A Travellerspoint blog

Uncovering Antigua - Part One


Contrary to my last post, Antigua is much more than just a party town.

The Markets: The markets here are beyond incredible, stall after stall take up a fair chunk of land, spanning maybe a two or three blocks worth, although not the biggest (this title goes to Chichicastenango, I know, its a mouthful. Chichi is home to not only the biggest in Guatemala, but all of Central America).
It is ridiculously easy to get lost in the Antigua markets, trust me, I am speaking from experience. But, getting lost is all part of the fun, as long as you have a strong stomach! The locals come to do their grocery shopping here so if you are queasy around raw meats and fish its best to stick to the artisan side of things.
When shopping for some local product in Antigua, you have to go deep for the good stuff, and either a Xanax for the anxious or a strong coffee for the shopper in you is recommended prior, whatever works for you. Starting with the standard knock of Ray-Bans, or is that Roy-Ban? Right through to the local textiles, this place can fill a whole day if you have the stamina. Colourful hammocks, handmade bags, black Slate Mayan Calendars, they have it all. Its the perfect place to hone in the bartering skills and pick up a little something for pretty much everyone at home.

The Cross: This is one of the most photographed places in Antigua and for good reason. Although not making it up this time, I visited a few years ago and got my standard tourist shot of the cross over the city. If to fill in a few hours, sunset views or a bit of exercise with friends, this is something everybody should do before leaving Antigua.

Cooking School: If you ever here, take a local cooking lesson. Just do it ok. We went with La Tortilla cooking school, a five star TripAdvisor rating, great prices and local chefs, we had a great morning making Pepion and of course, tortillas. Although Cat and Mary were hung over and I had the start of what I can only describe as the mother of all flu's, we sliced, diced, boiled, grilled and squished things. All while drinking complimentary wine and joking with the chefs. A bonus, they email the recipes to you so you can make them for the family and friends when you return to the real world.
Awkward part of the day? Realising we DID in fact know the chef from somewhere, turns out one of us (yes, may or may not have been me) had pashed the head chef two days before, then run away and didn't realise until halfway through the class. Queue excessive giggling from the females in the room and an inability to make eye contact.


Moving right along.

Cerro San Cristobel: A short and cheap bus ride up one of the many mountains to this little gem of a restaurant for some of the best views of the city. Although, not that we can comment on the view as there was thick fog surrounding the mountain when we visited. However we can attest to the smooth red wine we sampled and the incredible nachos on offer. Well worth the visit, even when you can only see three metres in front of you.


Hobbitenango: Inspired by Lord of the Rings, the owner of this Bed and Breakfast/Restaurant has built his own small Shire, complete with Bilbo Baggins huge round door into the bar. Sprawling lawns, bottles of wine and our own private spot on the property, we enjoyed a fantastic sunset over the four Volcanos and each others company.

Cody, the bar manager from Roos Hostel, had organised a "shuttle" up the hill to Hobbitengango. The shuttle turned out to be a Land Cruiser, and although a large vehicle, not really sufficient for 12 adults. Solution? Why not put two on the roof.
Going up was all well and good, except for the two on the roof, until the driver got busted by his boss at the front gate and we had to split to two groups.
The ride back down to Antigua was even better than the way up, we lost the head lights due to some dodgy electrical work and even the mechanic in the car had no solution.
So, what you have now is two grown men on the passenger seat, four people in the boot, four in the back seat with Cody laying over our knees, anyone in a window seat using their phone as headlights and the driver using his hazards like he has never used them before. Not one of us didn't have stomach cramps falling out of that car from laughing so hard.


To be continued...

Posted by TakeOnTheWorld 17:53 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

The Lake, Antigua and the Silly Season


After a long cold night in the bus with a 10pm departure, four with food poisoning, one drunk, two passports left behind and windows down to avoid foggy windows; it was a struggle to get to Lago de Atitlan but well worth it when you see the view coming over the mountain into San Pedro.


Lake Atitlan turned out to be our recovery stop: Kayaking, Yoga, Horse-back Riding, hot chocolate and don't forget the breakfast of champions; Oreo-Peanut Butter-Granola and Banana Smoothies. Although the good food opinion was not shared by all as both Tim and Lisa had a case of food poisoning and the horses where less than healthy, exploring the flooded homes who had built too close to the rising shores of the lake in the kayak during sunset and early nights was a the reboot we all needed. Especially as we were heading to Antigua for Christmas and New Years, Guatemala's tourist and party centre.

Leaving Tim behind so he could partake in a Cocoa Ceremony (I asked but still entirely unsure of what this is exactly), we headed to Antigua. I had lived in Antigua a few years back, working in a hostel, and was eager to get back to somewhere so familiar.

We planned to stay a while in Antigua in order to take Spanish lessons, but first, it was silly season and we certainly got silly. Treating ourselves to a fancy steak dinner on Christmas eve with Irish Lisa, Yankee Timmy and Mary plus two newbies we met at the hostel, the red wine flowed and therefore so did the somewhat questionable conversation.

Cat: I lit the dog on fire once.
Me: Yeah, I lit my mum on fire once.
Tim: I think Mel wins.

Being two backpackers in Central America around this time of year, I'm sure you can imagine how that week went. Just throw in Cats cousin Jackson and friends, Timmy going home, Lisa missing her bus to Nicaragua, five Irish lads, NYE party in a huge empty swimming pool and the famous Terrace Hostel pool party. That is all I'm prepared to say about this as I'm pretty sure my mum is going to read this one day and I wish to hold on to at least a crumb of the image she so mistakenly holds me in.


Antigua is much more than language schools and bars, so hang on for the next entry to read less about partying and more about the beautiful town I once called home.


Myself, Lisa (being a creep), Timmy and Cat on Christmas Eve

Posted by TakeOnTheWorld 14:48 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Semuc Champey - Natures Best


With hangovers that rivalled being hit by a small car, we decided it was a perfect time to take a tour to the main attraction of Lanquin; Semuc Champey, a series of natural terrace pools, waterfalls, caves and lookout. Polish Michael and English David were in no shape to get out of bed, let alone leave the hostel, so, dragging Irish Lisa out of bed, we climbed onto the back a small truck, picked up two Scottish from town and were on our merry way motoring around the Guatemalan highlands in the rain.


Upon arriving we met Carlos, Maria and Dennis, locals kids aged between 4 and 7, selling raw chocolate their mothers made. "My name is Carlos, Carlos primero, you buy from me." The three followed us around for a while and we learned that Maria and Dennis were siblings, while Carlos seemed to be the leader of their little gang. All was going well with our little shadows until Timmy bought chocolate from Dennis. Carlos was not impressed. "I thought you were me amigo." He whimpered with puppy dog eyes and pouty lip. Knowing exactly how to pull the naïve heart strings of us sucker tourists, these kids were some serious hustlers.

Our first activity of the morning was exploring the extensive caves. So, on goes the swimmers, our guide gives us each a candle and in we go. Swimming in water over our heads while trying to keep the candle dry, trusting our guide as we blindly jumped off of the cave walls into pools and climbing up waterfalls was all part of this illegal-any-where-else-in-the-world cave tour. Emerging from the cave, we were then shown a huge swing! You would swing only when the guide said it was ok, and you let go only when he yelled to. Everything was going swimmingly until somehow Lisa managed to dismount the swing horribly wrong and face plant the water from a 15 metre drop. Being the trooper she is, semi-concussed after some choice words only the Irish can conjure, Lisa still jumped into one of the tubes and we floated down the river being harassed by the creative beer venders who carried a small cooler in the tube and throw beers to the tubers with their names on the bottom to be paid later.

Next up was a 10 metre bridge jump followed by a desperate swim to the side so as not to be swept down the rushing river. With only a few of our group jumping from the bridge, we were soon put to shame as a few of the local kids, no older than 9, gave their spiel from the top of the bridge railing, "My name is Roberto, you buy beers from me, I give you good price!" before launching off the side in a backflip before racing up the side of the river bank to re-commence business.

Following a delicious, spicy lunch, we made it into the Semuc Champey national park, due to tension between the locals and tour companies, our guide did not enter the park with us, instead he left us with directions to the Mirador and promised to meet us later with our ride home.
Going straight up the side of the mountain we made good getting their in half the time advised. "What are you a mountain goat?" the Canadian puffed. "The trick is not to stop." I replied as we climbed yet another set of steep stairs to one of the best lookouts there is.


Semuc Champey is one of the most stunning attractions in Guatemala, and for good reason. The crystal clear waters flow from one pool to another, making up huge natural infinity pools. Although it was raining and we were all freezing cold, we still couldn't leave without jumping in and being eaten by the tiny little Doctor Fish before shivering our way back to Zephyr Lodge and the hot tub.

Posted by TakeOnTheWorld 08:41 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

The Magic Bus

An interesting bus ride through Guatemala


With the group wanting to move on from Flores, we booked our bus to Lanquin, and more importantly our spots in the Zephyr Lodge, a must do by travellers in Guatemala. Loading onto the fully packed 24 person oversized mini van, Timmy surprised us with a bottle of rum, at 8am, it was clear how this 8 hour bus ride would go.

With the rat pack banished into the back of the bus like naughty school kids we were joined by USA Kat and her bag of tricks. Whatever we needed she had it in her surprisingly small handbag. Plastic bag? Kat had it. A knife? She had it. A mug? Yep, she was equipped. "Who are you? Mary Poppins." Kat was soon joining in on the communal rum.

All was going well until we came to a river about 3 hours into the trip. Normally the bus would drive onto a barge with as many other motor vehicles that could be packed on, then two guys in tiny tenders tied to the side of the barge would start their outboards and off we go. But today there was a strike among the workers as they had not been paid in months and there was a traffic jam of bikes, vans, cars and 18 wheelers backed up in the middle of a random wasp swarm.

With not much else to do, we waited for the wasps to move on before finding a small shop for beers and a view of the action. Or lack there of it would seem. The shop owner was clearly a savvy business woman, as the day grew old, the beer prices increased. She knew we had nothing else to do and took full advantage of our pockets.


After around more than 4 hours of waiting and drinking, the mayor of the town made his leisurely way down to the barge, an influx of people swarmed to the barge to hear just what he had to say for himself, money changed hands and bam, we were back on! Buying a coconut in celebration from a nice young fellow selling on the barge, Timmy filled it with rum, handed it around and then once empty I threw it out the window of our now moving van. I was aiming for the rubbish bin on the side of the street, however, in an almost predictable fashion, the coconut rebounded off the rim of the bin and flew into the path of two strolling woman, closely followed by be screaming 'lo siento' out the window as we sailed on by and everyone else in shocked, hysterical laughing fits.

So, with our bus journey turning from 8 hours into 13, more rum was bought and it got incredibly rowdy. At one point all anyone could here was Lisa screaming 'Tim, stop biting me!'. To this day I have no idea the reason why Tim was feeding on Lisa and I'm not entirely sure I wish to. Surprisingly there was only one extra side-of-the-road toilet stop from the group before making it to the small town of Lanquin. Around 15 of us were unloaded from the bus and then hustled onto the back of a lorry and before we could get comfy or even find our balance, we were going up and down the hills of Lanquin heading for Zephyr Lodge. Picture a group of half drunk 20-30 year olds in the pitch-black playing the worlds biggest game of corners, at one point, I was on top of a poor Australian girl, with Tim on top of me and Lisa on top of Tim. I was mostly concerned about the tailgate popping open and everyone rolling like Giant Jaffa's (O.J candy to any non-kiwis) down the hill we were currently ascending.

Making it mostly intact to Zephyr we were greeted with a beer, a tour and the rest of the hostel guests in full party swing dancing on the tables.

Zephyr Lodge is a must do for a reason, situated on top of a hill with dramatic valley views on 3/4 of the property, infinity pool, hot tub, toilets with half a wall missing ensuring you get 5 star views while doing your business and most importantly, HOT SHOWERS with good pressure. Although I didn't get to enjoy the last one thanks to Cat draining the hot water cylinder. Cheers for that Cat.


Posted by TakeOnTheWorld 11:57 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Flores, Guatemala

Rope swings and pirating


The little island of Flores is most popular to tourists because of Tikal, the nearby Mayan City ruin sight. However, if you want to hear about this its best to ask someone else because this time around I did not go. I stayed out there a few years ago, sleeping in a hammock and fighting off scorpions, so I opted out as I couldn't imagine it had changed since. The rest of our little Rat Pack got up early and headed out on a sunrise tour to Tikal, hiking up the temples and listening to the Howler Monkeys. These little guys are aptly named, their call is what they used in Jurassic Park for the T-Rex and are apparently rated as the loudest land animal on earth.

Meanwhile, I spent a peaceful morning drinking coffee and lazing around in the hammocks on the roof of our hostel taking in the awesome views of the lake and this old town. On a high from their trip to Tikal, Tim and Cat went to the bar for coffee and came back with tequila shots before heading to the barber where Tim shaved off his long locks and came back with a buzz cut and a slightly shell shocked expression.

With nothing much else going on that afternoon, we decided to take a look at this rope swing we had heard so much about. Turns out you have to take a lancha (a small boat) across the lake, also turns out if you ask the skipper if its ok for you to drive, he will point you in the right direction, jump out and send you on your way. I know what your thinking, Cat and Mel worked on boats, they will be fine. It wasn't Cat or I who asked to drive, it was David (England) who had never operated a boat in his life that wanted to drive, both Cat and I were too far away to intervene so it was down to us to give him the most basic of directions on how to operate the outboard (including how to steer the bloody thing) and what followed was what felt like the slowest tender ride with Lisa yelling as she is doused in wave after wave over the bow due to how over loaded the little tinny was. Two inches of freeboard doesn't leave much room to play with.

We eventually made it safe and sound and were greeted on the dock by two little kids no older than 7 who proceeded to assist in the unloading of this mostly novice group of boaties. The family had realised the gold mine their home was sitting on a few years ago; with perfect views of the glassy lake, idyllic sunsets daily and deep waters surrounding their land, they have strung up four huge rope swings, crafted a rather terrifying diving board, built a little hut with table, chairs and hammocks as well as menu and bar service. We stayed until well after dark and Mary made the fail of the day by slipping off the diving board and landing with a world class bellyflop followed by some world class profanity.


Posted by TakeOnTheWorld 15:23 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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