small ball through this circular goal net that was high above the ground. The ball could only be hit in by elbows, hips, or knees. At certain times there would be sacred games, and the captain of the winning team would be sacrificed to the gods!

On the way to Chichen Itza, we made a stop to Ik Kil Cenote. Cenotes are natural sinkholes that exposes underground aquifers. The water is fresh and was used by the Mayans for fresh water, and in some sites for religious ceremonies. The Ik Kil Cenote is over 40 meters deep and 60 meters in diameter! Make sure you don’t have any rocks in your pockets when you go in!

I had a great day of Mayan excursions. Next I’ll check out the ruins and beaches in Tulum. What a hard life!

Cheers, Shawn

Cancun and Cozumel – Warm Again!

From Europe to North America – my Mexico/Central America journey begins! My 12 hour flight from Frankfurt to Cancun went very smoothly. I arrived to my hostel in Cancun, Mezcal Hostel, and was greeted by a new set of international friends – and three bottles of tequila! It’s not called Mezcal Hostel for nothing!

One of the days I wandered down to Playa Delfines, a gorgeous beach just south of Cancun. There’s plenty of space to relax, take in the views, and go for a swim. However, as the waves were becoming rather aggressive, we were all whistled by the lifeguard back to shore.

From Cancun I took a bus and ferry to the diving paradise of Cozumel. I got in 1 day of snorkeling, and 2 days of diving. The reefs around here are teeming with all kinds life, including fish, turtles, barracuda, and much more. Highlights include swimming through an underwater cave system, and riding an underwater current. This way you see all kinds of things and don’t even have to swim!

My next stop will be Tulum, where I will check out the Mayan Ruins on the ocean, and the temple complex of Chichen Itza!

Cheers, Shawn