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Hopefulist's 2011 CA Travelogue - GUATEMALA & HONDURAS

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Hopefulist's 2011 CA Travelogue - GUATEMALA & HONDURAS

Old Aug 2nd, 2011, 03:26 PM
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Hopefulist's 2011 CA Travelogue - GUATEMALA & HONDURAS

In July my husband Mike and I split nearly 4 weeks between Guatemala and Honduras. It was a well-balanced trip - a bit of running around balanced by a full week each in 3 wonderful places. It was also a good balance between cultural and interactive activities, total relaxation, and enjoyment of favored outdoor pursuits like hiking, biking, flyfishing, diving, and snorkeling.

If you're interested in details, continue here. If you want a quick synopsis with lots of photos, check out our TRIP BLOG (hit "Newer Post" at the bottom each time or check out the archive part way down on the right):
http://2011guatemalaandhonduras.blog...n-antigua.html

You can also check out my favorite photos in this trip's collection on my FLICKR SITE:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections
I'll post links to the specific sets in each section below.

For more detailed descriptions and opinions of lodging and tour options, here's a list of my TRIP ADVISOR REVIEWS:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/members-reviews/hopefulist

Here are a few notes:

PLANNING AHEAD
Those of you who know me know I plan ahead in detail. In addition to loving the process pretrip, it made this trip, like its predecessors, a piece of cake on the ground. We were happy with every lodging option, meal out, and tour provider and the connections and flights went very well overall. When we arrived home the cargo door on the plane wouldn't open and the ensuing wait was the only glitch of the trip.

HEALTH
We proactively drank Emergen-C, took probiotics every few days, and drank only purified water (generally provided by our lodging choices). We shopped in local markets and prepared our own meals about 90% of the time; we were careful to soak vegies and fruits we weren't planning to peel in a microdyn solution. My husband had a few stomach issues early on due to change of diet but otherwise we no problems. I don't like bug bites or covering up at the beach or staying inside or slathering on bug stuff so we struggled a bit with that balance with no dire consequences; we had almost zero bug issues in Guatemala and on Roatán occasional mosquitoes and rare run-ins with sand flies.

SAFETY
As usual, we kept our wits about us but had no issues with personal or material safety. The scariest moment was on an uphill local bus at odds with a downhill truck on a hairpin heading to Santa Clara above Lake Atitlán. From the sounds and backward movement we feared the clutch and brakes were shot; ayudantes racing to the back tires with blocks of wood didn't reassure us. Somehow we jockeyed enough times to make it by and up the hill we went.

If you're interested in more specifics about my health and safety recommendations, let me know.

MONEY
Because of recent Antigua ATM scams, we took enough local currency (some saved from previous trips and the rest ordered online and picked up at our Bank of America branch) to get us through Antigua. We paid a few lodging bits in advance and cash for most of rest; we used an ATM in San Pedro La Laguna and one in Coxen Hole on Roatán, so far so good. BofA's ATM and foreign use fees are ridiculous but I neglected to shop for anything better before this trip - maybe next year.

SHOPPING
Other than food we did very little shopping. In addition to some of the most wonderful gifts ever received we came home with a bright blue bedspread for a spare room and a new tablecloth; the former was purchased after a bit of looking in Panajachel (still the best bet for common textile purchases imo) and the latter from a widow's weaving cooperative in San Juan La Laguna.

PACKING
I still stand by #14 on the FAQ thread, though I do pack around a tiny netbook now for photo sorting/backup, emails, blogging, and the occasional call using skype. We didn't miss anything and used nearly everything we packed other than emergency supplies we were happy to return with.

BEST ADVICE
:: Travel as light as you can:
www.onebag.com
We broke the one bag rule with 50 pounds of books and gifts for friends on the lake plus dive and fishing equipment needed in Honduras which we stored at our Antigua hotel during our time in Guatemala.
:: Don't try to cram too much in. Having 3 bases of a week each meant we could cram every day clear full and spent very little time sitting on boats, buses, planes, shuttles, and tuktuks.
:: Work on your Spanish. My ability to converse in Spanish resulted in countless wonderful conversations in the homes of locals as well as on boats, in taxies, and on the street. It not only makes travel in the region easier but exponentially richer.

*So here begins a synopsis of where we stayed and what we did with links and costs (in US$).*

ANTIGUA
On July 6th, 2011, we flew on American Airlines from PDX (Portland, OR) via DFW and into GUA, arriving at 8pm. We headed to my favorite Antigua lodging option, Casa Cristina
www.casa-cristina.com
in a shuttle they'd arranged at my request ($35). The location, attention to safety, and helpful staff attract me back every visit to Antigua. This year I splashed out for one of the view rooms near the rooftop terrace on the top floor with a refrigerator (~$40/nt) - well worth the added cost. Our room was #11; I think #12 next door is slightly larger. The view over Antigua to La Merced to the west and Volcan Aqua to the south was inspiring and we loved the light and breezes afforded by the wall of windows. With a fridge we were able to buy huge bags of strawberries, grapes, avocados, bananas and more at the market which, coupled with local breads, pastries, and nuts, provided many of our meals.

We enjoyed 4 meals out:
:: Pepián at the Fonda de la Calle Real on 3o Avenida (~$8 each)
:: Chile rellenos and chicken with beans, rice, and tortillas at the local's taco place on Alameda Santa Lucía near the market (~$3 each plus ~$3 for a private serenade)
:: Típico breakfast at Fernando's Kaffee
http://www.fernandoskaffee.us
with coffee or tea and their good cat Misha on my lap (~$4 each)
:: Cinnamon bread french toast with honey and homemade yogurt and coffee/tea at Doña Luisa Xicotencatl (~$6 plus $4 for a loaf of whole grain bread from their bakery)

Mike hasn't been to Antigua since the 80s so I showed him some of my favorite places starting with the Academia Antigüeña
http://spanishacademyantiguena.com
where I touched base with old friends and met my skype Spanish teacher, Dilia. Next door in the ice cream shop we rang the bell and Mike got to meet one of Antigua's treasures, 86-year-old Benjamin. Ben was head of tourism in Antigua for decades and has a twinkle in his eye, a hankering for ice cream, and stories to tell. My favorites (and I suspect his) are ghost stories and I returned several times and spent hours listening, taking notes, making videos, and practicing Spanish.

Mike and I strolled in and around the lovely ruins of San Jerónimo (~$5); if you're nice to the gardner he'll unlock the door to the meeting room inside and direct you to the remains of the church out back. We took a local bus ( San Salvador > GUA and a shuttle provided by/to Villa Toscana where we spent our last night of vacation in style. On Sunday, July 31st we made our return flights to DFW and PDX where we were met with smiles and hugs all around by our mid 20s sons, Isaac and Carlos.

It is with ocean deep gratitude I reflect on another happy, memorable visit to Central America and with even deeper gratitude that I settle in to my favorite place on earth, our cabiny house overlooking the Columbia River and the Cascade mountains. Time to start planning next year's trip! ;-)
HAPPY TRAILS!
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Old Aug 2nd, 2011, 07:41 PM
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I loved your report and photos, Hopefulist! Very helpful and lovely photos!! Really gives a nice view of your time there--and they are lovely. We are planning to go to Guatemala in January and had some questions about safety, given that I will be wearing a backpack with my expensive camera and lenses and of course at times, the camera around my neck. We have already pretty much decided against Tikal for that reason. Am thinking of Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Chichicastenango, maybe hike to a volcano.....maybe the Ixil area. (Guess I need to start another thread on this!)

I have received SO much help from the Asia Forum (for our trip to Myanmar and one to India), the Middle East Forum, etc., that I was excited to read your report here on Guatemala. I will print it out as a reference for us and look at your photos again! Thanks!!
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Old Aug 2nd, 2011, 08:04 PM
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Thanks - glad you enjoyed it! You can check out the other Guatemala collections by using the 2nd link from the top of my 1st post. The blogs of the 2007 and 2009 trips might be especially helpful as they include your choices (+ Tikal; the Ixil triangle is only in 2007).

How much time will you have? Keep in mind that it will be really chilly up that far during in January. Happy trails!
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Old Aug 2nd, 2011, 08:47 PM
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Oh, I didn't think about the chill. Would Feb. be better? Also I forgot to say how awesome I think it is that you started the Beca scholarships! We just started sponsoring a 9 year-old girl in Guatemala with World Vision. I'll check those out.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2011, 08:58 PM
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Love your 2007and 2009 photos! Your report is giving me the confidence to go ahead and seriously plan this trip, so I'll start a new thread soon. I have the Rough Guide and The Lonely Planet so far. Thanks for the details on the specific hotels, etc.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2011, 09:48 PM
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I don't think there's be much difference between January and February. Just be sure anywhere you stay in the highlands has enough blankets; I've never stayed in a hotel or home in the highlands with a heating system, though I've read about some hotel rooms having fireplaces for that purpose. Have fun planning - I love that part. I've been thinking about next summer's plans, although my husband thinks it's against the rules since we've only been home a day or 2 from this summer's trip.
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 02:14 AM
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Awesome report and photos H thanks for posting.

The Trigger Fish at Sandy Bay my fav...

Prettiest underwater picture I have seen lately.
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 03:33 AM
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Stacey, just wonderful. Makes me homesick for San Pedro.
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 04:54 AM
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Hi Stacey,

Thanks for posting your trip report. I followed your blog throughout your trip and enjoyed all the pictures and your stories.

I tried to leave comments on your blog but it wouldn't let me. I can't remember everything I wanted to say, but I did want to ask if you and Mike hiked up to Cerro de la Cruz alone or if you went with a guide? I think my other comment was to say hi to Reuben if he still taught at the Cooperative School.

It's great that you take the time to blog and post here. If I can't be there, reading about your experiences and seeing your pictures are the next best thing.

Have a great school year.

Carla
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 04:55 AM
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Me, too!
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 04:57 AM
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Hi, Carla! I'll have to check the blog settings. Mike and I didn't figure out ahead how to connect with the police escort so we headed up about the same time thinking it would be fine, which it was. There were policeman hanging out half way up. I don't think there have been problems there for years.

Reuben is still there - I'll have to say hi to him next year. Happy trails!
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 07:29 AM
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Every time you post a trip report, hope, it's as though finding a new book from a favorite author. I am SO looking forward to some great reading - maybe even a bit of trip planning? !
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 07:44 AM
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You'd better set aside a week - I'm a little embarrassed how long it turned out!
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 02:13 PM
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No problem - the longer the better IMO!
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 09:48 PM
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Thanks for the trip report! Very informative and interesting. Myself, wife and our two children will be travelling with a small group to Guatemala in late January taking school and dental hygiene supplies to certain villages. This area is new to us but thankfully the head of the humanitarian organization we are going with is well travelled in Guatemala and the region. Looking forward to reading the blog. Thanks!
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Old Aug 3rd, 2011, 09:59 PM
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Thanks! Have a great trip!
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Old Aug 6th, 2011, 07:01 PM
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I LOVED reading your trip report and looking at the links & photos. Thanks for spending time to share it with us. I too start planning my next trip on the way home so I completely understand. Your Beca project is so good and I love hearing about and seeing your friends at the lake. My trips are unfortunately not about doing good works as so many others do.....rather I am a collector of old textiles and folk art and I shop till I drop. I guess I am helping the local economy but in a different way! Would love to hear comments from other collectors. Thanks Stacy
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Old Aug 6th, 2011, 07:59 PM
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Thanks - glad you enjoyed it!
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Old Aug 7th, 2011, 05:59 PM
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Hope,
Forgive me if you stated this in your report...I wasn't able to read it carefully at this moment.

I'm considering a trip to Belize and thought we would go from there to Tikal and probably spend one night. Do you think that would be unsafe?
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Old Aug 7th, 2011, 06:36 PM
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Everyone has their own risk tolerance and is more or less frightened away by occasional reports of incidents in the Petén. I haven't heard of any scary incidents recently and personally would not miss the opportunity to visit Tikal. I've been 3 times and am sure to return. I wouldn't dive myself but it's easy to arrange transportation ahead or at the border. Spending the night is a much better idea than trying to cram it in as a day trip imo. There are Tikal sets in the Belize 2003 and Guatemala 2007 and 2009 collections at the 2nd link in the top post. Happy trails!
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