Guatemala – Antigua, Lake Atitlan and the volcanos!
Guatemala was the next destination chosen. Not just because it’s Latin America, which is usually my first choice, but also because it came very highly recommended by friends and family.
Arriving in Guatemala city we rented a car at the airport and went straight to Antigua, as many people told us the capital was not worth visiting and we wanted the car to have a bit more freedom to visit the little towns and go at our own pace.
Traffic in Guatemala is crazy but manageable – traffic lights are scarce and rule number one is that no one has priority, you just throw your car into the crossroads and see what happens. Plus, roads are never flat, we’re either going up or down huge hills, hence the more common traffic sign is the yellow one saying “frenar con motor” (break with engine).
Arriving in Antigua took us a bit over an hour due to traffic. Once there, I was sure Guatemala was the right country to visit, the city is beautiful. The little town is amazing, super colourful, surrounded by huge volcanos, full of local people religiously dressed with the typical clothes, small shops and restaurants and a few tourists. But still very raw. Very real. After 6pm it gets too dangerous to leave the cars parked outside in the streets so after that time it seems like city with no cars at all.
Besides wandering through the colonial streets of Antigua, there is also a lot to do and visit around. We visited this local market in Santa Maria de Jesus where there wasn’t a single ocidental person, it was just a lively mess, with people selling and buying vegetables and fruit, clothes, live animals, food, etc. Here, despite the market being amazing, it seemed a bit like we were back in Medellin in the early years of Pablo Escobar, just like the tv series Narcos. Very poor and dirty, huge trucks with armed soldiers everywhere – a bit scary, I have to say.
We also visited an avocado farm and hotel, known as Earth Lodge, located at the top of one of these hills surrounding Antigua, with an incredible view and delicious food. It was worth going up there for some good food (if you’re a fan of avocado, of course!) and live music.
A few days later we drove north, to Lake Atitlan, where we chose to stay in San Marcos La Laguna. People recommended this town over San Pedro, for being prettier and more relaxed, which we came to realize it was absolutely true.
San Marcos has one little street, no cars (only tuk-tuks) and it’s the perfect stereotype of a hippie village. Everything is about yoga and meditation, most restaurants are vegetarian (if not vegan), people are super nice and happy but also incredibly slow. I wasn’t expecting such crowd in the middle of a country like Guatemala, hippies everywhere, most high as a kite and playing with fire. In the end, even though we were a bit ‘the outsiders’ in the village, we still had some really relaxing days, and the lake itself is stunning, really!
One of the days we did the hike up to Volcan San Pedro, which took us about 4 hours to reach the top and see the overwhelming view of the lake and its surrounding little towns, at 2400 meters high. The hike was very steep and tough to do, but absolutely the view at the end was enough to compensate for it!!
We also had time to catch the famous market of Chichicastenango on a thursday. This is a huge street market that fills the town with thousands of stalls everywhere, selling all sorts of colourful handmade arts and crafts. We bought so many things, from shirts and shorts to hand-painted wooden decorative masks, blankets, purses and wallets, etc. It has so many cool things, had I spent a couple more hours there and I could have spent a fortune. It has really nice stuff and the Guatemalans are so nice that you just buy things in order to help them!
After this, out next stop was Semuc Champey, which means we had to go back to Antigua, deliver the rented car and catch an 8-hour bus to Lanquín. Details on the next post 🙂