Traveling on a Dime: Semuc Champey

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | by

Two days ago I got a phone call from a friend who asked me how to get to Semuc Champey, “I’ve never been there” he tells me.

Well, now I’m going to have to share what I told him, yeah, he is traveling on a Guatemalan budget.

First you take a bus to Coban from Downtown Guatemala City (Q35), the bus leaves you a the Terminal in Coban, where you have two options: You can either spend the day in Coban, find a cheap hotel for about Q100 and eat some churrasco at the park for Q15 and have some “Barrilito”, a Guatemalan liquor only sold on this city. And next morning very early take a minibus to the town of Lankin. Option two: up on arrival you find a bus to Lankin, I prefer to spend the day in Coban, that way one can get to Semuc Champey early and spend a whole day there.
The bus to the town of Lankin shouldn’t be more than Q20.
Here is the catch, if you think you can drive to Semuc Champey, the last 5 kilometers to the town of Lankin are on a very steep and narrow road, not apt for inexperience drivers. And! And, from the town of Lankin to Semuc Champey it is a short 5 kilommeters on a very bad, narrow, steep, full of potholes road. There are 4×4 vehicles at the town that will take you to Semuc Champey for Q30 roundtrip. You can find accommodations (Q100)on the town of Lankin if you arrive late and want to head to Semuc early in the morning.
Also if you spend the day in Lankin, a short 20 minutes walk from downtown are the caves of Lankin, a beautiful cave complex worth exploring.

Food, on the town of Lankin you’ll find some inexpensive food joints, nothing fancy on this town, good to save money!
And about 1 Kilometer from the entrance to the park Semuc Champey, there is a “comedor” a place that sells food on the side of the road. Their portions are big and made fresh, a good meal here is Q20.

Make sure you bring a small cooler with a six-pack of your favorite beer (Q50), humidity is very high and you’ll be needing them cold beers. I know, some would recommend water, your choice…

Entrance fee to the park if I remember correctly: Q15

Eli’s style, two days one night for about Q500, or $65

Acatenango Volcano

Sunday, August 17, 2014 | by

Acatenango Volcano is Guatemala’s third highest pick, towering 3,976 m (13,045 ft) in altitude.
Last eruption occurred in 1972, which sent volcanic ash on a 25 kilometers radius.

Only a few small vents remain at the summit and there is no clear evidence for potential eruptions, so, hiking up the summit should not represent a major risk.

Most people who know something about Guatemala’s Volcanoes claim that this one has the best view of them all. I strongly object, I think nothing beats the view from the summit of Tajumulco Volcano, Guatemala’s highest, but I do have to accept that the view from the summit of Acatenango facing Volcan de Fuego (Fire Volcano), a very active volcano, constantly sending large, massive clouds of gasses up in the atmosphere, is a very good contender.

Museo de Arqueología

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | by

This was a short spontaneous visit to Guatemala City’s Museo de Arqueología
I am always at awe when I see the beautiful art Mayan Civilization created.

Traveling on a Dime: Atitlan

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | by

Lake Atitlan has been rated as one of the most beautiful lakes on the world and in fact, it is listed on the one thousand places to see before you die.
Well, this destination does not have to break the bank, unless you want it to.

Of course, there are luxury buses to Atitlan, and there are even helicopter rides for those of you who don’t want to get to close to the masses.
but Eli prefers it his way. Taking a chicken bus from Guatemala City to Atitlan shouldn’t cost you more than Q35. this buses only run twice or three times a day, but if you missed it, there are still options. for Q25, you can take any of the buses going to Guatemala’s Highlands; Quiche, Totonicapan, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, etc, you just get off at the Los Encuentros junction. Here there are small buses that would take you to Solola, Solola for the modest sum of Q5. From the city of Solola, you can get on another of those buses en route to Panajachel, which will cost you about Q5. Done! You have arrive to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world!
Staying there doesn’t have to be expensive too, again, unless you want it.
Price of accommodations run from the most luxurious hotels at $400 per night, to the Eli’s hotels that go for about 30-60 quetzales. Eli gets a beautiful and clean hotel room with a nice bed, private shower and A.C. for Q60.
There is so much to do around the lake, so try to spend as little time in your hotel room as possible.
If you don’t like walking, tuc tucs would take you around the city for Q5. Walk, you get to see so much when you do!

El Mariposario
This beautiful butterfly sanctuary is located right at the entrance to the town of Panajachel and the entrance fee is Q60. You won’t be disappointed! They have a nice setup where you can take a short hike trough this mountain full of Coatis and Spider-monkeys. They are very friendly and they get close to tourist expecting to be fed. So make sure you bring some fruit for those nice guys. The hike will take you through a maze of hanging bridges, a beautiful scenery.

Not far from El Mariposario there is a botanical garden highly recommended by many at Hotel Atitlan. I really love the way they do things! Entrance fee to the botanical garden is Q50, but it is reimbursed on anything you buy at their restaurant. A drink at their restaurant is about Q45, so basically your entrance fee comes with a free drink and believe me, they are beautiful.
And: I’ve been to the most exclusive restaurants and hotels in Guatemala and this one is above them all. it has really impressed me with their professionalism and attentiveness. Trust me, you are treated as royalty at this hotel’s restaurant!

Boat trips to any of the towns around the lake will cost you Q50 round trip. Pick any of the towns for a quick visit and you’ll love it there.

Shh, keep this a secret.
Society in the towns around the lake is very open minded and they have come to accept the use of different recreational drugs, as long as no one causes trouble.
In fact, finding illicit drugs won’t be difficult on these streets. A young boy, no more than 13 years old, might offer you a plastic bag a third full of Marijuana for Q50.

And finally, food.
There are hundreds of restaurants on Calle Santander. Pizza places are dominant, I’ve no idea why there are so many pizza places here. Could someone enlighten me?
But at night you got to try street food, very good quality and great prices, you can buy a beer and sit on a corner to enjoy your street food.

A two day trip to Atitlan from Guatemala City or La Antigua Guatemala will run you for about 600 Quetzales, something like $80 U.S. Dollars. and you can check that of your things to do before I die list.

Traveling on a Dime: Petén

Monday, August 11, 2014 | by

Traveling on a Dime: Petén
Petén is Guatemala’s Northern-most province and it is full of wonders left behind by our Mayan ancestors, and rich with Nature’s splendor.
This province is home to Guatemala’s one of the only two international airports and getting here by plane makes the trip much easier and insipid too. You can choose this alternative to make thing easier, but if you want to experience and be immerse in local culture, you have to travel Elí’s way, and it also could save you some money.
If you are near Guatemala City, you have to take one of those luxury buses running the route to Petén and they usually go for Q200 one way.
An alternative to save money is to travel to Coban, in the province of Alta Verapaz. There are chicken buses running this route and you can board one for Q40. From Coban you can get on one of those minivans used as rural buses to Chisec or Raxruha, which will cost you about Q20. From Raxruha you take another one of those minivans to Sayaxche, which is another Q20. And from Sayaxche you just have to pay a small fee of Q2 to have one of the local’s boats cross you the river and you can board another of those buses waiting close to the shoreline. These buses take you all the way to Santa Elena for Q20, same bus terminal where all the luxury buses from Guatemala City arrived on.
Yes, this trip will take you about 12 hours, but you’ll be immersed in local culture/food, something you don’t get to see seated on those luxury buses.
From the bus terminal in Santa Elena you can walk for 15 minutes to the Island City of Flores (taxis charged you Q20 for this short ride), a short 10 street blocks away.
There are hundreds of hotels on the Island of Flores, all prices ranging from $200 to Q40.
I usually stay at one of these inexpensive hotels because Elí only needs a clean bed and a shower. It will be a waste to spend too much time on the hotel, having so many things and places to go in on the island and around it.
On my last trip I stayed at a hotel for Q60, and it had an amazing view and I was next to the Malecon, six steps from the lakeshores.

Actun Kan
The Actun Kan cave system is located a short 25 minutes walk from the Island of Flores, you can take a taxi or a tuc tuc for Q10. Walking is my choice. The entrance fee is Q25. Just make sure you don’t venture too deep into the caves without a guide or someone who knows them well enough. I had to bring out a group of 12-14 Mexicans who were exploring the caves and were disoriented and couldn’t find their way out. And bring enough batteries!

Tikal
Tikal is a must stop for those of you visiting Petén. You can get a private bus running this route for about Q100 for a round trip, or you can do Elí’s way. There are small buses used by locals which run the same route for Q40 and they run every 30 minutes, so if you like a place along the way, you can get off the bus and spend time exploring. A must stop is El Remate, a small village on the shores of the lake with crystal-clear waters. Then you get on another of those buses heading to Tikal. Entry fee to Tikal is Q25 for us nationals and Q150 for foreign tourists.

Back to the Island of Flores
Food options are abundant on this island and you won’t have trouble finding the food style you like. But if you are on this island and you don’t try the Tepezcuintle, Lowland Paca, it is the equivalent of going to a tour of Napa Valley and not trying one of their exquisite Cabernet Sauvignons (!).

Drinks with a view
There are dozens of restaurants right on the lake shores, but the best ones face the sunset. There is a Bar on a third floor terrace, one of my favorites for a beer. Another great one, and with very affordable prices is on the lake shore, their drinks are delicious and you can get a great Tequila Sunrise for Q25, margaritas are Q9 and very delicious.

And to top it off
As I’ve said, there are hundreds of food options but for me, there is nothing better than buying a to-go plate of street food from the street grills next to the entrance to the island. You can buy a meal here for Q30, which includes guacamole, longaniza, a piece of grilled meat, black beans, salsa and tortillas. You have to go to the supermarket across the bridge and buy a bottle of red wine Q40 and have your meal seated on the malecon (lake retention wall), shoes off and facing the sunset. Anything better is a sin!

With transportation, food and drinks, if you are money-wise, you can have an amazing three days experience for about Q1,000, $130-$140

Island of Flores, Lake Petén Itza

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 | by

Valuable archeological find at a small island on Lake Petén Itza.
I know it is not what you would spect. But I’ll be provindin you with a quick review of another of my trips to this beautiful island, the last bastion of the Itza people.

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Katok

Thursday, July 31, 2014 | by

Today by chance I happened to stop for a quick bite at Katok.
Katok was a landmark restaurant on the highway to Guatemala’s Highlands. It was a lonely restaurant for decades, and now, after their great success, there are about a dozen restaurants on the highway around them.
And this success led them to open new locations all around Guatemala City and its suburbs.

You got to try this!
Their Hamon Serrano, a Spaniard style cured ham, cured at on the dry highlands of Guatemala, is served on thin slices and that’s all you need.
After you try this, trust me, you’ll be coming back as often as you can.

Hammon Serrano

Hammon Serrano

Pacaya Volcano

Sunday, July 27, 2014 | by

Volcan de Pacaya is the closest to Guatemala City and it happens to be the largest most active. This volcano constantly causes trouble to near by villages and towns. In the year 2010, a series of small eruptions, culminated with an eruption that ejected debris in a column 1500 meters high. This large eruption caused ash and sand rains that cover all its surroundings, including Guatemala City, with several inches of volcanic sands.

The views from this location are incredible, you have a clear view of Like Amatitlan, you can see the entire Guatemala City and the neighboring volcanoes.

the slops of the volcano are pastures for horses, which tourist may rent out for a modest sum.

Don’t do what Eli does

Going at night might raise some risk, specially in the rainy season and dense fogs may get people disoriented and it is very easy to get lost and end up at a unwanted situation. Last night hike started about 6 o’clock pm. and we were engulfed on this think fog that did not allow us to see more than 10 feet around us. Luckily our guide was very experienced and knew the trails very well, enough to navigate them blind as we were. So make sure you only hike up the volcano when conditions are optimum.
Eli goes hiking up the volcano with no jacket and nights can become incredibly cold and insanely windy, so make sure you bring a good jacket.
And of course, Eli wares shorts. Don’t you dare; unless you want your legs to be cover by this ubiquitous Chichicaste -Nettle, Urtica dioica- which flanks your every step.
This is an active volcano and eruptions can occur at any time and gas-clouds can suffocate a human being in seconds, so don’t you dare -an it is prohibited as-well- to hike up the volcano’s crater.
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The terrain might be a little demanding, I’ll advice you not to bring your nicest pair of shoes because surely they’ll get ruined. And if you decide to spend the night, there is a shelter on a hill next to the crater that provides you with a great view (unless fog like yesterday), well, you can set up camp outside the shelter because it’s roof collapsed during last major eruption.

Solar Power

Saturday, July 19, 2014 | by

Though it is not widely spread yet, there are some houses and business that have adopted this alternative power source.
Lets just hope it becomes more common.

Solar Power

Solar Power

Kaminaljuyu

Friday, July 18, 2014 | by

Kaminaljuyu or City of the Dead was an important Mayan City located at the intersection of the trading routes of the Mayan Cities of the North, South, and the Highlands and there is evidence of trade with the Mexican City of Teotihuacan, more than 650 miles away.
This Mayan urban center was more than 5 square kilometers. Most of it was assimilated by the modern city of Guatemala and of its 200+ identified structures only 33 remain.
The protected area of this ancient Mayan City is only a couple of street blocks.

The site still sacred for followers of Mayan Religions and rituals, you can see Mayan Ceremonies being performed every day and if you pay attention to detail, you’ll see offerings of flowers and pine needles (to cleanse the site) next to trees.
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Feeling Wrath and Awe
You are at awe when you imagine the wealth of this city and you can see this wealth on the thousands and thousands of pieces of fine Mayan Pottery scattered on the soil. And for modern society this is worth crap!

Conveniently located, it is very easy to get to and bypassed by many tourist, nationals and foreign. Don’t miss a chance to visit the site. If there is no traffic, it won’t take you more than 15 minutes from the airport or Downtown Guatemala City.

Guatemalan Mariachi

Thursday, July 17, 2014 | by

I’ve always wonder: Why is always the shortest mariachi who gets to play the largest instrument? Is it a rule?

Guatemalan Mariachi

Guatemalan Mariachi

Housing

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 | by

Land in Guatemala has become increasingly scarce.
Agricultural land: in places like the U.S.A. at the most fertile regions of the country, you can get an acre for about $5 K.
If you are lucky, for that money you can get a 10th of an acre here in Guatemala.
Prices are even worse for commercial or residential real state; In places like La Antigua Guatemala, a house might be as expensive (or more!) as buying property in a wealthy suburb of N.Y. City or Boston.
This scarcity and high prices for land have pushed Guatemalans to use every inch available as we can see here.

Housing

Housing

Even residential complexes are forced to construct smaller and smaller houses, at least this one is colorfully charming.

Housing

Housing