Category Archives: Guatemala

In Search of: Photos from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Perhaps you recall this post in which I tell you Lake Atitlan is beautiful and gorgeous and well worth the trip (but the hotel I stayed at was less than worth the price)?  At the time, I was in Belize (or Guatemala or some such Central American country), and I wasn’t able to post photos.  Well — I’ve gone through pictures from Lake Atitlan, and I want to share them with you!  It’s such a beautiful place; truly it is.  It’s hard to believe when I was planning this trip, I almost chose to skip the lake altogether.  But a chance meeting with a stranger back home convinced me it was worth the stop.  He was right.  The lake was the perfect introduction to Guatemala (and relaxation and yummy food).  Enjoy the photos!

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P.S. The pictures you see of me were taken by Terrell over at Photo Anthems.  (It’s pretty awesome having another photographer around while you travel — you don’t have to find ways to take self-portraits!)

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In Search of: Antigua, Guatemala

I’ve started editing pictures from the Guatemala trip and have a few I wanted to share.  I wasn’t in Antigua long — it was more of a run through, first on my way to Lake Atitlan, then on my way to Semuc Champey.  So I don’t have crazy stories to tell about it.  I do, however, have a wonderful hostel called Yellow House that I highly recommend and will be writing a post about very soon.

Antigua was a beautiful town.  In hindsight, I could have spent a full week there and enjoyed it.  If you’re heading to Guatemala, be sure to stop in!

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In Search of: How to Reach Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Today I arrived in Semuc Champey.  Semuc Champey is a bit of a natural wonder.  Turqoise water pooled over limestone which somehow formed over the  Cahabòn River.  I’ve seen pictures of this locale all over the internet, and over a year ago I decided I must visit one day.  It would seem one day is now.  I haven’t seen the actual Semuc Champey yet; that’s for tomorrow.  I’m staying at a hostel/ecolodge called El Portal.  It’s very rustic (no electricity), but it’s the perfect location — right on the river and directly next door to Semuc.  As I write this, I’m sitting on the balcony of the El Portal restaurant, watching the turquoise waters flow by.

But enough of that.  This post isn’t about the beauty that is Semuc.  This one is about the trip that brought me here (I’ll tell you all about Semuc Champey a bit later).

The trip to this particular spot was rather eventful, in which I found myself praying to the universe that this wouldn’t be my last trip.  I took a shuttle out of Antigua, which in countries outside the U.S. seems to mean an old minivan packed to the brim with unsuspecting tourists.  We were scrunched like sardines.  The driver then proceeded to make an attempt on his death wish.  He was absolutely the most reckless driver I’ve ever set foot in a car with (and I’ve been with some sketchy drivers in many different countries).  Each time he scurried up to the rear of another car, he’d get inches away and do a brake check.  Look at that, I think I can get one inch closer.  Wait, no I can’t.  Brake check.  Brake check.  We would all lurch forward, our hands gripped to the oh-shit bars on the seats in front of us.  It was all very lovely.  But nothing was quite as good as the many illegal (is that even a thing here?) passes he made of the more reasonable cars when oncoming traffic was approaching.  We had several close calls with semi trucks.  Then there were the hours of windy road along the edges of cliffs (we all know how much I enjoy that under normal circumstances with a capable driver and a maintained car).  And did I mention that the tires were constantly squealing?  He kept attempting to take turns entirely too fast for a beat up old minivan, and the tires simply couldn’t stick to the road.  Good stuff.  I sometimes wonder how I get myself in these situations time and again.  When we arrived in Lanquin (almost to our stop), we dropped off the first of the passengers, and the hostel manager came out and said, “Wow.  This is a really early shuttle.”  No shit.  Obviously, the driver had places to be.  Like heaven.

After the drive to Lanquin, a few of us changed cars to go to our final stop at Semuc Champey/El Portal.  The final drive was in the back of a pick-up truck, holding onto the metal bars affixed to it.  Oddly enough, the sketchy hour-long ride in the pick-up was much nicer than the previous ride.  The road was windy and rocky and also along the edges of cliffs, but this driver seemed to actually care that he made it to the lodge in one piece.

Yet, after all that, I’d say it was worth it.  This place is so beautiful.  The river water is turquoise blue in color, there are beautiful yellow birds flying through the trees, and I’m staring at jungle and lush mountainsides.

Do you ever wonder how the fuck you got so lucky to end up some place?  ‘Cause that’s how I’m feeling right about now.

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In Search of: Stunning Lake Atitlan, Less Than Stunning Digs

Last we spoke, I promised to expand on a certain hotel that seemed particularly nice on the surface.  Remember how I said looks can be deceiving?  Here’s the story.

The thing about traveling like a backpacker is that you pretty much never pay for sleeping quarters ahead of time.  Not if you’re on a long (ish) trip anyhow.  Because you make plans on a whim and change them on a whim.  Actions like that can lead to a loss of funds if you pay ahead for a hostel or hotel.  It’s a little risky.  Besides, hostels are notoriously iffy.  Some are phenomenal, while others are less than lovely (much less).  If you pay for a hostel sight unseen, you might find yourself in less than lovely digs but feeling stuck because you already paid.  On a trip like this, where I’m moving around quite a bit, I usually prefer to book my first day or two of a trip (who wants to worry about finding a place to sleep their first night in a new country?), then make bookings as I go.

So anyhow, I paid ahead for my first two nights in Lake Atitlan.  I booked the suite at Isla Verde in Santa Cruz.  It was my “splurge” spot, and I wanted a hotel in which to rest and relax, seeing as how just two days prior to flying to Guatemala I hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney (the tallest peak in the lower U.S.).  I knew I would need a moment to unwind before my trip ran away from me.

I’m not sure the best way to describe Isla Verde.  Isla Verde calls itself a hotel (not a hostel).  It’s absolutely beautiful there.  The lakeside location is stunning.  Yet there was something to be desired.  If it were a hostel and I paid a hostel price, I would have been content.  But Isla Verde’s a hotel, and I paid a hotel price.  I wasn’t thrilled.  I stayed in the suite, yet I felt like I was sharing said suite with 4 other adults and 2 babies.  Why?  Because there were 4 adults and 2 babies in the suite next to me.  Every time they spoke or made a noise, I heard them as if they were in my own room.  The walls were that thin.  Have I ever mentioned my non-love of babies?  I mean, they’re great and all.  But  I don’t enjoy listening to crying all night long.  I also don’t care to hide behind the bathroom door in order to change clothes because, literally, my neighbors could look straight into my bare windows while sitting on their balcony (and they sat there a lot).  Of course, they probably didn’t mind my nudity, seeing as how their boobs popped out every 20 minutes for breastfeeding.  I’m an advocate of breastfeeding.  I really am.  I just got tired of staring at strangers’ nipples.  I wanted to shout: please ladies, stop showing me your nipps!  And this was my “splurge” location.  I spent extra money there in order to start my trip on a high note.  I wanted a room that made me want to lounge.  I wanted a room with a lanai or a balcony that gave me quiet time in order to write and read and rest.  Instead, I had the traveling circus across the way with screaming babies and lose nipples.  And did I mention the supposedly hot water showers that were ice cold?  Or the spiders — the huge spiders?

Yep.  Isla Verde billed itself as a hotel, but it should have been marketed as a decent hostel.  And they should have charged a hostel price.

The first day was saved by avoiding the room altogether.  I wandered down the path to Casa del Mundo and spent the afternoon lunching and lazing in the sun.  The rooms at Casa del Mundo were stunning (I wish I’d had the foresight to stay there!).  It was exactly the type of place I wanted to stay, and the various room prices were the same or less than what I paid at Isla Verde.  Sadly, I missed out.  While chatting with the owner, I inquired about room availability (perhaps I could move down the way!).  To my shagrin, Casa del Mundo was fully booked.  (Long story short: my recommendation for Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlan?  Stay at Casa del Mundo.  Skip Isla Verde.)

Luckily, avoiding the room wasn’t all too difficult.  It was relaxing and beautiful at the lake.  The shoreline was stunning.  The sun was warm and radiated through my veins.  The nights were cool.  I could have stayed longer if the situation were right, but I was searching for just the right spot to rest my head — a spot that made me want to stay.  Although my initial plan was to lounge by the lake four nights, I opted to move along after staying the two nights I already paid for.  During the those nights, I managed to stay pretty content (traveling circus aside).  I mean, how many people do you know that get to see such stunning sights as Lake Atitlan in Guatemala?  And it really was stunning.

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In Search of: Chasing Water in Guatemala

I know I owe you an update.  But, good heavens, Guatemala’s got me moving at a slow pace.  The kind of pace that makes a snail look fast.  The first two weeks, I was blazing — seeing the sites and taking it all in.  But then I came to Livingston, a garifuna village at the mouth of the Rio Dulce arriving at the Caribbean Sea.  And that pretty much did it.  It’s hot and muggy, and my hotel’s a gem.  There’s a thatch roofed hut lined with hammocks hanging over the water.  The place invites a sort of laziness.  And I’m taking full advantage.  So you’ll have to excuse the slow pace at which I post.  But as they say in Guatemala — it’s the good life.

So, getting to how this all started.  Sometimes I plan a trip, and it has a theme.  Guatemala is one such trip.  I like to call this one: chasing water.  My trip to Guatemala has essentially centered around water — rivers, lakes, ocean, waterfalls.  Water.  And what better way to kick off a trip in search of water fun then to visit a highly popular water spot?  First stop in Guatemala: Lake Atitlan.

Reaching Lake Atitlan was no simple feat, especially given the circumstances.  I decided to try my hand at flying standby (yay for family that work for the airlines!).  I arrived at the airport in Las Vegas bright and early on a Wednesday morning, two bags in tow.  I have a rule when traveling backpacker style: only take what you can carry.  I have another rule: only take what can fit in carry-on luggage.  This sounds impressive, but it’s really not.  It’s not hard to pack light when you’re visiting a locale that’s generally hot and humid.  Pack a week’s worth of clothing (there are laundry services everywhere you go), a pair of flip flops, a pair of shoes you can walk/hike in and whatever toiletries you might need.  You’re done.  Wait.  I mean, you’re almost done.  Technology (camera, wi-fi device) are super important too.  Depending on the season, you might need a poncho and rain jacket (it’s rainy season down here).  Oh.  And if you’re chasing water, don’t forget your bathing suit!  (BTW: This in no way constitutes a useful packing list.  I do have a detailed packing list that I work from so as not to forget anything.  Email me if you’d like the list that I use.)

Okay.  So I went on a bit of a tangent there about packing.  Back to the flight out here.  Flying standby has its definite pluses.  You can hop on pretty much any flight with an available seat, and the discount is often substantial.  But then, there’s not always a seat available.  Such was the case with my first flight.  No seats.  Second flight, no seats.  Change of plans.  Instead of flying through Dallas, I would fly through Miami.  Perfection.  I arrived in Miami around 10 p.m.  The flight to Guatemala would leave in the morning.  This left me with an evening in the airport.  I don’t mind this so much.  I’ve slept in an airport a few times in the past, and I’m surprisingly adept at using my backpack as a pillow and passing out for a few hours.  But this time I didn’t have to.  The airline had a lounge just for people like me — people using employee benefits to fly that need to crash in the airport for the night (no pun intended).  In the lounge, I found some big cozy chairs and several recliners.  Following suit with other sleepers, I pulled two of the big cozy chairs together and made myself a bed.  I then popped a melatonin (a travel must), and enjoyed a cozy night of not sleeping on an airport bench.  In the a.m., I boarded the plane for Guate; I even got to fly first class (another potential plus of standby flying).

My first 24 hours in the country where a whirlwind — I’d already been to three cities!  My flight went into Guatemala City, though I never planned to stay there.  I took a shuttle to Antigua.  I was supposed to stay there one night, but since I missed my first flight out of Vegas, that didn’t happen.  So once in Antigua, I hopped in another shuttle to reach Lake Atitlan.  I then took a boat from San Pedro in Lake Atitlan to Santa Cruz, across the lake.  At first glance, the hotel was super nice.  It was my splurge spot.  But then, looks can sometimes be deceiving.  I’ll be sure to tell you all about it next time.

So that’s how I arrived in this great country called Guatemala.  For now, I’ll leave you with that.  Because, at the moment, I’ve got a lightening show on the Caribbean Sea to be watching.

(Oh.  And don’t worry — I’ll be posting LOTS of pictures.  I can’t go through them properly on the road, so for now, take a look at my Facebook page to catch the snapshots I’m posting as I go.)

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