|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
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
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.
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.