11 Feb Whirlwind Weekend in Guatemala
I didn’t quite know what to think of Guatemala, only that I wanted to go there, and it was relatively quick and inexpensive to get to from Mexico City. Now that I have been though, there are only three words to describe this country: Active Volcanoes Galore!
Like Mexico, Guatemala gets a bad rap. Truth be told, I am not sure I would’ve been brave enough to travel Guatemala alone, but major props to the three solo female travelers I met during my stay.
This was the first part of my trip where two of my friends traveled with me! Just a quick 1.5 hour flight from Mexico City and the three of us arrived in Guatemala City, separately, for a three-day weekend of adventure. After a really inviting arrival in the Aurora airport, I had to wait for them alone, after midnight, in the vacant airport where I had really good wifi. I decided this would be the perfect time to watch the Netflix documentary ‘Cartel Land.’
While watching this, I caught a mosquito landing on my suitcase. I promptly whipped out my bug wipes and went to town. These may have been useless in Namibia, but they sure as hell were not useless against Zika. After frightening myself with my movie of choice, my friends arrived, phew, I wasn’t alone, and I could stop being scared. We stayed one night at the fancy Barcelo hotel as there was nothing else available when we arrived at 1am.
The next morning we woke up to one tiny bottle of water for three of us – and I finally had the opportunity to use the steri-pen I had dragged across three continents without use. Success! I filled my entire water bottle and drank it without issues.
We also woke up to a beautiful view of a volcano. I have seen volcanoes in Iceland, but not like this, standing majestically and dangerously close to a large population. We quickly packed up and headed to our final destination, Antigua.
Antigua is probably the most famous city in Guatemala, it is rather developed, clean, and organized. The only down side to Antigua is that this is tourist haven. I really like authentic, different travel experiences, but it seemed that Antigua is geared to host tourists. The good news? It is relatively safe, I didn’t feel in danger at all in Antigua. There were plenty of restaurants, cafe’s, and it’s central to other activities in the region.
We couldn’t really figure out why everyone was saying it takes an hour to get from Guatemala City to Antigua – a full 15 miles. Well, once you get moving around Guatemala you will notice that the mountains/volcanic terrain coupled with a less-than-stellar highway network, anything will take an hour. We took a private taxi from the hotel to our hostel – yes – hostel – and it was a huge $45!
Aside from private taxi’s, you can arrange shuttles, which we did on our way back. From Antigua to the airport the shuttle is $8 and can be booked through your hotel/hostel/local travel agent.
There are the famous chicken buses that are old US school buses, but we never took them. I am sure there are braver, cooler travelers that rode them, but we didn’t.
Lastly, you can take a tuk-tuk to smaller neighborhoods around Antigua for about $4-$5. We took one to the Filadelfia coffee plantation and besides the smell of diesel fuel, it was a quick, cheap way across town.
Unsurprisingly, after my surgery last month my budget took a very serious nosedive. Away with 5 star hotels, and hello to hostels. It helped that my friends were also on a budget, so luckily nobody gawked at the idea of going budget for two nights.
We arrived at the Hostel Captain Tom and were happy with its central location – we could literally walk anywhere in Antigua within 5-10 minutes. I had emailed Tanya, the owner, a few times regarding transfers and activities and she was awaiting us when we arrived. From the moment we walked in, she treated us like family. I was more than surprised when she turned out to be a fair skinned, Russian lady with quite a story. She worked in Las Vegas before road tripping through all of Mexico to Central America to start her own business. Can we get a round of applause for this woman? Road tripping through Mexico and Central America? Yes, Tanya has juevos.
It’s been so long since I stayed in a hostel, I forgot about the comraderie that comes along with staying in such close quarters, and how quickly friendships are forged from all around the world. I mean I even got to live my lifelong dream of being a doctor! My gallon sized ziplock bag of pharmaceuticals came in handy when two people got the travel trots and two more got a cold – it really was like a big, cozy, hospital.
How lucky were we though that just above our room there was a beautiful terrace with a view of Fuego – an actively-spewing-lava-volcano. The first night we snuggled up on the terrace and watched the volcano burst with lava every few minutes. Below you will find the worst photo of this event, that teeny tiny orange spot is lava. Much cooler in person.Really though, the best part of the trip was sitting in the hostel living room watching The Interview on the flatscreen TV. We were laughing out loud with strangers, this really isn’t an experience you can get in a hotel.
Truthfully if we were in Hawaii, or some other part of the United States with active volcanoes, I highly doubt we would’ve been able to hike this very recently active volcano. But alas, this was Guatemala and we weren’t the only tourists waiting to get a piece of nature at it’s most volatile.
This hike was supposed to be easy – but this was literally ONE day after I was fully cleared to start lifting anything over 20lbs and doing strenuous activity. I did not find this hike easy – but when have I ever found physical activity easy? Probably never.
Seriously, Santiago, God bless him. Remember Thor from Iceland? Well Santiago was like my Icelandic Thor, he walked alongside me listening to me pant like a banshee continually asking me if I wanted to ride Champion, his horse. At the halfway mark we gave in and we took turns riding Champion, whom I later found out his complete name is Champion-Tequila.
At the summit – or as far as we were allowed to hike – the rocks became very hot and we were able to roast marshmallows under them! Thats when I started wondering if this might just be poco peligroso (a little dangerous.) When in Rome, right?
After three nights in Guatemala, and zero mosquito bites, we went our separate ways. What a treasure it was to have had this quick weekend in Guatemala with two dear friends.
Click here to see more photos!