Mersia/ Quetzaltenango / Lake Atilan / Antigua / Isla de Flores / Tikal / Rio Dulce / Livingstone / Pto Barrios / Guatemala City / Talisman . December 2021- January 2022.
Entering through Mesia the border town on the Mexican Border and into Guatemala, was quite an experience. I taxied from the Mexican Immigration to within a short distance of the Guatemalan Official’s office, where I had my passport stamped for the standard stay of 3 months. Quite straightforward and only had to give a negative Covid Test, which I had obtained from a Chemist in San Cristobal. The only mistake I made was to ask the official if he new a reliable money changer, as I wanted to change Mexican Pesos to Guatemalan Quetzal. Of course, he said he knew someone and in seconds appeared a guy. I changed 2,000 Mexican pesos and as I latter discovered I was given a very inferior rate. I lost quite a lot, I normally would not be caught like this, but I dropped my guard and believed in the person who this official had put in front of me. Never again! just take your time and walk up to where the Chicken bus leaves for Quetzaltenango and you will be approached by several money changes and you can quickly evaluate the best exchange rate. By the way, Chicken buses you will find many in Guatemala and very different to what you have in Mexico. They are the second hand yellow American School Buses, they are brought over from the US, fixed up and used all over the country as local transport. They will be used on relatively short distances, journeys times up to three hours. Anyway, once I had my passport stamped by the Guatemalan Immigration and money changed, I had to much luggage so i took the Moto Taxi with a trailer on the back, where I put my things and in 5 minutes was at the small bus terminal and in front of me was this enormous looking Chicken Bus. I ended up taking five hours to get to Quetzaltenango with a change over at Huehuetenango. They pile the people in and at times we were three to a seat, which should only take two. It was okay and as I like to watch and observe the different people, I found it interesting. The town of Quetzaltenango is high up in the mountains and the drive from Mercia on the border was very mountainous and very beautiful. You notice so much the women dressed in their beautiful dresses. This whole area is full of indigenous people all speaking their own language and not Spanish. Guatemala has a much higher percentage of the population indigenous than Mexico and its concentrated all round the area that I was entering, right through to City of Antigua. I spent a few nights here in Quetzaltenango, it lies at about 2,300 metres above sea level, the days are warmish, but the nights are a little chilly. I stayed in a great hostel run by an American and his wife from Guatemala, called Kasa Kiwi Hostel, it was only a 5-minute walk to the main square. This was a nice place to hang out, stroll around and in the evenings, there are some very nice eating stands, where you can snack. The main square is a grand place, all the local people come here on the weekend or in the evenings, so it can get pretty full. The town of Quetzaltenango is located within a very volcanic landscape and in general Guatemala is very volcanic. You can find many good hikes here. I took one to Cerro Quemado which was a non-active volcano, it was about a 2-hour walk, you can hitch hike there, somebody will always give you a lift. The volcano lies next to a village and it’s from here you begin your hike. This whole area is also a burial area, as I witnessed lots of flowers, people standing around in specific areas worshiping their dead ones, a lot of emotion also being expressed. Right at the very top of this volcano which is quite a hike, many go as an expression of their faith as Catholics. So, you will see many pilgrimages and the walk is quite tough. One you are up there you will have great views. This was the only hike I did, Quetzaltenango is also known for its language schools, so you can also spend some time here learning Spanish. Frankly after getting to know Guatemala, I would probably do that in the City of Antigua, a warmer environment and a nicer place. Quetzaltenango is very historical and is the second most important city in Guatemala, but its run down, with good investment in its old building it would look spectacular. From here I travelled to Atitlan, this was a three-hour journey from the central terminal. I took a mini bus most of the way, i.e to KM 148 and then picked up a chicken bus which took me to the village of San Pedro, where I stayed. There are many villages on the banks of Lake Atitlan and this is very well known as a great beauty spot. San Pedro was very nice, it was very Guatemalan, perched on a slope which runs down to the lake and at the bottom there is a short strip where you find all the places to stay. I used to walk up from where I was staying and go to the market, take lunch in the local restaurants there or sit in the main square. I spent some time visiting the many other villages doted around the lake and you can do this by taking the local boat service, which will take you from village to village. Places like San Juan, San Marco, Panajachel, Santa Catalana, San Antonio Palopo, oh the list goes on. All have an attraction and always as you travel around the lake you are struck by the sheer beauty of the landscape. Its also volcanic. From here I travelled to the City of Antigua. I took the famous chicken bus, which by this time I was well used to, they all leave from the main square in San Pedro and their destination is the capital city, Guatemala. So, you go as far as Chimaltenango, which is two hours. You will disembark at a specific point in town, the driver will tell you and then you take another chicken bus to the City of Antigua, which is a short journey of 40 minutes. On arrival at the bus terminal, I took a short ride into the centre of town with another chicken bus and went to a very nice hostel located very close to the main square. The City of Antigua is the most well-known colonial city in Guatemala and is a beautifully preserved Spanish Colonial City and well worth a week’s stay, to experience and to enjoy the atmosphere here. I enjoyed the great market here; it was fascinating to wander around the old streets and sit in the main square or take a great Guatemala coffee in one of the many coffee shops. The weather was very nice, just nicely balanced and certainly was not cold and the surrounding landscape mountainous and volcanic, which added to the beauty. One great hike to do was to the Chichicastenango Volcano. This involved an over night at the top of Chichicastenango so that you could observe the active volcano of El Fuego. The trek up to the campsite was quite tough, we were driven to the bottom of the trail which was an hour drive out of Antigua. Then with the group I was with, we hiked up to the top for nearly 5 hours and climbed from about 2000 metres to approximately 3,700 metres. It was hard, I went at my own pace and had no real problems, but others found it hard. Everyone in my group made it up there, our tents were ready for us and we spent a spectacular night observing El Fuego, erupting and exploding all through the night. You would see fire and lava blowing in the night, it was quite something to watch. We were perfectly safe as we were on Chichicastenango, but there were some groups who were brave enough to trek up the side of El fuego, to a position quite close to its crater. That could be dangerous, as a Volcano such as this one is unpredictable. I very much enjoyed the whole experience, it was unique for me, as I had never been so close to an active volcano. The hike down took less time and by the early afternoon we were back in the City of Antigua. After a week there I decided it was time to explore more of this beautiful country and to take the bus down towards the border of Beliz and the Isla de Flores. Of course, no visit would be complete without a visit to the great ruins of the Mayn Empire, Tikal.
Stay tuned for the continuation of my stay in Guatemala in my next blog folks…!!