Guatemala & Belize
In 2015 I spent a couple of weeks travelling solo through Guatemala and Belize.
This trip is still one of my favourites because it was so diverse: it included volcanoes, lakes, jungles, rivers, caves, ancient ruins, Mayan culture, tropical beaches...
One of the best things about this trip was that I made friends with a lot of people taking the same route as me. In every new city, we added more new friends to the group, and by the time we reached the final destination (Caye Caulker), we were over 15 people, meeting every night for dinner, drinks etc. And we had absolutely no means of connection - no phone numbers exchanged, no Facebook, nothing :)
Here are the places I visited and the highlights of the trip.
Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala, a small city made up of old colonial-style houses.
I found lots of cool bars & restaurants here, and met many travelers - backpackers, exchange students or just people staying to learn Spanish. Could have easily stayed for a month or two in this city.
Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes. One of them - Fuego - is active, and I could watch the eruptions every night from the rooftop of my hotel. Such a surreal experience.
I couldn't visit Fuego (it's too dangerous) but I went on a day trip to Pacaya, another active volcano. I hiked to the top and even got to roast marshmallows on the hot volcanic rock!
After Antigua I continued to Panajachel, a backpacker village on Lake Atitlan. This beautiful lake is in the Guatemalan highlands, surrounded by three extinct volcanoes, and lined with tiny villages.
I went on a boat tour to visit some of the villages, where I saw coffee plantations and had the best espresso of my life. I also got invited to lunch with a local family in their house. We had grilled fish (fresh from the lakes), soup, corn flour tortillas and other delicious things.
Since I never adjusted to timezone, I was waking up at 5am every morning. I spent those early hours by the water, hoping for a pretty sunrise. Unfortunately the mornings were always cloudy. Atitlan was beautiful nonetheless :)
This is one of my favourite places in the world.
The journey from Atitlan to here took an entire day: starting with a 5am van back to Antigua, then 8-9 hours in another van to Lanquin, and finally 1 hour more in a pickup truck to Semuc Champey, on a dirt road through the jungle, at night.
Semuc Champey is a series of natural pools in the middle of the Guatemalan rainforest.
The place is so remote that there's no electricity or running water. The hostel where I was staying used a generator to provide power for a few hours every evening.
There's also cacao trees growing everywhere.
I was only spending one full day here. I spent the morning swimming in the pools (I only had my old GoPro with me, so those are not the best photos).
In the afternoon I went to visit some caves nearby. The local guide said it would be "a nice candle-lit walk through the cave". It wasn't!! We were swimming through an underground river, holding on to old ropes with one hand, and to our candles with the other. Eventually we reached a waterfall - INSIDE THE CAVE - and had to swing through it with a rope, Tarzan style. Amazing experience to remember but quite scary while I was in it!
After Semuc Champey I took another day-long journey to Flores. This town is usually just a stop on the way to Tikal - the ancient Mayan city - but I actually loved staying here.
Flores is a tiny city on an island in the middle of a lake. The city actually extends to the shore as well, but that's the modern - and not so nice - part.
Tikal is one of the main attractions of Guatemala. It's an ancient city (or the ruins of it anyways) in the middle of the jungle. Honestly I was not impressed, the place was so touristic that it felt like a giant museum full of old rocks.
After Tikal I took a bus (a real one that even had AC, finally) and then a boat to Caye Caulker in Belize.
Caye Caulker is a small island in the Caribbean sea. It's a purely backpacker place.
The best hangout spot here was the Lazy Lizard, a bar on the beach with tables inside the water :)
I went on a snorkeling boat trip for a day and saw lots of sharks, stingrays, tropical fish and corals.
At night we had dinner at Fran's, the place was nothing more than a grill by the beach where the Owner - Fran - cooked amazing coconut shrimp and jerk chicken. Meals came with 2 cups of rum + pineapple juice.
This laid back island was the best way to end this Central American trip :)