17 June 2016
Travellingross Rating: 9 out of 10
11 hours. 3 vehicles. 3 bad movies. That’s what it took to get from Antigua City to the middle of flipping Guatemala. Changing vehicles because the roads got rougher and skinnier. I was told it would be eight hours arriving at 4pm for free time before dinner. Oh no. But hey, that’s what to expect in a developing country. The very fact I got here and the hotel had my reservation was a surprise.
Only yesterday, I booked a 4 night tour for the simplicity of not having to think about booking anything for the rest of my Guatemala time. Having not heard/researched about anywhere in this country other than Tikal, I saw a photo of Semuc Champey and thought it looked pretty. Done.
On the final vehicle from Lanquín, I met a great Scottish/Florida couple and we had laughs and fun the next couple days. The hotel was all Guatemalans except for us and I set my alarm to make it for the 8am tour stated on my voucher. Only to find out after toe tapping at 8:20am that I, of course, was on the 10am tour with everyone else!
The tour included an intense hike up to the look out (mirador), then down to the natural pools, a cave tour with just a candle to the light the way, and a leisurely float down the river in a tyre tube. The pools are beyond beautiful and consist of a natural limestone bridge over the Cahabón River. The water is refreshing (read: cold), with fish that nibble your feet, jumps and slides along slippery rocks, and an incredible waterfall that tunnels under the pools. Stunning. Worth the long trip and hassle to get here.
booked through Aviatur
in Antigua city for $450 usd including a single supplement. Great agency that speaks good English right near the arch. Only downside was the tour vouchers are written very generic without hotel names or tour contacts. But in the end (after a couple of phone calls along the way) it all worked out ok. I have become much better at spontaneous travel and ‘just going with it’.
Accommodation: Hostal El Portal. A pain ( literally) to get to. Riding 45 minutes from Lanquín in the tray of a truck holding on to bars while misty rain falls. But perfect location just outside the Semuc gates and overlooking the river. Electricity only 6-11pm and no telecommunications at all (I wasn’t expecting this). Oh and no hot water.
The bumpy, winding road
One of the vehicles
The rickety old bridge to cross
El Portal Hotel – my room on the lower left
Hiking to the mirador
Ahhh the view
Deforestation is obvious and extreme. Hill slopes and tops cleared for crops and plantations
The river going below the limestone formation
The beautiful natural pools
The Cahabón River and Hotel El Portal
13 – 16 June 2016
Travellingross Rating: 10 out of 10
This city in Guatemala is an infusion of places I have been before. Fortunately the best parts of those places. A bit of Peru, Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico.
But different to those countries (I know I’m broad brushing entire countries and not comparing to all of Guatemala just yet), here in Antigua city, it’s like the tourist doesn’t exist. Sure there are people trying to sell tacky jewellery and cashews. But other than that everyone goes on with life and it’s authentic. Not like Cuba with their vintage taxis and tourist pesos made solely for the foreigners. Or like Costa Rica where everyone seemed to target the assumed wealthy foreigner. Here kids play basketball with archaeological digs and repairs in the background. A volcano erupts smoke in the near distance. And the stalls on the streets are intended for the locals, not the tourist. All in a relaxed, simple atmosphere that is safer than my minimal research lead me to believe.
A world heritage listed city that literally has an historic site or ruin on every corner. I did not see anything outside the core but I felt that, unlike other world heritage listed towns, this one is a working lived in, functioning city. I really enjoyed my time here and it was a great way to kick off my Guatemala and Belize trip.
How to Make this Trip
Flights: Copa Airlines via Panama City. Long layover in Panama so I paid $50 USD to enter the lounge which was a great decision.
Transport: Pre-arranged an airport pick up and transfer to my hotel through Around Antigua for $43 USD. I read that Guatemala City is hazardous for tourists and not much to see, so I was happy to see someone holding my name on a sign and get straight outta there to my hotel in 45 mins.
Accommodation: Hotel Meson de Maria for $56 USD per night via booking.com. Quiet, perfect location and with a delicious included breakfast. Only downside was the weak Wi-Fi signal.
Ahhhh my hotel from the rooftop terrace
My hotel. Loved the courtyard
The arch. Symbol of the town.
Typical street scene
Inside the basillica
“The most preserved church in town”
City Hall looking to Cathedral
Local beer overlooking some ruins
Parque central. Very peaceful.
Another corner, another ruin
Volcano overlooking the town
A volcano blowing a puff of smoke. I’m sure there was a tremor one morning.
From Santa Cruz look out
Kids playing in front of a ruin under restoration. Such a contrast.
I don’t normally show food, but here’s some local dish. Food is good here.