A Travellerspoint blog

Antigua

We spent a few days in Antigua which is about 40 minutes outside of Guatemala city. It definitely catered to the fat cats from Guatemala city who came up to hang out on the weekends. All the shops and restaurants were high end and the city had an artificial air to it with none of the usual character (with the exception of the cockroaches) that most of the other places we've visited have.

Nonetheless, it was a very pretty town and it sat in the shadow of Volcan Agua which made the scenery interesting.

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There was a fairly large local market on the outskirts of the town which was a great way to kill an afternoon. As with all of the markets we've checked out, you could purchase pretty much anything that your heart desired.

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Antigua is a very old city that was built in the 1500's. Unfortunately, it has suffered many earthquakes and volcano eruptions which have led to its destruction and reconstruction several times over the years. Still, some of the original architecture remains which was pretty cool to see. It's amazing that some of these buildings were build over 500 years ago.

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Not a bad place to stop over but the main reason to be in Antigua was an hours drive away.....

Posted by ReneeJared 08:27 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Lago de Atitlán

We arrived from Xela to Panajachel which is one of the small towns on Lago de Atitlan. Panajachel had a similar feeling to Cancun in that it was overrun with gringos and the whole town was geared towards hustling tourist dollars. The saving grace of this little town was that on the outskirts was the Reserva Natural Atitlan. It had a great interpretive centre, some trails to hike and some cool wildlife to check out.

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A full day was more than enough time spent in Pana so we caught a boat across the lake to a smaller town called San Pedro la Laguna. The vibe in San Pedro was much more pleasant and has quite a mix of Mayan and other folks from all over the world who have settled here. The town itself has a 'peace and love' groove to it with tons of folks offering holistic therapies for whatever ails you (including stuff like Reiki). There are also tons of hotels and restaurants with great atmospheres and excellent prices.

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We decided that the time had come to take some Spanish lessons so we rented a room for a week and signed up with one of the local language schools. This gave us the time to soak up what life is like in one of these little towns (which is definitely at a much slower pace than we're used to).

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The best way to get around town in a hurry is on one of the tuk tuks that cruise around from dawn til dusk. The drivers take great pride in their rides and soup them up with paint jobs and assorted bling.

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There are many an artist in town as well and in a effort to brighten the town up, there are murals painted everywhere.

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We lucked out and were in town for an annual festival called La Dia de la Virgen Maria which kicks off the Christmas season. The whole town comes out to watch the Virgin paraded through the streets before she's set to rest in the town square to watch over the rest of the evenings festivities. Fireworks are set off before her to clear the way of bad spirits and to celebrate the passing of the Immaculate. It's absolute madness as the fireworks (ALOT of them) are set off randomly in the streets and you have to watch out for debris hitting you.

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A sad state of affairs for San Pedro is that the lake has become very polluted in the last couple of years. Apparently, the towns sitting on the lake used to have sewage filtration but an earthquake damaged them all a few years ago and the government hasn't repaired them. As a result, raw sewage is now being dumped into the lake causing all sorts of cooties to grow making the lake inhospitable. Needless to say, this has had a big effect on tourism. The locals are left to eke out a living growing maize and coffee which you seen strewn out to dry between the various hotels.

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With a little more Spanish under our belts, we're going to brave the chicken buses again and head onward to Antigua.

Posted by ReneeJared 11:15 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Quetzaltenango aka Xela

Crossing the border between Mexico and Guatemala was an interesting experience. We thought that security would be tight but there was only one guy sitting in a little office who checked our passports and away we went. The differences in the countries was immediately noticeable. As soon as you cross the border, you feel the poverty. The streets are dirtier, the buildings are more ramshackle and the people seem to be more wary.

The landscape is amazingly different as soon as you enter Guatemala as well. The mountains just jump up in front of you and you drive through green canyons on narrow windy roads. You see farmers growing coffee and other produce on the sides of these mountains which must take some talent because they're so steep.

Our first stop in Guatemala was in a city called Xela. Our first impression of it was the same as when we entered Guatemala....dirty with a sense of wariness to it. One of the gals on our bus lived there and told us that it wasn't really safe to be out after 8pm. We thought that maybe she was exaggerating a little but on our first night, we saw that all the local shops locked up tight in the early evening. It gave us the creeps a little as we figured that if the locals were afraid to be out at night, then so should we! Needless to say, we hung out in our hostel for the 2 evenings we were there.

However, in the day it was a much different place. There are a ton of Spanish schools in the area we stayed in and so we saw lots of language students around. Lots of cool little cafes and shops too. The city has a Parc Centroamerica and all the government buildings and banks surround it. All the banks have armed guards (with shotguns!) standing out front....

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And so, you must wonder what brought us to this place? The prettiest hotsprings in Guatemala! They're called Fuentes Georginas and they are nestled in a nearby mountain top. They're so far up that the air is cold which is perfect because these springs were HOT.

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After a lovely day at the hotsprings, we were ready to move on from Xela. We decided that we would give the chicken buses a go and what an adventure that turned out to be.

The morning of our departure, we hopped on a collectivo (little buses that cruise around) and told the driver we wanted to go to the bus terminal. He took us to a bus terminal but it turned out that it was for the local city buses (which are just school buses). After a very confusing few minutes, we asked one of the bus drivers which bus was for Panajachel (our next destination) to which he responded with a laugh and told us in a flurry of Spanish to get on his bus and he'll take us to the right spot (at least that was the gist...). He dropped us at a highway intersection and tells us that it's the place to catch our bus. The only problem was that there was no bus station....

On old gentleman who had been on the city bus with us must have seen our very blank looks and came to our rescue (he spoke English...yahhh!). He explained that the chicken buses pick up passengers at designated intersections and you just tell the driver where you're going. They'll take you to the next 'depot' to catch an ongoing bus to your destination. We had 4 transfers and thankfully, our rescuer was going to the next town from Pana and so was able to help us with our transfers along the way.

Needless to say, we were the only gringos on the bus and so drew a fair amount of attention. Lots of people smiled and the few that did speak any English were happy to try their hand at it with us.

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Definitely a good way to break ourselves in on the chicken buses (which I should mention are just big old school buses with very fancy paint jobs...think flames!) and the whole trip cost us under $2 for a 3 hour trip. Good times!

Posted by ReneeJared 12:12 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Cañon del Sumidero

For our last day in Mexico, we decided to take one of the local collectivos from San Cristobal to a neighboring town called Chiapa de Corzo to check out the Cañon del Sumidero. Its cliffs are 900 meters high and overlook the Grijalva River. We took a boat tour through the Cañon and it was worth every penny. The scenery was gorgeous!

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We also got to see quite a few different animals (some of which proved to be a little too close for comfort)...

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There was also a shrine to the man that had worked to have the Cañon declared a national park.

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All in all, a cool way to spend an afternoon.

Posted by ReneeJared 16:10 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal is at 2100 meters and it is chilly! However, it´s more like a desert climate in that it´s very hot during the day but as soon as the sun sets, you freeze your butt off.

The city itself is bright, cheerful and well kept and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. I would have to say that it´s one of my favorite places to have visited so far in Mexico.

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There is a really obvious caste system in place in this part of Mexico which was suprising to us. You see the peasants from the local Mayan villages in the city dressed in traditional garb who are selling their bracelets etc. You can sense the disdain from the city folks and they often seem to chase these people away.

Mixed in with this is a group of modern day Robin Hoods here called the Zapistas. Essentially, they fight for the rights of the indigenous people of the Chiapas state.

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There is quite the clash between the two religions in place here (Mayan and Catholic). The Catholics have a very strong love for the Virgin de Guadalupe and she is everywhere you look.

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While we were in San Cristobal, there were demonstrations in support of the Virgin and you could feel the tensions.

There is also a big love of flowers here which made me so happy!! We checked out the local mercado munipal and half the offerings there were huge floral arrangements for very cheap.

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Visiting the locals market was a real shopping treat. All the folks from the surrounding local villages come to sell their wares and there was everything from produce to toothbrushes for sale. We did our grocery shopping for less than $10!

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We also discovered that these folks are apparently into climbing! While checking out one of the local churches, we found a little climbing wall hiding in behind it. I knew I liked these folks.

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Posted by ReneeJared 08:11 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

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