THE WEEKLY #42: JUNGLES & MAYAN RUINS IN GUATEMALA

May 2, 2017

After my initial shock of the dangers in Guatemala city, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to warm to Central America. However, after I found myself well and truly on the backpacker/tourist trail the tense times ended and the carefree adventures began. 

I had a total of 14 days in Guatemala and after beginning in Guatemala City I traveled to Antigua, San Marcos, Semuc Champey and Flores before catching a bus to Caye Caulker on Belize. I am currently writing this in my island hostel after enjoying a swim in the hot sun.

Last week I wrote about the Pacaya Volcano Hike I did with the awesome crew from my hostel Wicho & Charlies in Antigua. From the historic town of Antigua, I traveled via shuttle to San Marcos. It’s a small town on the edge of Lake Atitlan. I’m normally a pretty easy going traveler but I struggled to find my way in this town. A clan of hippies has slowly turned the town into a vegan, yoga, cacao ceremony hub. The local population lives alongside this influx of free spirits in an odd combination. 

However, it wasn’t the hippies that had me struggling. For only the second time in a year, I got sick. Only for 40 hours but it was debilitating. Not sure if it was the street food or who knows but it got me.

I didn’t let it stop the adventures on either side of my sickness, I managed to get out and explore two really awesome spots. The first was a little 10m cliff jump in a nature park only a 10-minute walk from the hostel. I threw down a few backflips but it was quite cold so it was a short stint.

The second spot, which was an incredible morning adventure was Indian Nose hike. I met a German girl at the hostel and together at four in the morning we made the short trek to the summit to take in a phenomenal sunrise over Lake Atitlan. Despite my days struggling with sickness, I felt energized after this hike to keep exploring Guatemala.

I took the bus back to Antigua, stayed one night and then endured a 12-hour mini-van journey to Semuc Champey. My hostel was in the middle of nowhere. The road to get to Greengo’s Hotel from the town center was 5km, yet it took us over an hour to reach if that gives you an idea of the road conditions and its isolation.

However, once there it was a great little break for me. The hostel had an outdoor gym, good food and no wi-fi, which let me totally switch off involuntarily for a few days. Greengo’s was my base for adventuring and my favorite day in Guatemala came at Semuc Champey.

An Israeli couple joined me on an all-day tour of the area for $20. We began by making the 30-minute trek up to the Semuc Champey viewpoint. Semuc Champey translates to the underground river and beneath the pools you see in this photo is a 300m river, raging beneath the calmness of the pools. It was comparable in grandeur to El Nido in the Philippines in my opinion.

After we hung out all morning exploring the Semuc Champey National Monument or the park region, we headed into the Kanba Caves. I had been into tons of caves throughout Asia and was hoping this wasn’t the classic dark, dull experience I had participated in the past. 

Our guide gave us a candle before we entered the cave and before I knew it I was neck deep in water. Dull? Not at all! We swam, walked and climbed ladders while making our way to the end of the cave. After 20 minutes of cave exploring we reached the end of the system and there was a little 5m cave jump, you could attempt into the darkness. This was the best cave experience I have ever had. This was the best cave experience I have ever had and was an adrenaline rush the whole way through.

We then hit up an awesome rope swing, went tubing down the river and then we jumped from the big yellow bridge. I sent my biggest ever backflip of what I think was close to 13m.

The week was only half done! I headed on an 8-hour bus to Flores the next day and arrived tired but not tired enough to turn down a game of soccer on a basketball court after a healthy filling of tacos. The game was awesome but I ruined my shoes. Back to the fun game of finding size 12 shoes!

The next morning I boarded a bus at four in the morning headed to the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. It was a mindblowing experience walking through intact ruins, some of which were built almost 3000 years ago in 900 B.C. I’m not a history or religion buff and wasn’t sure if it would be my thing. However, after debating the $35 ticket price I am so glad I went for it. The experiences of the day made me feel like an insignificant blip on an incredibly large timeline of human existence.

The tour went for three hours and as well as climbing the ruins we ran into lots of local wildlife including toucans, howler monkeys, and some small wild cats. We also had a little Bear Grylls action eating some termites. Believe it or not, they tasted like carrots. You learn something every day.

My last day in Flores had arrived and it was also my last day in Guatemala. I caught a boat for a few dollars across the lake in visiting the local hotspot ‘The rope swing”. I expected it to be busy and an average rope swing.

When I arrived at the dock I find a 6-meter springboard made of wood and a giant, giant rope swing. I arrived at 11 am and for the first hour had the entire place to myself, not even the owners were watching. I just ran around swinging and jumping till my ears hurt.

Finally, some crew arrived and we spent the entire day trying tricks and games on the swings and boards until our boat came back just before sunset to pick us up. 

The next morning I caught a bus across the border to Belize City and then a water taxi to Caye Caulker, which is where I am for the next four days. Snorkeling, sun and fresh fruits are on the agenda. Oh, maybe a few hours of work squeezed in there too!

Hope you all had a smashing week. Hit me up in the comments, email or Instagram DM if you have anything you want to chat about.

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