Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Sorry; this post has been overdue by about a week. A mix of sickness and being on the move or on tour most days makes it tough to sit down and find time to write. This post marks 3 months of travel for us.
San Pedro to Antigua
We took a shuttle from San Pedro directly to Antigua for 50Q ($6) each. We again used the “Junior Nixon” travel agency with success with a 4 hour trip including a 20 minute rest stop for food and restrooms. Our shuttle was once again full of people with no spare seats and not designed for a man who is 6ft2 tall. My knees have never given me problems in my life, but I’m wondering if they’ll start complaining if I keep punishing them with these small shuttles and other buses. Our shuttle itself had about three quarters of the people going all the way up to Lanquin to see Semuc Champey (our next destination).
I’m going to start with saying sorry to Antigua for not getting enough of a chance to discover your secrets. More later on the cold/flu/cough thing that is keeping us a little less active than we would like to be. Arriving into Antigua at around midday allowed us plenty of time to settle into our accommodation and get some exploration done. The main exploration was saved for travel agencies and getting up to see some volcanoes. We had been recommended to go with Old Town Outfitters. We didn’t end up doing this as their tours weren’t on the days we were planning to be in Antigua. The original plan was to get up and see the currently active, but only a little, Pacaya Volcano. This is the most common trip offered and prices ranged from 60Q ($7.50) to around 100Q ($12.50). Lesson as always tends to be there is always value in shopping around for the best price.
Not to advertise for Old Town Outfitters but they did show me the idea for an overnight climb of the Acatenango Volcano (3,976m) at which you can view the very active Fuego Volcano (Fire Volcano). They showed me some recent photos and at night the lava is so clear it’s amazing. Sadly, the current cost of around $150p/p was just too far out of budget for such a trip. We also met a couple a few days ago who did it a few months ago and it rained the whole time and they never saw the other volcano and didn’t even get to ascend the entire volcano.
Next on our self guided walking tour was a visit to the central park and its surrounding buildings. The colonial architecture was everywhere and brought back some great memories of other similar cities we’d seen this year, that of, San Cristobal, Mexico and Trinidad, Cuba. There seems to be plenty of history in this city and it was hard not to take another photo upon turning every corner.
The final stops on our walk were the first McDonald’s we’d seen in quite a long time. This place had classical music playing, an outdoor area with water feature, and seating that met the quality of 3 and 4 star dining restaurants. The costs were somewhere similar to the rest of the world. So in Guatemala, you can spend your money on better things for the same money, but this is one of those “sometimes” special meals.
Climbing the Pacaya Volcano
Day two in Antigua was a 6am get on the shuttle and ride the bumps for an hour to get to the Pacaya Volcano. The shuttle didn’t actually end up leaving town until around 7am after going around the place many times and eventually stopping for coffee and food for the best part of 15 minutes I think. This is always typical of tourist shuttles and never tends to surprise me.
A lot of other guides and forums will talk about this volcano with mixed positive and negative reactions depending on the day you do it. I think in this case, being prepared was the best idea. Once you get out of the shuttle at the ticket paying office, you will get a couple of questions from many people. These are:
1) Would you like a stick to help you climb up? (This will cost 5Q)
2) Would you like a horse to take you up? (This will cost 100Q)
I took the option for the stick rental as it has a reputation for being slippery in places. In the end, maybe didn’t need it, but it came in useful at places.
The hike up took only somewhere around an hour. The pace was fairly quick overall. Our guide only spoke Spanish though and I don’t think he was too keen on giving directions to everybody on going to the absolute highest they could. Personally I knew we couldn’t go completely to the top because it was too dangerous due to minor unpredictable explosions of rocks and steam. Ultimately as we got to what I thought was the top, people kept clambering in different directions and out of sight. I took their lead, to the point that we realised we could go quite a bit higher. I suspect our guide didn’t want to split up the group. We negotiated with him for a few minutes and ended up getting to a next little ascent, although we could clearly still go higher than this. No real regrets, but just notice for others. Unless there’s someone or something physically stopping you, keep climbing. We did get some clear views of the top of the volcano venting. Take a look at the following video of this.
Volcano video: http://youtu.be/9aXzRlL–Z8
For those that are serious about active volcanoes, I found this website for Guatemalan active volcanoes updating every morning.
Here is the runkeeper stats for anyone interested: http://rnkpr.com/a4i5gkv
Lanquin and Semuc Champey
After 4 nights in Antigua, we decided it was time to move onto our next spot of Semuc Champey. This seems like a very popular spot on the Guatemala tourist trail. I think the location of it being somewhere near the middle of Guatemala City and Flores helps. Shuttles are meant to take about 8 hours from either place. It is also relatively close to Livingstone and Rio Dulce at about a 5-7hr shuttle one way. It’s also a truly spectacular place and a nice place to spend a few nights relaxing.
Travel Tip: Shop around for the best price on Shuttles. We got our shuttle for 100Q ($12.50) but had a quote as high as 180Q ($22.50) per person. The company is Chisubin Travel at 6ta. Calle Oriente #8 between 4ta. Avenue and 3era Avenue (Telephone 4656 6919). The more expensive shuttles might have been a bit quicker, but not really sure. Our shuttle picked us up at 8am but did what we’d seen many times before by circling around waiting until it was completely full. We didn’t leave Antigua until 9.30am. It was a long trip up, but the bus was big and had a little more leg room than the usual shuttles we’d been on. It got a bit rainy as we got closer to Lanquin and the road coming in was spectacularly rough and muddy. At one point about 2km from the town our driver had to help some other stuck cars. In the end we arrived after dark at about 6.30pm.
The two most talked about places to stay are mini resorts by the names of Zephyr Lodge and El Retiro (The Retreat). They’re similarly priced with dorms around 40Q ($5) a night and a private double 150Q ($19) a night. At the time El Retiro had a deal for a free second night if staying in the dorms. These places are both located in Lanquin which is the nearest town to Semuc Champey at about a 7km drive along a rough road. We were told that Zephyr was more of the party crazy place and since we were both fighting sickness, chose to stay at El Retiro. Possibly the only downside to both these places is that the set buffet dinners were a little overpriced and way too much food. The 3 nights we stayed, it was 50Q-65Q ($6-$7.50) per person. It doesn’t sound much, but one night we went into Lanquin and got a large portioned meal for 20Q each which is typical of Guatemala. So for the budget traveller there are other options of staying in the town itself.
The other option people take is staying right next to the Semuc Champey entrance which is roughly the same cost, but much cheaper for the tours. The packaged tour from El Retiro and Zephyr Lodge were 180Q ($22.50) which includes return transport, a candlelit cave tour, 45 minutes river tubing and then onto Semuc Champey.
With our health the way it was we chose to do our own tour of Semuc Champey. Transport each way was 20Q ($2.50) per person and entrance to Semuc Champey was 50Q ($6.25). I think this worked out best for us, as we could spend a lot more time just relaxing around and exploring. We bumped into the people on the tour and they seemed a bit rushed on the Semuc Champey part of their tour.
The place itself is quite spectacular with natural turquoise and green pools to swim and explore. We had the option of leaving our things in a lock box that was being watched by a couple of guides/employees. You then enter the top pools and swim/climb/jump your way down the range of pools before returning on a walkway. This round trip can be as quick or as long as you want, but I suspect around 1-2 hours is the average.
An optional trip is a 1 hour hike up to a viewpoint over the whole area. The recommended thing is to do it on the way in so that you can wash off the dirt and sweat in the pools. You can also take a bit of a small hike beyond the pools to see where the river enters the underlying cave area. Due to recent rains, this was quite spectacular to see and only added 10 minutes onto the day.
Once you google for this, you find a whole lot of varying stories especially from travellers. The common name given by many is “suicide showers” due to the close mix of electricity and water. In fact, these are perfectly safe if installed properly. These seem to be typical in a large area of Central America and possibly even some African countries.
This picture is from the place we stayed at in Antigua. We’ve seen them a couple of times in Mexico and they seem very common in Guatemala.
The idea behind these showers is to provide hot water where the plumbing system does not run to a hot water boiler, which is the norm in most of tropical America. The water is heated inside the shower head and usually provides a constant and dependable stream of hot water. Getting the stream of water right is something of an art that comes with practice, if the water flow is low it will come out boiling hot, too high and it’s only lukewarm.
They need a lot of power in order to work and so are wired straight into the mains; you know they are working because when you turn on the water all the lights are meant to go dim. I haven’t always found this to be the case, so now I listen for a unique kind of wooshing sound it makes as it is heating. The other thing that can happen and I’ve had it a few times, is when you grab the metal tap you get that electrical tingle through your body.
You’ll probably also notice a small bulb with holes in it hanging off the side of the shower head — this is a pressure blow-off valve. If for some reason the shower head becomes clogged, this will –theoretically– pop off and allow the water to pour downwards rather than spray up into the wiring.
Getting sick while travelling is no fun at all
Usually I’m a pretty healthy person. We’ve been eating quite well, including fruits and vegetables. I even had a flu shot as part of the series of other travel vaccines just as a precaution. Either way, I got sick in Panajachel and struck down for about 5 days with a flu of some sort. Rodora was saved by not getting this somehow. Then again in Antigua the night after climbing the volcano I came down with another decent sized cold/flu type virus. We ended up taking a series of anti-biotics which I think has done the trick, but we’ve both had a cough that won’t go away for some time. When we were both sick in Antigua, we tried a bit of self medication from the Pharmacy. Thankfully we found an English speaking person at the Pharmacy we found. In hindsight, had we known it was quite this serious, we should’ve gone to a doctor for a better diagnosis.
Knocking on wood, I’m still yet to have stumbled across any food poisoning.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/