A Travellerspoint blog

Antigua and Lake Atitlán

A Colonial Town and a Massive Lake


The trip to Antigua was a long and brutal one, crammed in the back of a colectivo; Guatemala's terrible decision at a method of public transport. They consist of a minivan with a guy hanging out of a window trying to attract more people to ram in the back. Antigua itself is a lovely old colonial town, with a different crumbling church on every street corner. Unfortunately the town has suffered several earthquakes throughout its history and as a result exhibits buildings that are partially restored and some that are centuries old piles of rubble (where the youth of Antigua tend to hang out and cop off with each other). We spent a few days here doing very little. On the first night me and Chris were hanging out in a hostel named "Jungle Party" and experiencing a distinct lack of party. Then three yanks turned up, one of which was Zander, a turtle conservationist who at the age of 14 wrote a book on the subject which has now been translated into loads of different languages. Anyway, he was on a break from his sleepy Guatemalan fishing village and decided upon a 72 hour bender. 48 hours into it, we decided to head off to chill out on the banks of a massive lake.


Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America, surrounded by volcanoes and bordered by several Mayan villages. We turned up at the most tourist orientated one; San Pedro. The view of the lake, when you could get it, was stunning, however due to the obvious lack of building restrictions ever bigger concrete structures ruin the town. We spent two days on detox here, doing some kayaking on the first and climbing a mountain on the second. The mountain nearly saw the end of Chris who was literally steaming by the top.


We moved back to Antigua with the plan of heading straight on to Honduras but due to protests we were unable to make the second leg and had to settle for another night in Antigua and a 4am bus the following day. Luckily/unfortunately we met a lad we knew from England and another guy from earlier in our travels that evening and ended up drinking a lot of rum and missing the bus. So another day in Antigua it was. We had a wander around the market where I bought a D.A.R.E t-shirt for $2 (D.A.R.E is a programme to keep kids from drugs and violence which is widely regarded as a joke and now has cult status, yet loads of locals wear them without having a clue what it means). Eventually we managed to wake up at 4am and headed to Honduras.

Posted by Monsk 21:41 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Into Guatemala...

Tikal and Semuc Champey


We arrived in Flores, a town 50 miles from the border with Belize, as the rains hit. Actually, that's not quite true, Flores is an island in Lake Peten Itza joined to a larger, dirtier town called Santa Elena by a bridge. We were dropped off in Santa Elena. We tried to shelter at a market there when a tuk-tuk rolled up offering us a lift. We realised we were getting over-charged but as the water began to rise above my foot we decided to take it anyway.

Flores itself is a lovely little place, all cobbled with colourful houses lining the streets. But the best bit was a bar recommended to us by a little Salvadorian man we met where beers cost 50p. Most of the time we spent in Flores was in some state of inebriation. The first night we were there was a big one, which at 4:15am (the time we had to get up for our Tikal tour) was widely regretted. Tikal is another Mayan site, which was often at war with Caracol (the site we visited in Belize) and while it was really impressive, we didn't think it was as good as Caracol. Although that might have had something to do with the pounding in our heads... We spent the whole day there chilling out and by the end of the day we were pretty much alone, sitting at the top of one of the pyramids looking out over the jungle with nothing but the tops of other pyramids breaking the endless forest. We then returned to the 50p beer bar.


The next morning we left Flores to try and get to a little town called Lanquin where we would visit a freak of nature called Semuc Champey. Semuc Champey is a limestone 'bridge' over a raging river positioned between two steep mountains. On this bridge cascades water from the mountains through a series of turquoise pools. Anyway, due to the random nature of the buses and the fact that they don't run at night due to fear of robbery we had to settle for staying in a nearby town called Coban. Apparently settled by Germans growing coffee, the town boasts an abundance of gateau shops and made for a pleasant stop-over. Next morning we finally made it to Lanquin and up to Semuc Champey courtesy of a man who owned a pickup. We paid him and agreed he'd pick us up at 3, after a few hours splashing about we left but our man had obviously decided he couldn't be bothered waiting. So we set off back on the 9km journey to town, wearing flip flops. Luckily we only had to turn one corner before some other lads in a pickup passed and we hitched a lift with them, sitting on their tent. That night in Lanquin we met some Irish and drinking games naturally followed, again rued the next morning when we had to be up before six to get an eight hour bus to Antigua.


So we're now in Antigua, a lovely little colonial town in the shadow of a huge volcano. But more about that in the next entry...

Posted by Monsk 10:47 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Back on Track in Belize

Sharks, caves and a Mayan city


The next few days after the robbery we spent traveling back to Belize City to file for a police report, then to Belmopan (the capital and a massively uninspiring place) to get an emergency passport. Amid this we managed to fit in a trip to Belize Zoo. Now I'm a big fan of a zoo and this one was pretty cracking, jaguars, monkeys and tapirs roamed big enclosures and looked pretty happy with life. See Chris' photos from the zoo here. With the boring paperwork complete we headed back to Caye Caulker to try and persuade the lazy police to actually write the report and also eat more lobster. Caye Caulker itself is a fairly nice little island, chilled out and pretty backpacker-friendly except for the wanna-be hustlers from Belize City that love to try and sell you drugs and rob your stuff. We took a sailing boat for a days snorkeling, swimming among nurse sharks, rays and green turtles; it was pretty neat.


Moving on from Caye Caulker we headed west to San Ignacio, a town near the border with Guatemala. What I noticed as we traveled through this part of the country was the importance the people seemed to attach to having a well maintained lawn; I liked the place instantly. The town itself is nice, pretty tourist orientated but not gaudy. While we've been here we've been on a couple of tours, firstly to a huge cave system called Actun Tunichil Muknal. Initially, after a 40 minute walk through the jungle you enter the cave swimming across a deep pool of water and spend the next half an hour squeezing between and scrambling over rocks marching upstream often in pitch black. Eventually you reach a small cliff formed by the calcium carbonate deposits over the past million or so years. Climbing up this the cave opens up into a vast cavern, it is entirely unlit except for the beams of partially illuminating light from our head torches. It was hard to get a grip on how vast the space was because only tiny bits of the caves were lit up at a time. Scattered around the cavern were pieces of Mayan pottery and the occasional skull, some smashed, some pretty much complete and some partially covered by the calcium carbonate deposits. At the very top of the cavern lay a complete skeleton, again partially mummified by the actions of centuries of water running over it. This, along with the other remains in the cave were sacrifices to the subterranean gods who it was believed controlled all the water. With the force with which the river spat us back out of the cave, it was easy to imagine why.


Today we took a trip to the ancient Mayan city of Caracol. Once bigger than the more uncovered site at Tikal in Guatemala and home to about 120,000 people, the site took 2 hours over unmade roads to reach. But what we walked into was amazing. The structures, huge and the rain forest backdrop, vast. The Mayans pulled off some pretty impressive stuff. We arrived early and had the entire site to ourselves pretty much for the entire time we were there. (The next 3 photos taken by Chris)


So tomorrow we leave Belize, with mixed emotions about the place. But from our experience, west is best!

Posted by Monsk 20:50 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

Leaving Mexico and Bombing on to Belize


I have to apologise here that photos will be limited if not non-existent now because as of yesterday I have had all my camera gear stolen as well as my passport, making this trip hugely more expensive and troublesome than I'd hoped. But back to where I last left off...

Another day was spent in Tulum as the hostel we were in (The Weary Traveler) was great. Me and Chris took a trip a beach where you can snorkel with sea turtles. You can be about a metre from them and they couldn't care less as they just go about grazing on sea grass. We did this for a while before heading back to shore and then on to a cenote or freshwater cave for a bit more snorkeling. Swimming through the cave in an eery blue glow given by our torches was serene and not like any swimming I'd done before. Small tetra fish glided past as we dived down to different underwater stalactite and stalagmite formations.


That night we decided to get our party on, drinking at the hostel before heading across the road to a bar with a live band playing. After drinking the place dry we headed off in search of a club. There was a group of about 8 of us now, an American couple, two crazy lads from Glasgow, an Israeli who looked like Jesus and a middle aged Spaniard who was as crazy as they come. The club we found existed above someones house and as we walked in to the blaring music and frantic laser light we were the only ones save a Mexican family sat along the back wall and the most outrageously camp local guy who was sat on a box. A 12 year old girl pretended to DJ while it was very obvious a pre recorded mix was playing. Needless to say agreat night was had!

The next day we made our way down to the border with Belize at Chetumal and traded our luxury air-conditioned bus with an old American school bus for the five hour leg to Belize City. Belize city itself is a bit of a dive, but the longer I'm here, the more I like it. (Though that's still not that much). As we arrived after dark the only place we could get some food was the local Chinese restaurant (all the shops and restaurants are owned by Chinese people over here for currently unknown reasons) and we proceeded to have a lock-in and ate steak in gravy with a couple of Germans we met on the bus. Lock-in being the operative word; there were bars between us and the counter and there were bars between us and the street. We began to wonder what kind of place we were in...

The meal passed off without incident and we headed for bed. The next day me and Chris decided to take a tour of the brewery which supplies the beer to all of Belize. The "tour" consisted of a 15 minute guided tour followed by 50 minutes of all-you-can-drink at the bar. The rest of the afternoon was a lot of fun.


We made it back to Belize City and got straight on a boat to Caye Caulker, a small island about 50km from the mainland, known for being a good place to chill and eat lobster. Which I duly did, for $12 I had a whole barbecued lobster and it was amazing. What was less amazing was heading back to our hostel after a few drinks to find my rucksack missing as well as one of Chris' cameras. Since then we have been filing police reports, trying to encourage the police to give a damn, and now, back in Belize City, we are preparing to make the trip to Belmopan to get to the British Consul where I can get an emergency travel document. Not how we envisaged our time here in Belize.

Posted by Monsk 16:11 Archived in Belize Comments (0)


and the rain


So here's a little introduction: me and my mate Chris have decided to spend the next couple of months making our way around Central America, starting in Mexico and meandering down to Nicaragua. That´s pretty much all you need to know.

We touched down in Cancún and it was pretty late, being apparently the last people in the airport the only way to get into town appeared to be taking the $50 hit for a taxi. We rocked up at a hostel and that too was steep; the first hour in Cancún had cost us the equivalent of two days' budget. So the next morning we left and headed south down the coast to a little village about 50km inland called Cobá. The thinking behind this was to be able to get up early to see the Mayan ruins on the edge of the village before the hordes of package tourists descended on it. The village itself was dead and so we passed the time by eating Tacos and playing Shit Head. For the roughly 10 people we saw in the village there was a police station with 3 cops in a pick-up constantly patrolling the one road that passed through it. Nothing kicked off.

Next morning we got to the ruins nice and early but only to take the wrong route and by the time we got to the centrepiece, the highest Mayan pyramid in the Northern Yucatan, it was swarming in poncho clad Americans. Despite this the climb to the top was still fun and the views from the top were pretty incredible; jungle as far as you could see, only punctuated by the top of another, smaller Mayan pyramid. The complex itself is largely still covered in jungle


That afternoon we headed back towards the coast to the towon of Tulúm which shares its name with some more Mayan ruins which lie on clifftops looking out towards Cuba. The rain then started and just didn't stop so we spent the evening playing a pretty violent card game with an Israeli, a Swiss guy who looked like Sebastian Vettel and a freakishly strong Swiss girl.

In the morning we headed out in the incessant rain to the ruins, but by the time we got there it had cleared up somewhat and we spent a while weaving in and out of poncho-clad Americans before deciding to hit the beach. And for lunch I've just eaten the biggest Burrito, but it was gooood.

Anyway, it hasn't rained for half an hour so I´d best go make the most of it...


Posted by Monsk 12:29 Archived in Mexico Tagged cancun tulum cobá Comments (0)

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