The minibus arrived to pick us up from Copán Ruinas in Honduras and take us all the way to Antigua in Guatemala, thankfully the journey wasn't as long or complicated as the one we had been on to get to Honduras in the first place. We arrived in Antigua, an historic city in the south of Guatemala in the evening and were dropped off in the main square which was bustling with people and lit up with fairy lights and flood lit Spanish colonial buildings. We walked down a street to our hostel, inside the hostel was an open air square where a fire pit was burning and swings were suspended from the ceiling. The atmosphere was lively and I remember thinking, 'I hope it quietens down when I want to go to bed!' I'm not the young backpacker I once was. After dropping our bags we left the hostel to stretch our legs after the long journey and walked back to the square to get some fresh carnival style popcorn to munch on.
Craig had found a nice sounding café called The Rainbow Café online so we headed straight there the next morning for breakfast. The streets were calm and quiet, we wandered along the old cobblestones admiring the colourful buildings and bright flowers until we found the café which was inside a quirky little bookstore. We each ordered the 'earlybird special' which consisted of rice and refried beans with eggs and grilled tomatoes served on a leaf, it was delicious and was topped off with a cup of English Breakfast tea, how I have missed thee!
As we explored the city the streets became busier and busier, we had known that it would be Semana Santa while we were in Guatemala and that was why the place was even more bustling than usual. Semana Santa is a week long celebration for Easter where men dress in purple robes and march through the streets with floats and statues of Jesus, locals also create beautifully patterned 'carpets' of coloured sawdust and flowers in the streets. The crowds were overwhelming in some parts of the city but many of the extensive network of cobblestone streets were quiet enough to enjoy, the slightly dilapidated buildings and pastel colours were an Instagrammers dream.
In the afternoon after a morning of sightseeing we drove to Pacaya volcano with a small group and with a guide set about walking to the top, or as close to the top as we were allowed to go. As soon as we left the minibus we were hounded by children leading horses around for tourists to hire. They were extremely persistent. A family in our group decided to hire two horses as they had two young children but we resisted, a ride to the top did sound very tempting but the horses didn't look in good shape and I didn't like the idea of condoning the situation of children being sent to do this job rather than be in school.
We began to walk steeply uphill, the sandy and dusty terrain made for difficult conditions and it was a hot day, I was sweating and as I was slightly behind everyone else I was being constantly harassed by the kids too. Eventually we got to a point where the horses that had been hired couldn't go any further and the green and sandy landscape changed to a misty, rocky and black landscape. We waked along a steep slope and through a lava field which looked very alien, we continued on to a spot where the heat from the lava beneath the rock is powerful enough to toast marshmallows. After stopping to listen to the hissing sounds of the volcano we walked back down which was a much easier task and we jumped back on the minibus for the hours journey back to Antigua.
We stopped for taco's before heading back feeling a little grubby from the dusty and sweaty walk. While Craig stopped at reception to speak to the -useless- manager about booking onward travel I walked into our dorm room to see a random bloke climbing into Craig's bed. I asked if he'd been assigned the bed to which he said yes, I explained that it had already been taken and he didn't seem bothered in the slightest. I went to reception and the managers response was 'oh, tell him to move'. Annoyed we tried to explain that he should be the one to ask him to move as there had obviously been a mistake somewhere and plus, if we did tell him to move we didn't know where he could go and would Craig really want to sleep in that bed now that some random backpacker had been in the covers?! It turned out that some drunk bloke had passed out in his bed and so he just chose another one even though it was taken so Craig and I slept in my bottom bunk. In these moments I wish that more backpackers were considerate as so many seem to travel just to have an excuse to get drunk, you can do that in a bar at home you know!
We woke up and returned to The Rainbow Café for breakfast as it was so delicious the day before. Thankfully we would be leaving the crappy hostel today as our transport to Lake Atitlán was booked to leave in the afternoon. We had a relaxed day wandering and eating and then boarded the extremely full minibus to the lake. We arrived at a lake side town and were ushered into an already paid for tuk tuk which whizzed us up the road to the town we were staying in, San Marcos La Laguna. The place we had booked was the only thing we could really afford, it turned out to be quite lovely. We had a little basic room on its own in the garden with a view to the beautiful lake, down some steps was a shared kitchen and bathroom and it was run by a very friendly local family and a lovely dog bounding around the premises. We got a bite to eat at a restaurant opposite that served mainly vegetarian fare and it was delicious.
The next morning we walked down towards the lake to find a place for breakfast. There seemed to be a lot of cute looking cafés and restaurants dotted along the narrow pathway leading to the waters edge, as well as jewellery sellers and tourists in rainbow coloured attire. We decided to have breakfast at the café of a hotel which had a decked terrace with the most incredible view of the lake and volcano. Eating our traditional Central American breakfast of eggs, refried beans and plantain with tea with such an exceptional view was wonderful and so calming. We watched speedboats whizz by and tourists jump on and off the little 'ferry' boats all under a beautiful blue sky. After spending a couple of hours soaking it all in at the lake we returned to our room for a relaxed afternoon and then had a delicious curry at a nearby restaurant. We wandered to the lake again in the evening to see the moon rise above the water.
We managed to book transport to take us from the lake all the way up to the north of the country near the border with Belize. Before crossing we'd be visiting Flores a town on a lake close to the amazing Mayan site of Tikal, a wonder that I'd been really looking forward to seeing. I was a little worried about how we were going to get there, it seemed so far away but the man in the tour office booked the whole journey for us with no problems and we were set to go later in the afternoon. We had breakfast and took a little walk around the lakeshore walking to a small beach to take photographs. A woman was giving a man a haircut right on the sand and Craig was tempted to ask if she could sort out his mop of hair too! The little paths trailed all around, to lovely gardens and different hotels. Many places offered yoga classes and meditation sessions, the whole town had a distinctly spiritual feel to it. I was drawn to San Marcos originally because it sounded from the guidebook like a quieter and cosier town, a little more off the beaten track than other towns on the lake. I'm happy to say that I wasn't disappointed; our short stay was extremely peaceful and full of relaxed wandering and lovely food. I only wish that we had a little more time to explore the lake further.
Onwards; all the way up to Flores to explore the mighty Mayan ruin of Tikal.
🎥 Central America video:
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