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First month in Guatemala
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-07-16 17:47:03 | Guatemala City, Guatemala, Guatemala
Keywords: Capital, itinerary, UNESCO
´I visited a total of nine towns and cities in Guatemala. I've covered the country from North to South and from West to East, before zipping through it East to West in a day. I visited the Pacific ocean front as well as the three largest lakes of the country, been from sea level to 2 300 metres (7 600 feet). Today, I'll tell you about the first half of my visits and give you my impressions about each location.

Flores

Flores, Guatemala


I first entered in Guatemala from Belize and I arrived in the town of Flores, which is the Northern tourist hub.  It's a charming little island on the Peten Itza lake.  It's the gateway to go to the Tikal site.

Flores has pretty but painful cobble stone streets.  The island is pretty clean and the lake is very impressive.  Because the island is so small, you'll never be farther than a few minutes walk from the water.  Because of that size too, you'll encounter a very high ratio of tourists over locals and a zillion of tour operators and travel agencies to serve them.  There aren't that many things to do or see in Flores besides the lake and Tikal but it was a nice introduction to the country.

Rio Dulce (officially named Frontera)

Waterfall, near Rio Dulce, Guatemala


According to many tourist guides, that's a must to visit for nature lovers.  It's within a national park and the Izabal lake.  Although it's true it has a lot to offer in terms of exotic lodging on the river (reachable only by boat), many nature tours and more, at very expensive costs.  You easily forget you're in a nature heaven when you're on the main street in town (which is a 2-lane national highway) as you fight your way against other people, being shout at every two feet by street vendors and at the same time watching not to get hit by a heavy truck or bus passing within inches of the imaginary sidewalk you try to stay on.  The town is however at the image of other towns in the country: crowded, filthy, noisy and polluted.

Because it's also a transportation hub, it's probably the best place to use as launching pad to go visit the Quiriguà site and the wonderful banana plantation that surrounds it.  The area also has a few other interesting attractions worth visiting.

Chiquimula

View of mountains around Chiquimula, Guatemala.


When you tell Guatemalans you spent a week in Chiquimula their reaction is one of surprise and they ask you why the hell did you spend time there.  It's true it's anything but a tourist hub (just for that it deserves a star in my book) and it's rather boring and filthy.  I have been there because it's the most convenient location to reach the Copán Ruinas on the Honduras side of the border.  Of course most tourist visit it on tours instead of taking local transportation.  All major tourists hubs in Guatemala offer tours to Copán Ruinas, even from as far as Quetzaltenango (Xela)!

It's true Chiquimula has little to offer by itself to tourists but I enjoyed my first real insight into the real local life with local markets and the true favourite food of Guatemala: fried chicken.

Guatemala City

Guatemala City


First, I never heard any Guatemalan refer to it as "Guatemala City" (except when talking to a lost gringo).  When referred to as a destination, everyone uses "Guate", otherwise it's just the Capital.

According to all, it's a place to stay away from and it's the worst capital city in Central America.  I was extremely positively surprised by the Capital.  First, it's very clean and can easily be compared with cities of it size in the USA or Canada.  The streets are wide with regular and safe sidewalks (no need to constantly watch your steps).  The transport system is also of great quality while being ridiculously cheap (1 Quetzal, US$0,12), with its safe and express routes and a general overview of all routes.  Another plus in my opinion is that it's NOT for tourists; you will not find any tours of the city, any souvenirs shop nor any major tourist traps.  I even had a hard time finding postcards!  The street vendors are present all over but in an orderly fashion and they won't harass you like in the rest of the country.

The architecture is very impressive with massive buildings made of large rocks (as opposed to bricks or cement) that complement very well the grand city layout.  In the 50s and 60s, it must have been one of the grand cities of the world.  Yes, today it's run-down and looks much older than its age due to lack of maintenance and pollution layers.  The pollution was my major let down. In that sense, it's not different than the rest of the country, sadly.

So far, I've seen three of the seven capitals in Central America and Guate is by far my favourite!

Were you pleasantly surprised by a location too?  Which one and why?

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