I spent Christmas in the chill beach town of Monterrico, my last stop in Guatemala. This was my second beach Christmas, as last year I was in the beach town of Mui Ne, Vietnam! How time flies!
Near Monterrico is a wildlife reserve, where you can see all kinds of birds, fish, and funny 4-eyed amphibians that hop along the water. I hired a boat to tour me around the reserve for sunrise. It made for some beautiful scenery! Aside from this, I really didn’t do too much in Monterrico other than chill, relax, and drink some beer!
From Monterrico I headed into Honduras, and stopped in the town of Copan. This is another relaxed town, with quite a few cool things to check out. First are the famous Mayan ruins right close to the town. I’ll be writing a separate post for these ruins. Second there’s a Bird Sanctuary that takes in abused or unwanted birds with the hopes of rehabilitating them for release into the wild. It has a great jungle location, and has a vast array of birds, including: toucans, parrots, macaws, pheasant like birds, etc.
The third site is a butterfly hatchery, where many species of butterflies are bred for release into the wild. There’s a good variety of butterflies, but one especially caught my attention. On its wing there’s what looks like a giant owl eye. Check out the photo of these butterflies mowing down on some fruit! Pretty weird-looking!
Stay tuned for the next posting about the beautiful Mayan ruins near Copan, including photos of the many statues an stellae!
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!
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!
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!
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!