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Trip report - Antigua/Tikal

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Hi all:
Just got back from a short trip to Antigua and since I have received so much help from fodorites I thought I would share my experiences for anyone who is interested. Flew from LAX to Guatemala City on the overnight on United. Very easy airport experience due to United having their own international terminal. Arrived and were picked up by pre-arranged taxi service. We stayed at the Mansion del Pensativo which I can very highly recommend. Lovely people, fantastic beds, nice pool. There are only about 8 rooms which makes it very intimate. Breakfast is included and very good. Antigua is a lovely, lovely town - very 18th century. Went to the Thursday market in the morning - if you go, make sure you find the outdoor part which is where people from the villages come to sell their wares. You will have to wade through a lot of Nike hats and other US castoffs to get there. Visited the shrine of Hermano Pedro - if you knock three times on his tomb and pray for someone who is ill, local legend says he will intervene on their behalf. The wooden coffin is very worn from all the people who have knocked there. Ate extremely well at the Panza Verde (sp?) - lovely restaurant and really exceptional food. Took Tikal Jets to Flores (definitely recommend them over Taca - we had friends on the Taca flights which were in old propeller planes while we flew in swanky new jets. I think Tikal Jets is the Jet Blue of Guatemala). We had arranged our trip to Tikal while in Antigua and were picked up by the Jungle Lodge transport. The trip in was fine but the Jungle Lodge was not a highlight - staff was not very helpful (amazing since everyone else in Guatemala could not have been friendlier) and our room smelled like an aging septic tank. That said, the hotel is close to the park entrance. Tikal itself is a miracle and absolutely worth the trip up there - my boys (11, 13, 16) were thrilled with the wildlife (spider monkeys, howler monkeys, coatis, toucans, parrotts, anteaters) and the adults were amazed by the ruins themselves. We had a fantastic guide - Francisco - sorry I don't know his last name, but he is one of the official guides and has worked as a guide in every one of the Mayan sites. He is a fountain of information on both the temples and the wildife. We were lucky to see a contemporary Mayan ceremony in the Grand Plaza which Francisco told us was "taking us back 2000 years." It was very moving. The next morning we went back into the ruins early and I cannot recommend more highly that you go from 6 to 9 and then come back for breakfast. The jungle sings and whines and rumbles with wildlife at that time and you can have many of the temples to yourself. My husband and son went back to the Grand Plaza later in the day and it was packed with people (try to avoid weekends if you can). We ate at the hotel and at the museum restaurant neither of which was great. Bring healthy snacks and water with you into the ruins - you can buy stuff in places around the park, none of the food is healthy. Don't forget insect repellant. And do visit the tiny little museums - there are two - and don't miss the tomb in the wall of the ceramic museum!

Transport back to Antigua was easy and uneventful. On our last morning, I visited a home (though I hesitate to even use that word) that has just been started for girls who have been taken from their families. There are 104 girls there between the ages of 12 and 17 as well as 45 infants. They get a place to stay and food from the government and that is all. To my US eyes, it is tragic - the girls have absolutely nothing to do but watch their clothes dry to make sure no one steals them. Many of them have been physically and sexually abused - though you would never know it from the warm way you are greeted. If you are visiting Antigua anytime soon and would like to bring something down for these girls, email me at annamcdonnell@mac.com and I can help you figure out how you can help. That's it. Fire away if you have questions.

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