The Republic of Guatemala

PART 1, General Information

PART 2, BLOGS Pictures and Gallery

PART 3, VIDEO CLIPS

The Republic of Guatemala

Capital city: Guatemala City

Population: 18 million

Currency: Quetzal

Km travelled in Guatemala; TBA

Days in Guatemala: TBA

Languages: Spanish

GENERAL INFORMATION

Guatemala a country in Central America, which endured a bloody civil war between 1960 and 1996. Since the end of the civil war Guatemala has achieved economic growth although it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability. Guatemala faces many social problems and is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Guatemala has been prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes which causes mudslides and flooding. The most recent was Hurricane Eta in November 2020. ( Category 5 storm) Earthquakes are common, and the 1976 earthquake killed over 25000 people. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes of which 4 of them are active (Tacana, Santiaguito,Pacava and Fuego) The income distribution is highly unequal with more than half of the population below the national poverty line. It is estimated that around 54 % of the population live in poverty. We were amazed to hear that money sent home from Guatemalans living in United States is the largest single form of foreign income in Guatemala. Main exports are fruits, vegetables, flowers, Coffee, sugar, and Banana’s. 50% of the labour force is involved in the agricultural sector. Mines produce gold, silver, zinc, cobalt, and nickel. Tourism has become an increasing source of revenue lately.

Guatemala is located between Mexico, Belize and Honduras and is a favourite country for the North American overlanders. Roads are slow so expect long travel days due to poor and winding roads and constant changes between low and highlands. Guatemala receives around two million tourists annually. Tourist destinations such as Tikal, Lake Atitlan, the active volcanoes, the historic town of Antigua and Semuc Champey are on the must do list. The thick rainforest of Guatemala has many hidden Maya sites (Tikal the most well-known) As well as large populations of monkeys and exotic birds. The country has many religious festivals These vibrant and diverse cultural festivities of Guatemala makes for some incredible and colourful holidays and festivals

TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS

GUATEMALA CITY,

like many cities around the world also is known for criminal gangs and drug violence. But this is a big city and a diverse city. 3.3 million residents make Guatemala the biggest city in Central America. But some parts are not very tourist friendly.  Guatemala City is divided into zones.  Zone 1 being the City centre. Zone 4 is touristy with many trendy coffee shops, cool bars, and street art. the Mercado Central is the best place to do shopping as Antigua and Chichicastenango are very touristy hence much more expensive. However, be aware of pickpockets. We are not museum people however there are many around Guatemala City to learn about the Maya culture. The city has some historic colonial buildings and many are well preserved. The plaza Mayor is the city centre and home to the National Palace and a beautiful Cathedral. Unfortunately, the gap between poor and wealthy is enormous. And here you can see this difference in ways tourist areas never show. Catch the chicken bus, the buses are color-coded, and this tells the locals the destination. This is important as many locals cannot read or write. You must visit El Portal in the Pasaje Rubio. This was Che Guevara’s favourite Bar when he lived in Guatemala City. We are told to avoid zone 3 18 and 21 others also mentioned zone 6

ANTIGUA

One of Guatemala most scenic towns, lots of colour tile roofed building in perfect state and a UNESCO world heritage site. Spend at least a few days here to explore the markets, churches and enjoy Maya woman in traditional dress. The town has cobblestone streets, great cafes, and at 1500 meters enjoy fresh mountain air and enjoy the volcanoes in the distance and make sure you take a picture of the Arco de Santa Catalina with in the background the Volcan Agua (on a clear day) 

TIKAL

The thick Guatemalan jungle has tried to reclaim this ancient Mayan city. Tikal is the largest excavated site in the Americas covering 575sq kilometres of jungle. It is home to thousands of ruined structures. The central part of the city alone covers 3000 buildings and is around 16sq km.  There are five enormous granite temples from where you have a great view above the rainforest canopy and the ruins. Tikal is also part of the one-million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve. Mayan people lived in this area around 900 BC. 

UAXACTUN

The site is 25 km North of Tikal following the dirt road where the Mayas improved their writing and astrology. This architectonic site shows notable advances in astrology and time calculation. All the temples are connected to each other from an astronomical perspective and it is here where the oldest Astronomic Observatory was built by this incredible civilization.

RIO DULCE & LIVINGSTONE

a frontier town on the crossroads of the more developed regions of Guatemala and the jungle-clad province of El Petén. A funny constructed town under the bridge and a busy highway straight through the middle of town (noisy) But once you cross the bridge you move into the  wilderness with cliffs, wild birds and narrow waterways and the sense that you are experiencing small village life, deep in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle. Take the boat to Livingston, a great boat journey down river surrounded by rainforest. This is where the Garifuna people live. Livingstone is a melting-pot of Latinos, Mayas, Garifuna, and gringos. The only way to reach Livingstone is by boat. 2 other highlights are San Felipe fort and the hot springs at Finca Paraiso

LAKE ATITLAN

This stunningly beautiful lake 1500 meters above sea level sits at the foot of the conical volcanoes Atitlan, Tolimán, and San Pedro and is ringed with indigenous villages where life has changed little over the centuries. Many of the inhabitants of these towns are descendants of theCakchiquel and Tzutuhilgroups. The colours of the lake vary from deep blue to green. With a depth of 341 meters, it is the deepest lake in Central America. Dence forests surround the lake. Try and spot the national bird Quetzal .

PANAJACHEL

A real busy tourist  spot on the shores of Lake Atitlan with great views of 3 volcanoes. This town is very touristy but has amazing views. The atmosphere is great, and the people are helpful. Santander street is where you can find a variety of handicrafts. Do not miss the church of San Francisco, and shop at the local markets where the locals sell fruit and vegies

CHICHICASTENANGO

Best known for its Fiesta de Santo Tomas, (Dec 14-21) its markets and the church dating back to 1540. It is a quintessential Mayan village, complete with red-tiled roofs and cobbled streets with beautiful mountain scenery. Thursday and Sunday are market days very colourful and lots of Mayan people.

FLORES & LAKE PETEN ITZA

On an island in the middle of Lake Petén Itzá, Flores is reached by a causeway. The best way to know this beautiful island is by walking around. This tiny town has a glorious plaza, Spanish church, and well-preserved colonial buildings, and you can walk around the whole island in around 15 minutes. It is surrounded by the third biggest lake in Guatemala, Lake Peten Itza. This quiet Island is one of the 25 most colourful places in the world.

COBAN & PURULHA

Cobán is the capital of the department of Alta Verapaz in the central highlands of Guatemala. The annual folklore festival is in late July or early August. Known as Rabin Ajau, this impressive festival showcases Mayan traditions and includes music and dance. Before arriving in Coban you pass Purulha, mainly of interest to outdoor-oriented travellers and birdwatchers. The Biotopo de Quetzal is the area where you find the Quetzal Guatemala’s beloved bird and lots of waterfalls where you can swim. While in the area also visit the many coffee and cardamom plantations

LANQUIN & SEMUC CHAMPEY

Overlooked on many standard Guatemala overland itineraries, the coffee growing region of Lanquín, located in a deep valley, offers plenty of treats for those who venture out here. It is a short drive to Semuc Champey. Hidden in the lush mountainous jungle you find a series of tiered, limestone pools, deep in the jungle, in brilliant shades of turquoise. Semuc Champey is truly one of Guatemala’s natural wonders and the best way to fully appreciate its beauty is not just by swimming in the pools but by seeing it from above. Semuc Champey, is a 300 m long natural forming limestone bridge that has six turquoise blue water pools. visit Semuc not only to enjoy swimming in the pools but also to explore the nearby water cave, or tube down the Cahabon River which disappears under the limestone bridge only to reappear miles later.

MONTERRICO 

is a black-sand beach on Guatemala’s Pacific coast. The beaches, vibe, and amazing sunsets are well worth the trip. In Monterrico, the waves are bigger and more fun to play in, the beaches are less crowded, and the water is as clear and warm as it could possibly get. Walking down the street, you will see the real local flavour, not a shiny facade put on for the tourists. Do not expect fancy resorts

CLIMATE

The coastal areas are normally warm and tropical, and the mountains are cool. The climate is mainly determent by location and altitude. Guatemala has 2 seasons, dry and wet. Dry Season is from Nov to May and the wet season is from May to November


GUATEMALA CITY

Summer: 15 degrees at night and 29 degrees during the day

Winter:    11 degrees at night and 27 degrees during the day

Rainfall:   May to November

TIKAL

Summer: 20 degrees at night 32 degrees during the day

Winter:     15 degrees at night 27 degrees during the day

Rainfall:    May to November

LAKE ATITLAN

Summer: 15 degrees at night to 27 degrees during the day

Winter: 12 degrees at night to 27 degrees during the day

Rainfall:   May to October

MONTERRICO

Summer: 18 degrees at night to 28 degrees during the day

Winter: 12 degrees at night to 26 degrees during the day

Rainfall: May to October

RIO DULCE

Summer: 15 degrees at night to 28 degrees during the day

Winter; 12 degrees at night to 23 degrees during the day

Rainfall: May to October

PART 2, BLOGS & PICTURES

GUATEMALA PART 1

Border with Belize was still closed (COVID-19), hence a 500km detour via Palenque to the far North West Border with Guatemala. For Guatemala, a Covid-19 test is required to enter. Leaving Mexico it was clear Guatemala was less organized and a lot less wealthy. However, the people are amazing, friendly, hospitable, and helpful. Unfortunately in Guatemala we encountered mechanical problem when our brake failed due to a broken compressor and as per Murphy’s law it had to happen on a steep decline in remote far northern Guatemala a long way away from a large city. Incredibly lucky that we were near a small village called Las Ruinas where the locals went out of their way to try and help. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to organize a tow truck. After 2 days in this village with super friendly people we had to say our goodbyes and left on the back of a tow truck to a larger town called San Benito. But no luck here either as all parts have to come from Guatemala City (the capital) Unfortunately due to our car trouble we had to turn around and missed El Mirador National Park a 3000 sq km park with ancient Mayan monuments including the Danta which is the largest pyramid in the world based on volume (2,800 cubic meters) and also the highest in the Americas with 72 meters. This area of the Guatemalan highlands offers great mountain scenery and traditional Mayan lifestyle which we experienced in Las Ruinas. The Three towns San Benito, Santa Elena and Floris are normally referred to as Flores. This area is in the middle of Petén. Flores is a small island in Lake Petén Itzá and is connected with a causeway to Santa Elena (3000KG max) Flores is an easy-going and friendly place. Its cobblestone streets and old pastel buildings are attractive. Lake Petén Itzá is the second largest lake in Guatemala (the largest is Izabal) around 35KM east to west and 15km North to South. Much of the surrounding land is covered with tropical rainforests or farms raising sugarcane, cacao, grains, and tropical fruit. And most important over 25 Mayan sites around the lake. Tikal means “place of voices” now the largest Mayan city discovered. (570sq Km) Amazing towering Mayan ruins and rainforest we are told are one of Guatemala’s most awe-inspiring sites. The benefit of Corona is that again during this visit only a few people around. Huge temples and limestone pyramids dominate the landscape. To name a few Temple of the Great Jaguar, temple of the Masks, the North Acropolis and the Central Acropolis, the square of the Great Pyramid, Temple of the Serpent the highest of Tikal, by its 70 meters and will allow great views of the park. A great area and enough wildlife around such as different kinds of monkeys, parakeets, toucans, parrots, and we were told even jaguars, but we never saw any. Tikal National Park is the oldest and most famous national park in Guatemala. Created in 1956, it covers 222 square miles (575 sq. km) of primary tropical forest. Following the dirt road north we arrived at Uaxactun considered one of the oldest cities dating from the pre-classic and classical periods. Amongst the remains stands a pyramid that has served to the aristocracy to observe ceremonies, sacrifices and other relevant events. The palace to XVIII, a beautiful temple is the best place to have a view of this site. With our vehicle serviced and the compressor replaced we are ready to explore Eastern Guatemala and the Caribbean Coast. We learned very quickly that Guatemala a lot poorer is than its neighbour Mexico. With an official minimum wage of just 9 Euro a day or 14 Australian dollars and a schoolteacher earning 212 euro a month or 354 Australian dollars we realized how lucky we are. Nevertheless, people here are happy and friendly so far, we loved the traditional villages, music, and colourful markets.  

GUATEMALA PART 2 Leaving Tikal, we are driving south towards Rio Dulce. Slowly leaving the Maya Biosphere reserve ( the second largest forest in Central America)  Northern and Eastern Guatemala is the least populated and developed region of Guatemala. Our first stop Poptun, a small town in the East of Guatemala. We had heard of an American who moved to Guatemala in the 1970’s and set up an ecological Finca (guesthouse) just south of the town of Poptun. Upon arriving in this  beautiful oasis in the Guatemala jungle. 2 couples in 1971 Carole DeVine, Michael DeVine, Luisa Wheeler and Dennis Wheeler set out from California and Wisconsin traveling through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala looking to buy land so that they could realize their dream of a farm. The happy couples took care of the farm and raised their children. The idea of having a hotel, restaurant and campground had not crossed their minds. In the early 1970’s, the only main attraction was the ruins of Tikal. The unbelievably bad narrow and mountainous gravel road sometimes resulted in trucks and buses stuck for a day or two, so it was not an easy trip. Because of the long trip to Flores and Tikal tourists always were looking for places to stay along the nearly deserted route. Word got out that there were two American couples that owned a farm, so people began to stop by to see if there was a place to stay and food to eat, more and more people started coming. One day they decided to put a sign out on the road and start charging. It was rare to see any tourists, but there were some adventure loving people who dared the Guatemalan jungles. Some people tired of their trip asked if they could spend the night in their camper or tent. Soon people would ask if they could join in and pay for their meals. Finca Ixobel was born. Unfortunately, Michael DeVine died in 1990. (murdered by guerrillas) His wife, Carole DeVine, and the two children continue to run the business. A great spot to stay, with great people and lots of history. Next stop the town of Rio Dulce a noisy town it has one of the biggest bridges in Central America crossing the river Rio Dulce. Traffic is horrendous the town is busy noisy, and it took us 2.5 hours to cross the village. Rio Dulce has a local vegetable market, attracting locals from the countryside who arrive in dugout canoes. Once out of town you are in the wilderness with lots of wildlife and narrow waterways.  It is part of a lake and river system that has become a popular cruising sailboat destination. A must do is visiting Casa Guatemala an orphanage that houses roughly 250 children and provides them with education and nourishment. Another must do is the boat trip to Livingston. the river flows east for a couple of miles From El Golfete the river meanders for 10 kilometres in a spectacular gorge. The sides of the gorge rise to 91 metres on either side and are covered with teak, mahogany, palm trees and lots of bird and wildlife. The river starts the moment it flows out of Lake Izabal  at the entrance to the river there is a small Spanish colonial fort named Castillo de San Felipe de Lara. It is Located within the beautiful Rio Dulce National Park; this is by far the biggest tourist attraction in the region after the Garifuna town of Livingston. Livingston is a town, with a population of 17,923 only accessible by boat located at the mouth of the Rio Dulce and the Gulf of Honduras. It was Guatemala’s main port before the construction of nearby Puerto Barrios. Livingston is noted for its unusual mix of Garifuna, Afro Caribbean, Maya and ladino people and culture. The Garifuna people were known as Black Caribs, they are a mix of African and indigenous people from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. Merry Christmas everyone.

GUATEMALA PART 3

Time to leave Rio Dulce and cross Guatemala from East to West. Compared with Brazil and Mexico the distances are short. However poor traffic manners and lots of roadworks makes the journey to Guatemala City a long 290KM. The area around Rio Dulce is also called the green Caribbean, it has a rich ecosystem in a warm climate, which promotes a large vegetation that serves as a habitat for various species, making this region a Caribbean of great natural beauty. We followed Lake Izabal on the southside and saw beautiful beaches, and great views of the surrounding area. The lake has a variety of fauna, including the freshwater shark, lizards, and crocodiles. Just before we started to gain altitude on our way to Guatemala City, we explored lush tropical rainforest, and tropical forest enjoying the sounds of many different types of birds. Guatemala City was a little disappointing and no different than any other large city, main highlights are the completely rebuild main square of constitution after the 1976 earthquake, the old city, and the Metropolitan Cathedral (also damaged during the 1976 earthquake) We decided to camp just outside of town at Cabana Swiss. Next destination was Antigua. It was the third capital established by the Spaniards. It was named city of Santiago of the Knights of Guatemala in 1566. The town is famous for its colonial architecture, it looks time has stopped in Antigua. Antigua was declared “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO in 1979. The main square is surrounded by different monuments such as: The Palace of the general captains, the town hall, the church of San José formerly the Cathedral of Guatemala, the archiepiscopal Palace  the Commerce Portal, and the iconic fountain of the Sirens. La Merced Church and Convent this church is without doubt the best example of the Baroque style that prevailed in the antique constructions. Other highlights are San Jose Cathedral, the Central markets. Antigua is surrounded by 3 Volcanoes Ataganango, Fuego (active) and  the water volcano around 10km from Antigua; it has not been active since 1541, it created havoc to the town of Cuidad Vieja because of the floods coming from the water volcano. During our stay Volcano Fuego put up a great show and lots of noise. 2 of the pictures are not ours but taken by a fellow overlander Bernard from our campsite. We enjoyed Christmas in Antigua and meeting a few overlanders currently in Guatemala.

GUATEMALA PART 4

After Christmas we decided to leave Antigua for some warmer weather during New Year’s Eve. After having experienced the slow drive and constant traffic jams in Guatemala City and around Antigua we decided to leave as early as possible. Since 2010 Tourism has become a major part of the Guatemala economy this included cruise liners stopping off at the major ports. However unlucky for the people in Hospitality and tourism but for us travelling during corona means no tourist hence incredibly quiet during the week. After leaving Antigua our first stop was Pacaya Volcano National park. The volcano has 5 rounded cones and a magic lagoon. The fifth cone is the still active volcano Pacaya. On the way we also past the village swallowed by lava during the 2018 eruption which killed up to 6000 people, however official figure is just over 200?!?!?! (no one knows the exact figure) Via the town of Escuinta we arrived in Guatemala’s largest port city Puerto Quetzal where we turned left (south) to Monterrico located on a long, small peninsula accessible via a bridge or small car ferry near Monterrico. From Monterrico we followed the narrow road and found a great little spot on a vacant beachfront block of land next to the Parc Hawaii. The area is laidback and extremely popular with the wealthy locals from Guatemala City. The jet-black sand beach with the volcanic origin is quite different to the white sandy beaches we are used to at home and in the Caribbean, but it is unspoilt and quiet, the ocean is wild (be warned strong undertow) but the weather is warm (After cold Guatemala City and Antigua) Guatemala is not a country you want to visit just for the beach, Guatemala you visit for history, the highlands, indigenous culture, Maya Ruins, Volcanoes, and waterfalls. But after the cold weather in the highlands, it is a great laid-back place to warm up and enjoy a beach. After a few days of R & R you could do a Mangrove tour, look for sea turtles as the come ashore between June and December. (we saw none) We are told this is a major nesting area for the giant leatherback turtles and other species such as the green sea and olive ridley turtles. Our spare part arrived in Antigua hence time to return to Antigua. Returning to Antigua for the second time is not a problem as the village is amazing and probably Guatemala’s most famous town. But is expensive and here to tourist (Gringo’s) pay many times more than the locals? Example locals pay 5 pesos to enter the convent we pay 40 (That is 8 times the official amount!!!) I would also call this racism. Antigua is a town with plenty of churches destroyed by earthquakes. In many cases just the front remains, and it appears none have never been cleared and some are just waiting to collapse completely. Next stop Lake Atitlan and we were told Panajachel is the best stop from where to explore the lake. Lake Atitlan was nominated as one of the seven wonders of the world. It is by many considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Atitlan was formed as the result of a volcanic eruption over 80000 years ago. It is also the deepest Lake in Central America (340 meters deep) The views from the lake are amazing and they include the 3 volcanoes Atitlan, San Pedro and Toliman. We were unable to find a nice bush camp near town hence we picked a campsite. Our base in Panajachal offers us a more holiday atmosphere with many Guatemala people visiting during the weekends. Our plan is to visit the many remote villages around the lake in the next few weeks, some only reachable by boat or walking.

GUATEMALA PART 5

Lake Atitlan was nominated as one of the seven wonders of the world. It is by many considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Atitlan was formed as the result of a volcanic eruption over 80.000 years ago. It is also the deepest lake in Central America (340 meters deep). The views from the lake are amazing and they include the 3 volcanoes Atitlan, San Pedro and Toliman. We were unable to find a nice bush camp near town hence we picked a campsite just outside Panajachel.  Our first campsite was designed for Gringos and Americans who seem to pay whatever is demanded and pay top dollar. Lucky for us, fellow overlanders warned us and just 300 meters up the road is a patch of grass at the swimming pool where we camped with the same view for just 100Q compared to 300 Q at the Gringo trailer park.  Our camp spot just outside Panajachal does not  only have a spectacular view of the 3 volcanoes but also offers us a holiday atmosphere with again many Guatemala people visiting during the weekends. From here we visited the many small towns around the lake (some only accessible by foot or boat) with Indigenous inhabitants including the Cakchiquel and Tzutuhil tribes. Local people offer all kinds of crafts such as fabrics, pots, chains, bracelets, drums. Initially we were told it was impossible to circumnavigate the lake by vehicle, but this information is wrong as we did it. (Only speak to those who have been there and have travelled the road) Yes, the road is narrow and steep to very steep in places but the views and the friendly local people in the small villages make up for it. Most of the road is paved, with a few rough sections between San Lucas and San Pedro. The road out of San Antonio is very steep but paved and so is the road from San Marcos back to the highway. At present a new road is being build from Sololá to San Marcos via Tzununa but we are told this is not yet ready and although passable officially the road is still closed. We did not drive this road but are told locals do? Villages we visited around the lake were  Santa Catarina Palopo a laid-back village just a few km from Panajachel. A great coastline enroute to a nice church and hot springs. Its residents are indigenous descendants of the Kaqchikel Maya. Some townspeople still wear traditional clothing. San Antonio Palopo a remote village build on the hillside with lots of terraced fields. The village is full of women in traditional clothes and men in traditional wool skirts. The town is also known for a weaving cooperative where they produce headdresses and shawls. Agua Escondida a town of little interest but a great viewpoint overlooking Lake Atitlan and where you enter the Main Road (RN 11) to Cocales and  San Lucas. San Lucas Toliman, a much more commercial town in the middle of a coffee growing area. It is in a beautiful location on the base of volcan Toliman. Here the population is mainly Highland Maya. It is also home of the Juan Ana Coffee program. This is to support the small coffee farmers to sell their high-quality coffee at the highest possible price above the world coffee price. ( coffee is the world’s second largest commodity) The coffee is grown in the shade and in rich volcanic soil. Another must see is the 16th Century Parroquia de San Lucas Church. Santiago, largest town on the lake famous for its church, the markets, and the saint Maximon.  This is one of the most traditional Mayan towns on Lake Atitlan. Women wear the traditional, purple-striped skirts and huipiles embroidered with coloured birds and flowers and men traditional tops and lavender or maroon striped embroidered pants (skaf). The town is alive with sounds, colour, processions, and ceremonies. It is also home to the Cojolva Weaving Centre. This is a collective of women weavers. (closed during our visit) It also has a museum showing the history, tradition and process of backstrap-loom weaving, the evolution of the traditional costume of the Tzutujil. For us Santiago warranted a second visit. San Pedro La Laguna; Welcome to gringo land and Atitlan Backpacker paradise. The only way to appreciate this town is to walk uphill and visit the part where the Maya’s live-in colourful houses. San Juan La Laguna, a small Atitlan village enroute to San Marcos, without any tourists. Colourful buildings, friendly people and another collective in town where you can learn how to weave. The reason it is less popular to foreigners is that local law prohibits outsiders from purchasing land within the municipality. The upside of this is a more authentic experience. San Marcos La Laguna;What San Pedro is for backpackers, San Marcos is for hippies. According to some travel books it is one of the most beautiful cities on the lake, but I like to disagree. If you are into Yoga, Spiritual energy, practice Meditation, Holistic therapies, and massage, this could be the place for you. But It would not be my place to base myself to explore Lake Atitlan. During our visit you could see that the Gringo’s/Hippies occupied the town and lower section, and the locals (Maya) the hills looking after their avocado’s, banana’s, and coffee trees. The meeting place appears to be the huge tree at the central plaza where goods are traded.  Tzununa, it was getting late hence we never visited this small village. It is just a few km from San Marcos and since the roads improved to San Marcos it has seen more tourists. We would have loved to visit the company called Atitlan Organics in Tzununa. We may do on another trip to Guatemala. It was time to return to Panajachel via the new but steep road back to the main highway. Santa Cruz the second town we did not visit. Santa Cruz is known as the vertical town. Enroute to Jaibalito (by boat) we had a great view of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is a traditional Mayan town. Jaibalito it is a small town only accessible by water or on foot (from Tzununa or Santa Cruz) We arrived on a Saturday morning with church services happening in town, the music was amazing. The local community is very friendly, and the views of the lake are wonderful. Nothing happens in Jaibalito, but I think therefore we liked it. You get the feeling that no-one wants you to know about this town. We were told to meet the expats who live here at Posada Jaibalito (known as Hans Place) Hans (German) has been living here for over 20 years. And we did meet quite a few of the expats who live here. While getting lots of local information we also enjoyed some European food (unfortunately the schnitzels were not available). Panajachel, this town is the most popular town to visit for those who do an organized tour in Guatemala (Fly in Fly out). For us it is also the best place to base yourself and just outside Panajachel is a great place called Bahia Atitlan Inn which has a huge grassy area right on the lake with amazing views, sunrise, sunsets, and a pool. This is the perfect spot to park your vehicle for a week or 2 and enjoy the lake and all its surrounding villages. Connections are superb from here and boats run in either direction from town to town from Panajachel-Santa Cruz-Jaibalito-Tzununa-San Marcos-San Juan-San Pedro, plus stops in between at other towns and private docks where people need to be picked up.

GUATEMALA PART 6.

We loved our stay at Lake Atitlan but with so much more to see it was time to move on after 18 days. Leaving our camp-spot we climbed the steep road towards Solola having one last look of Lake Atitlan, sparkling in the early sunlight surrounded by mountains and 3 volcanoes. Despite stories of the dangerous road, burning brake pads  and steep inclines it was all easy for our 12000KG truck. It appears some travellers seem to make the facts worse to justify their expensive upgrades while at the same time scare other people off.  North from Los Encuentros junction, the road drops down through dense pine forests into a deep ravine before beginning the ascent before arriving in CHICHICASTENANGO. Our first stop the Chichinanango markets on a Sunday. The town is also known as  also known as Santo Tomás Chichicastenango and nicknamed Chichi by locals. This town is in Guatemala’s Western Highlands. Surrounded by mountains and pine forest , Chichi sits at an altitude of 1,965 meters. Chichi is a compact and traditional town of cobble stone streets. Chichicastenango, is home to one of the largest outdoor markets in Latin America and is not only Guatemala’s biggest according to many, but also its most historic. There has been a market at Chichicastenango for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The markets sell everything from handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, textiles, particularly women’s blouses. candles, pom, and copal, (traditional incense) grindstones, pigs, and chickens, machetes, and other tools. Also sold are Masks used by dancers in traditional dances, such as the Dance of the Conquest, are also manufactured in Chichicastenango. It has a well-deserved reputation as the most colourful native market in the Americas. Next to the market is the 400-year-old church of Santo Tomás. (1540) It is built atop a Pre – Colombian temple platform, and the steps originally leading to a temple of the pre-Hispanic Maya people.  Maya priest still use the church for their rituals, burning incense and candles. In special cases, they burn a chicken for the gods. Its 18-tier staircase is of importance for the practice of indigenous rituals, by Chuchkajau Mayan priests, who pray and burn corn cobs full of copal. Inside, whole families kneel and pray before the altars, loaded with candles, candle-makers, flower offerings, alcohol and in some cases food. From here we followed the western highlands to the Mexican border enjoying our last days in Guatemala The Western Highlands are a lush and beautiful mountainous region in Guatemala, stretching from the outskirts of Antigua to the Mexican border. It is divided by the Sierra Madre, a mountain range of volcanoes on its south side, and the tall mountain ranges that form the northern side. Between these two areas  is a series of spectacular forested mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and very scenic valleys. The highland landscape changes from almost tropical at the low altitude were coffee, bananas. and vegetables are grown. Higher up in the hills, pine, cedar, and oak forests and maize and potatoes are grown. And in the altiplano the land is largely treeless and often covered in mist. The Cuchumatanes, rising to a frosty 3837m just to the north of Huehuetenango, and are the largest non-volcanic peaks in Central America, stretching from the Mexican border to the highlands of Alta Verapaz. This area is amazing and offers a real glimpse of Maya life and some of the country’s finest markets. North of Todos Santos Cuchumatán a remote road leads to Barillas through some of the most authentic Maya settlements in Guatemala very traditional San Mateo Ixtatán is probably the most interesting place on the way. In this part of the world Spanish is a second language, and women wear only traditional costumes, it was amazing to witness Maya life at close quarters. During our 2 months stay in Guatemala we were made aware that 24 languages are spoken in Guatemala 93% of the population speaks Spanish but there are also 21 Mayan languages plus Garifuna and Xinca. fewer and fewer children are learning indigenous languages in the traditional way, from their parents and elders. Even when the parental generation speaks the indigenous language, they do not often pass it on to their children. Also, important to know is that that many Mayans do not like being photographed. Child trafficking is an issue in Guatemala, so be aware when taking photos of children without permission from their parents.Do not flirt with Mayans. It is forbidden for Mayans to entertain romance with non-Mayans. Our last stop before crossing the border into Mexico was La Messila

IMPORTANT NOTE

As of March,/April 2019, Mexico Immigration has a new rule that requires the payment of MX$558 entry tax if coming from Guatemala.

PART 3 VIDEO CLIPS

Guatemala PART 1

Guatemala PART 2