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Southern Guatemala
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-08-22 19:19:48 | Quetzaltenango, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Keywords: city, pre-hispanic, summary, tourists, UNESCO
After exploring the capital, I went to the Pacific Coast, to a colonial city shrine, to the mountains and to the other major lake of the country to complete my exploration of the country. That brought me from the beaches to the high mountains in the heart of the Mayan people. I think I've explored most of the country with these additional stops.


Volcanic black sand beach on the Pacific.

I started in this coastal village two experiences I already wrote about: Family lodging and Studying Spanish in Guatemala.

As for most cases in Latin America, there are only a few ways to go from point A to point B. In the case of Monterrico from the capital, I first spent about three hours in a Chicken bus to the town of Taxisco, then a collective to reach the natural reserve and its mangroves, which I finally cross aboard a tiny boat (lancha). I must tell it wasn't an enjoyable boat thirty minutes boat ride. I'm not comfy in small boats in which i 'm basically sitting below water level, which stands just inches from the rim of the boat.

Monterrico is a little village by the ocean with a famous volcanic black sand beach. However, because of the morphology of the ocean floor there the waves are very strong and unpredictable making impossible to swim in the salted water. At most, people will go wet their legs. I was amused by to see that most hotels on the ocean front had pools, especially since it's not a usual feature in this poor country.

I mostly remember the intense heat and humidity plus the omnipresence of mosquitoes. It was the first time in my life I had to sleep under a net, and I had dozens of bite marks all over. Hopefully, there was no presence of malaria and dengue in the immediate area.


View of Antigua with one volcano in the backdrop.

I had to visit Antigua because it's a UNESCO World Heritage site and I was curioharassede this city that has been destroyed many times. I was also curious to see what many describe as an iconic colonial city, despite the fact it was a tourist hub.

Yes, it's a nice city but I've so much better in Mexico. What has put me down most is that it displays some old ruins but with no real preservation or documentation (not even a pamphlet to explain the history of the place). The cobblestoned streets city is preserved like a time capsule but also faces authenticity issues (with new buildings replicating the colonial style to look like old ones) like Morelia does in Mexico.

Overall, it's just a giant tourist souvenirs shop with hundreds of crafts sellers all over the place, overrun by thousands of visitors speaking mostly English in the streets. Definitely not a suitable environment to learn Spanish.


Typical house in Cobán.

After my tourist visit of Antigua, I headed in the highlands to study more Spanish in the small town of Cobán. It's also where I celebrated my first year on the road.

It's a small town in the mountains roughly at the geographical centre of the country, in the heart of the Mayan world. Many tourists go through Cobán to reach Semuc Champey but very few actually stop in Cobán so you will hear more Mayan languages than English in the streets there. That could be confusing to new learners who couldn't make the difference between the languages and wonder why they don't understand locals talking amongst themselves.


View of 3 volcanoes across the Atitlan Lake.

That's one of the country's major tourists magnet. The passing by crowd mostly stay on the North side of the lake where Panajachel is while the opposite site is where many ex-pats call home. Although I knew I wouldn't like the tourist hub aspect of it, I still chose Panajachel for the view of the lake and volcanoes.

The town met all my expectations (the good ones and the bad ones). I hated the mercantile aspect of the town where everything is overpriced and you are constantly harassed by street vendors and boat representatives offering you "a good price". But the view on the lake side was really stunning.

Quetzaltenango (Xela)

On my way out of Guatemala, I made a stop in that major mountain city which is also an important Spanish schools hub. The city is okay, but no more. Its hilly cobblestoned streets makes it hard to walk outside the narrow sidewalks. There are many ex-pats living there too mostly because of great weather (temperatures around 25C during the day, 15C at night so you sleep very well) due to high altitude (2 341m, 7 725 ft).

Then I left for an informal visa run of three days in Mexico before crossing Guatemala again in a day to reach El Salvador.

Related posts:
What I've seen in Mexico
San Agustin site
Stone spheres of the Diquís valley
Joya de Cerén


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