Saturday, April 23, 2011

Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is a series of limestone pools formed by the Cahabon river in central Guatemala. The river feeds into the green and blue pools which lie at the bottom of a steep valley. Also found inside the pools are small fish that eat the dead skin off of your toes, terrorizing or amusing, and all the while cleansing swimmers. Despite its remote location Semuc Champey is a popular attraction. When I visited it was Semana Santa and thus inundated with Guatemalan tourists. Although the pools lacked the peace and quiet that I desired it was still well worth the visit.

Friday, April 22, 2011


The legendary Mayan city of Tikal is located deep in the lush green jungle of northern Guatemala.  Originally settled in 700BC, Tikal became one of the most powerful  Mayan citys through warfare.  At one point Tikal was over 30 square kilometers and the home to over  100,000 Mayan residents.  The city collapsed around 900 and was rediscovered in 1848. 
Two temples rising high above the canopy
Looking out over Tikal from the highest point
A partially uncovered building in the 'lost city'
Temple 1 in the Grand Plaza
The Grand Plaza
The buildings in Tikal are impressive and imposing, some of which tower over 60m above the jungle floor.  Many of the towers are high enough to emerge through the forest canopy and provide spectacular views.  Due to Tikal’s relative isolation and location in the jungle, visitors have a great chance of spotting wildlife.  Regardless of where you are, you can most certainly hear Howler Monkey’s deep echoing call throughout the jungle.  We also spotted Spider Monkeys, Foxes, Tarantulas, and Coatis.

A Spider Monkey

Coati in the Grand Plaza
Ben and his breakfast
Climbing Temple 5 was not easy for those with a fear of heights or 60m high rickety wooden ladders.  Today anyone can climb Temple 5, however, during  Tikal’s heyday it was only the High Priests and others of extreme importance who were allowed to the summit.

Temple 5
The ladder of death on Temple 5

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Antigua & Lake Atitlan

South of Guatemala City are two of Guatemala's most popular tourist attractions, the restored colonial city of Antigua, and the Volcano laden Lake Atitlan.

Antigua’s cobble stone streets and restored colonial buildings are the prime attraction for visitors of Guatemala’s famed town.  Here the streets are kept trash free and even the McDonalds has to conform to building codes­­-  no protruding signage and definitely no neon arches.   There are many high end hotels and upscale restaurants catering to foreign tourists and the Guatemalan elite.  Although they were shrouded in haze when I was there,  normally looming over Antigua is an impressive volcano.  I was in Antigua during the weeks preceding the holy week of Semana Santa, when locals take to the streets in celebration and the highways for vacation.  

Residents make elaborate street art in homage to Semana Santa only to have to swept away hours later
Boris and an elaborately decorated chicken bus
After a shuttle from Antigua and a short boat ride I found myself at Lake Atitlan.  Lake Atitlan is a Guatemalan highland lake surrounded by imposing volcanoes and small charming villages.  The cool waters of the lake are great for the quick refreshing swim if the sun is out and the even more adventurous take the 9m plunge from the platform at San Marcos.
San Pedro volcano
Claire takes the plunge

San Marcos is just one of the towns on the lakeshore.  It has a distinct mix of local villagers and ex-pats who seem to have an interest in yoga or meditation which are very popular here.  It is a fantastic place to pass the time and relax.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Utila and Little Cay

Utila is a carribean island off the Honduran coast surrounded by clear blue waters and a beautiful coral reef. Once a hang out for pirates, now Utila is inundated with backpackers learning to dive. Utila offers some of the cheapest diving in the world and has numerous dive schools to choose from.

Utila is entered around Utila Town, where most of the population on the island lives. Utila Town has one main road lining the beach and a few more that cut inland. Unfortunately scooters and golf carts are allowed to drive on the street, making walking around town noisy and hazardous.

Jumping off the dock at Rubi's Inn in Utila Harbor

Utila Harbor

On the Southwest side of Utila there are a number of Cays that are privately owned.  We (Claire, Pupi, Ben, and I) were able to rent Little Cay, an entire island for a mere $115usd per night. Little Cay has one home and one separate cabin and sleeps somewhere around 15-20 people. The house is huge with multiple decks, a huge living room, and three large private bedrooms. The Cay also has two docks and a small islet attached by a thin sandbar. The Cay itself is surrounded by good snorkeling and is a 10 minute swim away from Water Cay, a popular white sand beach.

The Little Cay main house

Looking out to Water Cay from Little Cay