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Trip Report 2 months in Guatemala

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I'm finally back from Guatemala, having extended my stay from 5 weeks to almost 8. Thanks so much to all who aided me in planning this trip, especially Stacey. Guatemala was an amazing experience for me, and I met so many travelers like myself, looking for a different experience.

TIKAL: I flew to Flores from Guate City upon arrival. The flight cost around $200.00 round trip. It was extremely bumpy and many of the 20 passengers were frightened and screamed a few times! If I went again, I would take the overnight bus. All of the people I spoke with here that had taken it experienced no problems at all, thought that it was comfortable enough to sleep, and it was dirt cheap.

Tikal Inn: basic, clean, great pool. Food okay. I preferred the prices and the food at the Comedore Tikal, across from the visitors center.

Tikal: Roxy Ortiz was not available, so I took the sunset tour and the sunrise tour with the guide the Tikal Inn recommends. He was fine and delivered a canned presentation that was informative. Sunrise let us down, it was one of the 65% of the days too foggy to see, however, hearing the forest wake up was worth the early wake up and climb to the top of tower 5. We also climbed a ladder of approximately 200 rungs to the top of tower 4. Very, very scary.

Roxy was available the afternoon after the sunrise tour to take two of us to the ruins at Uaxactun, with it's elaborate astrological observatory. Lovely ruins and we were the only ones there. On the way back to Tikal there was an attempted hijacking/robbery of us (or so we thought at the time). In actuality, the bad guys had already caused a delivery truck to have a flat tire and were in the process of robbing the driver. Roxy knew what was going on, so we were able to drive through the blockade unharmed. We then stopped everyone (1 motorbike, 1 car and 1 delivery truck) to warn of the danger. Also stopped at the ranger station at the Tikal entry to alert them.

Highly recommend Roxy if you can retain her services. She is a knowledgable and passionate archaeologist and well worth the money.

ANTIGUA: I spend a lot of time in Antigua during this trip. I arrived at 10 pm on a flight from Flores and was picked up by the driver from Antiguena Spanish School, where I would be studying for the first week.

I was taken to my "home stay" at 11 pm, which was run by the family of a school employee. I realize that my standards are not the same as others, but I really felt my "home stay", a term I use loosely, was pretty bad. There was no family interaction other than the mother, an older woman, who would sit and watch the 4 students eat. That, coupled with the standards of cleanliness and items that were broken (nothing in the bathroom in the bathroom worked properly) caused me to move out after 2 days, and into Casa Luna Hotel, which I enjoyed immensely. I was not given a refund for the prepaid one week home stay, and did not make an issue of it.

As far as the school itself, I did not get the same warm and fuzzies that others on this forum have experienced. The school was very, very crowded and my instructor and I were assigned space behind the adjoining ice cream store which had many tables and chairs, so close that it was distracting. My instructor, Diego, a man my age (50ish) was a peach. He gave me a verbal and written quiz, determined my level of spoken Spanish (high intermediate but with way, way too much Mexican slang) and we hit the road. Every day of that week we walked the city, and I had not only great practice at speaking and listening to spoken Spanish, which was what I wanted, but a personal tour guide who was very well versed in local history and worldwide politics and issues. He was an excellent instructor for me.

I ended up coming back to Antigua for one week later in my trip, and then again for a few days towards the end. For various reasons I stayed in quite a few hotels:
Casa Luna as stated above, clean, quiet, they let you use the kitchen. I cannot remember what I paid, but it was dirt cheap.
Casa Cristina: I enjoyed this hotel, but wished I could have gotten a room on the third floor where there is more privacy and the view is great. $30 US for a first floor room, double occupancy.
Yellow House Hostel: had a private double room with a super clean shared bath. I went down to use the bathroom at 2 am and the staff was cleaning. The included breakfast can only be described as wonderful. I talked the cook/housekeeper out of her tomato recipe. Private double room was 160 quetzales per night. Dorms are less. The place fills up fast, so email for a reservation
Posada Don Diego: another small boutique hotel across the street from La Merced. Clean, quiet, comfortable. I stayed twice, once in the double in the back with the private bath and volcano view, once in a 4 single bed room with private bath. There were 3 of us in this room and we paid 400q total.

Restaurants: I ate at Kafka's pretty regularly. Rooftop bar/restaurant over a hostel by La Merced. Very inexpensive and great food. Love the burgers and nachos.
Dos Palmas: more expensive for food, but the house white wine at 22q per glass could not be beat. Plus they show great movies in a little private room.
Kaffee Fernando's: spent a lot of time here, eating fruit and soup and drinking freshly juiced juices. Great atmosphere, friendly staff.
Frieda's: love the chips, salsa, guacamole and bean combo appetizer, plus the nightly drink specials. Tortilla soup rivals any I've ever eaten. Plus, they very progressively, for Guatemala, have a waiter who is in a wheelchair.

Activities: I was able to be in Antigua for one of the processions leading up to Semana Santa. Too moving to describe. You need to experience this yourself.
Spa day: a friend and I treated ourselves to La Reposa spa treatments. Located just around the corner from La Merecd. 45 minute relaxing message, 30 minute reflexology and the best, by far, pedicure that I have ever had for $43.00 US plus a tip. Great way to spend my last morning in Antigua.
Hike to the cross: I did this several times with friends. Armed guards and plenty of other hikers make this a great, safe workout.
A friend and I also visited the coffee plantation/museum in Jocotenango. I can't remember the name, but it was fun and interesting.
Salsa: free salsa classes on Monday and Tuesday nights at the studio next to Antiguena School. I then took private lessons there a time or two and learned a lot. Salsa is fun! And I needed to work off all of that eating
Movies: many of the bars and restaurants show free movies. We watched Chocolat in English with English subtitles (who knew?) and The Kings Speech dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles.
Local Cemetery: this was my favorite place in the city. Huge mausoleums, all white, fill place, along with some wall space for the poor and for poor children. It may sound strange, but I found it to be calm, peaceful, and beautiful. The Guatemalans really show respect for their dead.
All in all, I really enjoyed Antigua. I spent way more time there than necessary, but due to some friendships formed, I was able to stay busy, eat well, sleep comfortably and have a whole lot if fun.

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    I arrived in Panajachel via shuttle from Antigua. It took about three hours. I came in with a friend and we stayed at Mario's Rooms and we each spent $13 USD per night for two single rooms. The price included a small breakfast which was sufficient for me, but not for the friend, who is a bigger eater. Pana is very touristy, the main drag is filled with booths and people bug you to buy their wares. They have beautiful, local crafts and fabrics, but since this was the outset of my trip I was not in the market for anything.
    Food in Pana left no impression on me with the exception of the vegetarian Indian restaurant on the strip.

    Sunday, my friend returned to Antigua and I made the short boat ride over to San Pedro de Laguna, where I was to study for the next three weeks.

    I arrived at the Cooperativa Spanish School around 2pm and was greeted by Luis, one of the teacher/owners of the school, who was acting as the director. The teacher/owners apparently take turns with this. He called my home stay family to come get me, and off I went, ready to try again with a home stay.

    The woman with whom I was scheduled to stay was lovely, as was her delightful 7 year old daughter. The house was sufficient, and the 7 year old was clearly proud of it. She had me close my eyes while she led me around to the various views of the mountains and the lake. The room was clean and comfortable. The trouble for me started when I went out to walk thru the neighborhood to find some dinner, since Sunday meals are not included in the home stay. Around the corner from the house was a very dirty, seedy cantina, with plenty of local drunks to bug me. By the next day, I realized I could not stay there, after I came upon a man passed out in the middle of the street in a pool of vomit at 10:30 in the morning. My home stay was over. I explained my predicament to Luis and he did not charge me for the other nights.

    I moved in to the Hotel Sak'cari (sunrise in the local language). My bet move yet. I negotiated a price for a 21 day stay and settled in to a lake front room with tv (which was never turned on), free water bottle refills, hot water for tea, wifi, free kayaks, the list goes on. The sunrise over the lake and surrounding mountains was the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen. Every day was different. The price was a little over $15 USD per day. You can stay for less in one of the non lakefront rooms. I purchased fruit, avocados, crackers, peanut butter, and ate at the outdoor tables for breakfast and lunch most days. Dinner was at the following restaurants:
    Jarachik: this is a hostel that a lot of students stay at. The Aztec soup is genius, as are the liquados.
    Le Jardin: lovely setting, great fish.
    Ventana Blue: Guatemalan Asian fusion by the owners of the very popular breakfast/lunch spot Cafe La Puerta. The American half of the owners is a brilliant artist. I purchased a marble lamp from him, which I had to send via mail. I hope it makes it.
    Mila's: super guacamole and fresh chips.
    El Barrio: our evening hotspot, complete with great food, bartenders who never forget a name, and a very rowdy Sunday night pub quiz.
    Sunday afternoon the spot to hang out at is the local pool, La Piscina. Incredible barbecue and big fun for dirt, dirt cheap. Carnivores heaven. You will need to find an eating partner as the portions are huge!

    The following place I cannot say enough good things about:
    EL ARTESANO is located in the neighboring town of San Juan, a 5q tuktuk ride from San Pedro. This lovely little garden is identified by an arch in front with the words VINO CAFE. Its next to the woman's weaving coop on the one way street that runs towards San Pablo. Dietrich and his Guatemalan wife Wendy serve coffee, wine, beer, cheese and bruschetta. On Thursday there is a movie, and they also serve pizza on Thursday night. You need to call ahead for pizza by Wednesday, as he only makes enough pizza for those who order it up. I was there for lunch one day, and they served the two of us a cheese platter with at least 15 kinds of cheeses, along with some nuts and olives. We returned with a group of 15 for pizza night, and it was heavenly. We ate all the cheese, pizza and bruschetta, and drank all of the white wine in the restaurant!! The garden is lovely and fun. Highly recommend the trip to San Juan, for both the weaving coop and El Artesano.

    Cooking school: across from the front gate of the Cooperativa, and about 50 yards up the hill, I came across a small sign for cooking class. I immediately signed up and spent s fabulous morning in the kitchen with Leti. Her home is modern and spotless. I learned to make chicken pepian, rice with vegetables, radish and yerba buena salad, salsa and cantaloupe liquado. I ate lunch with Leti, here husband Luis (who, coincidently, is the director of the school in San Pablo that I was scheduled to begin volunteering at the next morning), their delightful daughters, aged 17 and 10, and the 2 students whom were living there thru the other big Spanish school in town. I asked Leti if she took other students, and she told me that as long as they were not thru the school she contracted with she could book them directly. I immediately received a room with them for a week stay with them at the end of my trip, thus successfully completing a home stay. It was great. Comfortable room, private bath, lake view, great family interaction. I have their email if anyone wants it.

    El Nariz hike: very steep if you go from San Juan. It took us almost three hours to summit and we are all physically active. We went down the back to Santa Clara in 45 minutes, and as it was Saturday, the very colorful market was in full swing. Tis was a school sponsored event.

    Cooperativa school: I really liked everything about this school. The staff was wonderful, the grounds heavenly, the activities fun and interesting, kayaking, Indian nose hike, canopy tour, and salsa dancing with Luis. No complaints. My teacher, Marlon, was flexible with the curriculum. He also had a wicked sense of humor that I enjoyed. While I was there, the mother of one of the directors passed away. 4 of us were I invited to attend the funeral procession and service. It was a wonderful cultural experience, and I was honored to be a part of it.

    During my two month stay in Guatemala I was in San Pedro twice. I stayed 3 weeks, then returned to Antigua for a week with a friend, then returned to San Pedro for 1 more week at the Cooperativa while staying with Leti and Luis before departing with 3 other students to spend the final few days in Semuc Champey. I feel that this is a place I will return to again and again, just like so many others.

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    Semuc Champay

    The ride from San Pedro to Semuc is 13 hours or so. 4 of us travelled together and decided to take a late Thursday shuttle San Pedro to Antigua, stay overnight at Posada Don Diego, then continue to Semuc at 8 am Friday morning. I'm so glad we did this! The shuttle picked us up at 7:45 am and we then had to pick up the other 11 travelers located all over the city. It was 9 before we got on the way, and I was glad they picked us up first, as we got the primo seats. We arrived in Semuc around 6:30 pm. A long day.

    El Portal hostel is located at the gates of Semuc. Very convenient for getting to the sights, which are spectacular! The hostel is basic. Generator power between 6 pm and 10 pm only. No phone service. Very basic, but clean, clean, clean. The 4 of us shared a dorm roowith 4 twin, very hard, beds, in what I called the chicken coop. Second story room with a thatched roof and open windows (no glass or window covers). Cold water only in the shared bathrooms. You can get a private room with a bath, still cold water only, for more money. It was very, very cheap. 40q per night per person. You really need to eat at the restaurant there, nowhere else to go, where you order your dinner before 5 and everyone staying there eats together at 7. It is a big party atmosphere and everyone has fun together. One of our group lost her wallet containing her passport, credit card, and all her money, and it was slipped under our door, intact, during the night.

    The hike to Mirador was only 1.2k each way, but took us 1 hour. Very steep, very worth it. The view was amazing. We swam in the granite pools for 2 days, inner tubed down the river, 2 of our group took the cave tour and enjoyed it, but felt it was a little dangerous, and all of us went into Lanquin to watch the thousands of bats fly out of the caves there at dusk.

    Was it worth it to take such a long journey for two days? We all thought so. The atmosphere and beauty of the place was restful and rewarding.

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    Wow, Lynne - thanks for this detailed post! I'm heading out for a workshop but will look forward to reading it when I get home. Hope your return to the real world wasn't too harsh!

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    What a great report. I know I am going to have to reread it as I am sure I missed somethings.

    The friends you mentioned, are they people you met while being in Guatemala?

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    Best Trip Report I've read yet. Thank you
    Re. bus vs. plane to/from Flores ... I took the bus because all flights were constantly full. I (and the other passengers) had an issue with air conditioning turned off right at the beginning of the LONG journey; windows of course not opening.
    I'm wondering if you - or any other Guatemala posters - have had similar experiences.
    Also - if you used shuttles a lot did you like them?

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    Thanks, Tenaya. I didn't mind the shuttles so much. I took them alot since I went from Antigua to San Pedro fairly often, and also to Semuc. They were long and crowded (usually), but the drivers were pretty safety conscious and stopped often enough for a stretch. No problems, but the recurring theme was to add about 20% more to the time estimate given for arrival.

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