It keeps surprising me how many beautiful places we encounter on our journey that I never even heard of before we left the Netherlands. Since the start in Havana, we have covered about 3600 km through Cuba, Mexico and Guatemala (Polarsteps). and time seems to fly by. Often we only find out about a place because other travelers told us to go there, which is especially true for some of the things we have seen in Guatemala. Even though we are far from the first travelers getting to this country, it feels like a beautiful hidden gem to us as there are barely any tourists on the most beautiful places. Probably because we are travelling in low season. We are not leaving Guatemala yet but I felt like I already had more than enough to share. On our mission to the south, we have learned Spanish on the lake-island Flores, visited the astonishing Maya city Tikal, took many and another dive into the waters of Semuc Champey, and found our next stay to be in Antigua.
It took us around 20 hours to travel from Tulum to our first destination in Guatemala. It was quite exhausting especially because of the long wait in the little country Belize. We decided not to stay in Belize as we were told that there is not really a point if you don’t have tons of money to spend. It’s Caribbean look was very inviting though and the diving should be awesome, so we might return someday. Our destination was Flores for now, where we would stay for about a week. We decided to take a Spanish course here as we find that learning it would make our travels much more meaningful and as it is a beautiful language. We started at the only Spanish language school of Flores on Monday, Dos Mundos. Of course you don’t get fluent in a week, but we are quite proud of the steps that we made. On the second evening already, we were trying to talk in Spanish during dinner. If Spanish would have been our native language and this would have been our first date, it wouldn’t have been very successful. Considering the circumstances though, it wasn’t bad at all. There is a lot of satisfaction in learning a new language as you can directly apply anything that you learn. Our classes took place in the morning hours on a rooftop from which we had a great view on the lake Petén Itza. It was also super nice to stay in one place for a little longer as you get some more time to become used to it, and it left us plenty of time to explore the island and its surroundings. In the afternoon we often went to the grocery store and market across the lake to get some stuff from which Anne creatively created pastas, salads, sandwiches and guacamole and more. The hostels however turn out to have kitchens less often than we hope for. Guatemala does have some great street food, which is also the case in Flores. Along the waterside a group of Guatemalan ladies sell some great home cooked dishes, and you can just pick whatever you want from there tables. It feels a little like they just make up a price right in front of you which may be different for locals than for tourists, but it still is pretty cheap. One night we had some pie and a burrito and ate it along the lake, on the side of the island which is home to thousands of birds who either fly around of rest on one of the many electricity cables. Another night we walked up to the top of the island to enjoy the beautiful sunset and brought ourselves some beers and tomato juice. That’s a new thing we learned here, mixing beer with tomato juice is very tasty! Especially if you spice it up a little with some pepper or Tabas. The locals tend to overdo it a little sometimes to my taste in the drink called Michelada.
After our last class we took the hike up to the viewing point from which you have a great view over the whole lake. Its not in Flores itself; you first have to take a boat to the other side and after a hike through the jungle you get to a wooden structure built around a big tree which brings you a few meters above the rest of the jungle. On the one side you can see the island of Flores and on the other you can see the rest of a big lake which curves around the hill you are standing on, a great view. You can easily spend an hour or two just sitting there looking around you. After a little more walking, there is a beach which is great for a nice and refreshing swim.
We have already been to Chichen Itza and are in general not to keen on checking out all the ruins that can be found in central America as there are tons of them. We were however told that Tikal is the most impressive Maya site out there and we therefore had to take this opportunity. It was indeed incredibly impressive. We decided to take a guide this time as it was only a few bucks extra, and he was awesome. He told us so many great stories about how the Mayan culture which really brings the place to life. The city is 16 square kilometers big and it has been deserted by the Mayans around the year 900, which is expected to be because of a very long dry period. At that time the Mayans actually moved to Chichen Itza, where we had been only two weeks before. It’s fascinating and humbling to see how the temples which have not recently been renovated are entirely taken by nature. When walking past it just seems like you walk past a steep hill, but in fact it’s a temple covered by sand, grass, plants and even large trees. I found it quite a refreshing experience to see how nature can take back whatever humanity has taken from it if given enough time. Whatever had been home to 100,000 people a thousand year earlier, is now a jungle inhabited by monkeys, toucans and leopards; of which we were lucky to encounter the first two. The temples and buildings that had been recovered by the archaeologists were most impressive as well. We could walk through them and climb up, which just makes it so much more real than our experience in Chichen Itza where you have to watch everything from a distance. The floor is now covered in grass, but back then the Mayans had the whole area plastered in such a way that all the rain would be led to a number of reservoirs, which we found a very remarkable achievement. All temples have been built for a purpose, namely celebrating the end of a time period and as an offer to the god. Basically no characteristic of a temple is built the way it is by accident, everything is calculated and has a certain meaning. I do not remember all the details, but for example the number of steps are always a multiple of some of the numbers that have a special meaning to the Mayans, and the steps on the north are always the shortest. Just before sunrise we climbed up the biggest temple (70 meters), and enjoyed the stunning view over the jungle with a few temples sticking out here and there. A great day it was, and it was very impressive to get to know more of this culture.
This is a perfect example of a natural gem of which it surprises us that we have not heard of it before, Semuc Champey. Luckily, we did find out about it on time as we wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. Somewhere in the north of Guatemala, the raining water collecting in the jungle comes together in between two mountains in order to create a beautiful place. For a couple of hundred meters, there are tons of little lakes blue as can be, connected by numerous waterfalls. The terrace like surroundings make both a beautiful view as well as a great place for hours and hours of fun. A cool thing to do is to walk all the way up at first, and then find a way down by swimming through and jumping from pool to pool. There were some other tourists around but barely any, although we were told this is way different in high season. Luckily, instead of the Roller coaster Tycoon background sounds of people screaming continuously, we only had the sounds of the jungle and waterfalls accompanying us. We didn’t have enough of it after the first day so we did it again the day after. After these little adventures, we would walk back to the hostel and play some ping pong and badminton together. We were exhausted at the end of the days.
Next up on our journey and where we are now is Antigua. It’s a little city in the volcanic area of Guatemala. Its located at around 1500 meters above sea level and its therefore much colder than what we are used to, but still pretty warm (especially for Dutch standards). The streets are amazing and it has such a great atmosphere; and than to mention the immense volcanoes surrounding the town which are even erupting once in a while. Our hostel is a little crazy so we aren’t sure if we stay here for the whole while, but it’s great fun! The people are really welcoming and there are unexpected jam sessions throughout the day. That’s really one of the many aspects of the Latin American culture that always gets a smile on our faces, the great ability of the people to create music together and dance. A few nights ago, a 3 bed dorm was packed with people playing drums and guitars, creating a wonderful sound together. I even tried to play along a little on the guitar myself and picked up a djembe too, I wouldn’t call myself an expert though.
We think we might stay here fore a while again, and we will probably start another Spanish course soon as the previous one really helped us a lot. Afterwards, we will see wherever we will end up next but we are incredibly excited about what is coming up. Thanks a lot for reading my blog, and let me know in the comments what you think or if you have any questions. If you would like to have some more frequent updates, you should follow my Instagram.