A Travellerspoint blog

City strolling and volcano climbing

Antigua

sunny 26 °C

After our trip to paradise Semuc Champey, we left the next morning on an early bus to go to Guatemala's prettiest colonial city: Antigua. We arrived in the afternoon and found a very nice little hotel across from the busy market. When we walked into town for a coffee we were right away charmed by this pretty town with all its lovely old buildings, little churches and old monasteries, colourful courtyards, gardens and parks. Mind you, Antigua is not what people would refer to as the "real" Guatemala, it is a very touristy town, a 'bubble' - but whatever, we enjoyed every bit of it!
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We ended up spending three full days in Antigua. Two days we only walked around, enjoyed the city, roamed through the markets, enjoyed the great food, relaxed in the parks and visited some of the many old monasteries and churches. Some buildings were destroyed in earthquakes, but the ruins still stand and you can roam around there - very beautiful.
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In this particular park everyone was just lying in the sun while these women were busy all day washing clothes in this big public fountain.
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And this is the view from El Crucero on a small hill above the town. Just when we arrived up there together with two girls we had met on the bus, we were told that just before we arrived, two tourists had been robbed at gunpoint on the way down! But fortunately the police arrived quickly and now escorted people up and down the hill.
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There were not many trips available at the tour agencies that week, so we decided to only go for the half day hike up the active volcano Pacaya. It was a nice little hike, the view was really beautiful: in the early morning we could see the valley covered with clouds, and the other volcanos in the distance. When we walked up further we reached the black, rocky part of the volcano which last erupted in May of 2010. We could see the smoke coming from the crater of the volcano, roasted some marshmallows over a hot spot and climbed into an incredible hot cave (actually made somebody's shoes melt!).
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But after a great 3 days we decided we had to move on, still so much to see and to do... Adios, Antigua!

Posted by pimenmalka 11:09 Archived in Guatemala Tagged pacaya antigua Comments (1)

Paradise lost

Lanquin & Semuc Champey

sunny 28 °C

Our next destination were the mountains around Lanquin, and especially the natural pools of Semuc Champey. We had originally planned to make the city of Coban our base, but were told by the guy who sold us the bus ticket that Lanquin is a much better and prettier place to be - and he was so right. We had a bit of a rough 7 hours getting there (and an obnoxious driver who only wanted to drop us off at the hostel that gave him commission), but it was definitely worth it. Lanquin is a tiny village situated in the mountains on a beautiful river. We stayed at a hostel right on that river for two nights.
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Our one day at Semuc Champey was a busy one. We did a full day tour and explored a cave, the river, and the pools of Semuc Champey. First we went to a really cool natural cave that is part of a whole cave system of about 15km deep. First Malka was in doubt about going as they warn you it can be a bit claustrophobic but she went anyways (and it was a good decision!). We had to go in with candles and headlights as it was completely dark and there was no natural light coming in. You had to wade through the cold (!) dark water and sometimes swim, climb on ladders and over big rocks. Very cool!
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After that we went tubing on the river that flows into the Semuc Champey pools. As it is dry season the river was very shallow and the current very little, but it was fun nevertheless!
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After this we did a steady climb up a mountain to El Mirador (the lookout) from where we could enjoy the amazing view of the Semuc Champey pools and its spectacular setting.
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And at last we had a couple of hours to enjoy the pools...and we did! It was very very very beautiful, one of the prettiest spots we have visited so far and we had a very relaxed afternoon there, just swimming in the pools and taking in the view of the nature around us...
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Posted by pimenmalka 17:20 Archived in Guatemala Tagged semucchampey Comments (0)

A Tikal Sunrise

Tikal & Flores

sunny 24 °C

After leaving Placencia in Belize with the earliest bus possible, we went on a little bushopping adventure through the Belizean mainland together with our friend John we had met on the sailing trip. As there are only chicken buses and no shuttles on the route we needed to take to Guatemala, it took us a whole day...from Placencia we went to Dangriga...from Dangriga to Belmopan...from Belmopan to Benque Viejo...from there a taxi to the border...from the border a colectivo to Flores. A significant amount of hours, ugly Belizean towns (and they are all pretty horrible), cramped old schoolbuses, crazy speedbumps and large ladies sitting down on your lap later, we finally arrived in Flores. How good it was to cross the border into this country where everyone is smiling and seems so strangely happy all the time! We loved Guatemala right from the start.

Flores is very touristy (therefore expensive for Guatemalan standards), and not at all that interesting, but it is a fairly cute town situated on a pretty lake and it is also the starting point for exploring the Maya ruins of Tikal.
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We spent one night in Flores and went to Tikal the next day, where we would spend our night camping at one of the jungle lodges. The ruins of the ancient city of Tikal are situated in the vaste jungle of El Peten and most buildings are not fully excavated. The woods are very thick and you cannot see the buildings as a whole city. Some large pyramids tower above the canopy, but you can only see that if you climb one of the temples. A very magical sight.
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We entered the park just before it closed and that meant meeting lots of different monkeys and other furry animals roaming around, it seemed we were the only people left in the park and it was amazinlgy quiet.
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That night we went to bed really early, falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle, because the next morning we were going to get up at 5.30 am to try to be on time on top of Temple IV for the sunrise. It was very cool and a bit scary walking through the dark jungle with only a torch (they do have jaguars and pumas there, but they rarely show themselves...well, you never know! haha). We would have probably missed sunrise, had there not been a giant cloud blocking out the sun. So 5 minutes after the climb to the top of the temple and out of breath, we were rewarded with the view of the jungle in the morning mist and soon after the rising sun breaking through the clouds...a view we will never forget!
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We spent almost 5 hours exploring the park that morning, climbing all temples that could be climbed (including one with a very steep ladder, very enjoyable especially for Pim), encountering even more wildlife and enjoying the views.
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In the afternoon we returned to Flores to spend one more night there before hitting the road to Lanquin...

Posted by pimenmalka 15:19 Archived in Guatemala Tagged flores tikal Comments (3)

Goin' slo' Belizean style

all seasons in one day 27 °C

Caye Caulker, Goff Caye, Tobacco Caye, Placencia ...simply all ova da Belizean coast, baby...
... Weh di go aan!

Belizeans like to do everything sloooooo...and that started at the border when we hopped as early as possible onto an old American schoolbus that was gonna bring us to Belize City. The bus literally stopped about a million times to drop people of and let them get on anywhere besides the road (even if that means someone has to get off 50m further than the last stop...). And then they were fixing the bus for an hour or so... Pim tried to keep a happy face...
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We arrived in Belize City just in time to catch the last ferry to Caye Caulker, and we wanted to take the trip together with a guy we had met on the bus, Barak from Israel (a.k.a. "El Presidente"). But then...not a single bank ATM accepted our bankcards, not even the creditcard! Having spent 15 minutes in Belize City we were sure we did not want to end up spending the night in this creepy array of ramshackle slums. But we had no Belizean dollars! Our friend Barak literally saved us and payed not only the taxi, but also the watertaxi and even the first hotel night for us until we could get some money the next day. Viva Barak!!!
So we took the very last watertaxi to the Caribbean Island of Caye Caulker, in the dark. After a tiring bustrip of almost 10hours it was fantastic to see the amazing starlight above the Caribbean Sea in the pitch dark, we saw the milkyway and even a falling star and felt welcome and happy again.
We stayed a few days on the friendly, relaxed and colorful island Caye Caulker doing as little as possible in general and nothing much in particular. Well what we did do was getting our tan on and eating a lot of lobster, running around barefoot and loosing track of day and time, bobbing our heads to the reggae beat...
We decided to spoil ourselves a bit in this nice environment and book a nice to hotel to stay in...
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... but also to book a 3 day sailing adventure down the Belizean coast with Raggamuffin tours. To 'fill' the days before we took of, we did an amazing snorkeling daytrip with Ragamuffin already at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. This is also how we met our crew for the 3day trip, and we confinced some other nice people to come on the tour with us! We made three snorkelling stops during our 6hour trip. Spectacular! We saw lots of tropical fish, sea turtles, barracudas, and eaglerays. Especially Shark Ray Alley was just so cool! Being an old stop for fisherman to throw away the rests of cleaned fish, lots of giant fish, stingrays and sharks showed up directly next to the boat and we snorkelled just one meter above them! Our captain and guide Kevin even grabbed a ray and a shark so we could touch them. A little scary but absolutely amazing!
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And we had our first confrontation with Raggamuffin rum punch on the way back, but more about that later...

On Tuesday morning we put on our swimsuits, packed our bags for the trip and left early for the boat. During the kickoff meeting the day before we were warned for a cold front coming up near the belize coast but despite some heavy winds and some waves the conditions were still very nice for sailing, although Pim was a bit worried about being on a rocky boat for a long time. After about 3hours sailing within the reef of Belize the waves were actually ok, the weather was still fine and someone caught a barracuda for dinner, so we were feeling very good.
Then the weather completely turned and within 10 minutes it was cold and rainy and that was the moment we were told to get ready for our first snorkel... See how Malka was doing!
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Barracuda time!
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Then we sailed further and dried in the breeze until we came to Goff Caye, a little fisher stop island with about, no exactly 11 palm trees, a small hut and two beaches.
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Here we stayed for what was going to be an interesting first night. We had to build up our unlogical tent and while waiting for what was going to be an excellent lobster and barracuda dinner the whole group started draining the gallons of rum punch brought to the island. After dinner the winds were getting stronger and we could feel the storm coming so we grouped together under the palmed roof and drank some more punch... Soon the first of us were behaving quite differently or fell asleep while we were getting more and more worried about our tent getting wet. When we tried to fall sleep in a half wet tent it was for the first 30min quite difficult because of the heavy winds almost blowing outer part of the tent away, soon the rum punch kicked in and I don't remember a thing until sunset the next morning. Which was beautiful as you can see.
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The whole day turned out to be beautiful and we loved the quiet sailing, the fishing (we didnt catch anything though) and the snorkelling. Oh, i almost forgot the tanning on the deck!
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We stayed on another cute little island, Tobacco Caye, which was a lot of fun. Its a beautiful tiny island with only 20 inhabitants...we are so jealous! We camped between the houses, went snorkelling with eagle rays, took our one and only shower on this trip, had a beer at the island's one and only bar and enjoyed some drumming at night.
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What a contrast this day was with the third and last day... We were woken up with the recommendation to take a pill against seasickness because "it was going to get rough".
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After the first 2h of rough i thought they had been exaggerating, but after lunch the sees were attacking us vigourously :-(
Somehow Pim managed not get seasick but the turns the boat made were quite terrifying sitting either inside (Malka fell of her seat almost all the time) or outside (Pim had to hold on while soaked in salt water).
Once arrived in Placencia we were still quite shaken (and stirred), but, no time to waste, the next morning we left at 6 already to head for our 3rd country already. More about Guatemala next time for we are now looking back to an excellent stay in and around the coast of Belize.

AAAIGHT!
Thanks to Raggamuffin and our awesome crew Kevin, Chris and Ellis!
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Posted by pimenmalka 20:17 Archived in Belize Comments (2)

Beachboys and girls

Tulum

sunny 27 °C

When we arrived in Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula after a very long and exhausting trip on the night bus, we were so happy to receive a warm welcome from the family running the hostel where we were going to stay, Posada Los Mapaches. Our favourite place so far! Great cabanas, amazing breakfast, and only nice people there. We had such a good time! Chelo, the lady who runs the place, was so lovely, she called us all her kids and even bought a giant cake for two guests who had their birthdays in Tulum. And the hostel was named after these little fellas who joined us for breakfast...
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We got free beach cruiser bikes which was real fun and we explored the beautiful tropical beach of Tulum with its bright white sand, palmtrees, and turquoise waters. And of course the Maya ruins situated right there on the coast - a temple with a view!
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There was so much to do in Tulum but we sure picked the right trips. Together with friends from the hostel we went to Playa Akumal and a lagoon on the same beach just a few kilometres from Tulum. And it was amazing!
The saltwater lagoon was just so crystal clear and lots of fish in all colours and sizes, coming right up to you when you jumped into the water. It was like snorkeling in a huge aquarium. We loved it and spent a whole morning there! (Yes, Jeroen, the camera is actually working!)
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But Playa Akumal was even more amazing. You just snorkel 50m out into the ocean and you meet giant sea turtles at depths of only 2 or 3m! We saw a lot of turtles, just feeding on the bottom of the ocean, really relaxed, or all of a sudden swimming next to you. Such calm and majestic animals... Some were as huge as 1,50m long. They were so beautiful we could have watched them forever. Pim even saw a huge eagleray that came out of nowhere and passed him by. It was a fantastic experience!
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If you look really closely at this picture below you can still see the ray swimming away in the shadows (at least that is what Pim says) ...
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We had such a great time in Tulum it was almost sad to leave! With a hug and a kiss from Chelo we left early in the morning, saying goodbye to Mexico and hello to Belize....
Hasta luego, Mexico!
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Posted by pimenmalka 16:08 Archived in Mexico Tagged tulum Comments (2)

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