GUATEMALA and BELIZE
Guatemala City – Monterrico – Antigua – Santa Lucia – La Democracia – Panajachel – Lanquin – Semuc Champey – Rio Dulce – Livingston – Flores – Tikal – Caye Ambergris (San Pedro) – Caye Caulker – Hopkins – Belize City
Late arrival. Chill out in the hotel.
A half-a-day walking tour in the city center, including the main plaza and the cathedral. After lunch, we took a chicken bus* to Antigua (1,5 hours).
In Antigua, we enjoyed everything this city has to offer: cozy restaurants, colonial churches, cobblestone streets, beautiful views, positive vibes… It’s one of those places you never want to leave. And indeed, many travelers decide to stay here longer, enrolling Spanish courses or making Antigua their base for numerous side trips.
* chicken buses - colorful and decorated buses (often retired US school buses), private owned, operating between towns in Guatemala and other Latin American countries.
Our comment: Guatemala City isn’t considered to be the safest place on Earth. And, from our tourist perspective, not at all that attractive. You may as well skip the visit in GC altogether and spend more time in Antigua. If you decide to go straight to Antigua, we advise you to pre-arrange your transportation, so you can be picked up at the airport in GC and dropped off at your hotel in Antigua (it’s less than 1-hour drive). There are several reputable tour agencies, easily found on the internet. Pick a few and send them e-mails, to compare the prices.
Another day of enjoying Antigua.
After early breakfast, we got picked up from our hotel by a shuttle bus to Monterrico (3,5 hours).
Monterrico supposedly serves as a weekend beach resort for residents of Guatemala City. We arrived there in the middle of the week and found it a quiet and extremely pleasant village situated on the Pacific coast. We spotted very few other tourists on the wide volcanic beach near our hotel. Plus we were lucky to stay near the “tortugario” (a place where sea turtles hatch) and witness some tiny little turtles being released into the sea.
Our comment: tickets for a shuttle bus can be purchased at every tour agency in Antigua. Compare prices as we noticed they were being sold at a slightly different price. We bought round-trip tickets, but you may consider buying an only one-way ticket in Antigua, as the return ticket is a bit cheaper when purchased in Monterrico.
in 20 days
The previous day we arranged a boat trip with a local guide, Estuardo. He picked us up at 5:30 am from our hotel and took us to the riverside from where we took a boat. We watched a sunrise over protected area of Monterrico mangroves. We spotted countless species of birds and can highly recommend the trip. Just remember to get a paddled boat, as a sound of a motor might scare off the animals. The whole trip takes about 3 hours.
After the trip, we came back to the hotel, had breakfast and spent rest of our time in Monterrico reading in beach hammocks.
At 6 pm we took a shuttle bus to Antigua.
Our comment: If you fly north (e.g. to Miami), take a seat on the left side of the plane, the view is gorgeous.
We took a morning bus to Dandrigi, where we took another bus to Belize City. The rest of the day we spent in Belize City.
The whole day at the sandy but very littered beach of Hopkins.
In the morning we took a ferry to Belize City, to catch a bus from Belize City to Hopkins at 10 am
(3 hours). The bus drops passengers at a junction, a few kilometers from Hopkins, from where you need to take a taxi or to hitchhike.
In the morning, we took a ferry to Caye Caulker.
Our comment: Caye Caulker is a nice island, but it has its flaws. One of them is a lack of sandy beaches. Well, lack of any beaches, to be precise. To take a dip one needs to find a pier – the shores are overgrown with some seaweed. We decided to leave the island and head for Hopkins, where we hoped to find sandy beaches.
In the morning, we took a taxi to the domestic terminal. We decided to fly to San Pedro, instead of taking a ferry, because we wanted to take some photos of the islands from above. But if you prefer a boat transportation, the ferry terminal is in the center of Belize City and – depending on your accommodation – you might be able to get there on foot.
In San Pedro we went for a snorkeling boat trip, to swim with sharks and mantas – a highly recommended experience!
At 4:30 am (don’t pull a face, if you want to see the sunrise the departure time is 2:30 am) we got picked up from our hotel, and we went to Tikal. There’s no need to advertise Tikal. Enough to say being in Guatemala and not seeing Tikal is like being in Pisa and not seeing the Leaning Tower. Except Tikal is so much better than the Leaning Tower.
To save time we pre-arranged to be dropped off in Puente Ixlu (El Cruce), instead of Flores, on the way back from Tikal. The driver left us at the junction where we caught a bus from Flores to Melchor de Mencos.
In Melchor de Mencos we left the bus near the border bridge with Belize and crossed it on foot. After passing through the passport control, we took a taxi to the bus station from where we caught a bus to Belize City.
In Belize City, we arrived almost at dark, so it’s good to have an accommodation booked ahead.
In the morning, we took a bus to Flores (4 hours), a town beautifully located on the lake island, connected to the mainland by a causeway. We spent rest of the day wandering around.
Our comment: the regular buses don’t have the seating assignment, and there are usually more people waiting than the space to accommodate them. To avoid standing or being left, choose the first class buses. They have the assigned seating and will probably leave on time (our bus was one hour behind schedule). This is important especially if you travel with kids.
In our hotel, we paid for a day trip to Livingston. The boat picked us up in the morning (there’s no road connection to Livingston). We spent the whole day in this picturesque town, on the Caribbean coast, famous for its Garifuna culture. See our pics in the photos section.
Our comment: When going to Livingston, choose a seat at the front of the boat – you’ll get all splashed up at the back, and you won’t be able to take photos (and there’s a lot to photograph on the way).
From the minibus stand, we took a ride to El Boqueron – a picturesque river canyon, where we hired a local guide with a paddled boat. From the road near El Boqueron, we caught another bus to Finca el Paraiso, where we got splattered in the hot spring waterfall.
Our comments: both - El Boqueron and Finca el Paraiso are located on the route from Rio Dulce to El Estor. Along the road, you can easily stop the buses going both directions.
When in Finca, get a clay bath in the hot spring above the fall. If the climbing is too much fuss to you, look for the locals who will bring you the clay for some small fee.
At 8 am we were picked up from our hotel by the shuttle bus to Rio Dulce (previous night we bought the tickets in the hotel) (4,5 hours). Rest of the day we spent relaxing in the town.
Last evening we bought a trip Lanquin. This morning we boarded a shuttle bus (or rather a shuttle truck) and headed to Lanquin (1 hour).
Lanquin isn’t a place to be missed when in Guatemala. Check out our photos to see why. We hiked to the viewpoints, we swam in the turquoise limestone pools, and we explored Grutas de Lanquin (the caves). About the last ones – although it was fun, it was also scary a bit. It requires swimming across the cave lakes. In the complete dark, carrying only a candle (all right, the waterproof torch would do the job, but we didn’t have any)! Some people visit the caves wearing just a swimming suit, barefoot, but we recommend to wear some shoes as the rocks can be sharp. See our photos from Semuc Champey HERE
At the end of the day, we went back to Lanquin.
At 6 am the shuttle bus took us from our hotel. The trip to Lanquin took us the whole day (10 hours), we arrived shortly before the sunset.
Our comments: Do compare the prices of tickets to Lanquin in several agencies in Panajachel, as the prices are notably different. And don’t go to Coban, if you’re heading for Semuc Champey. Coban is within 2,5 hours’ drive of Semuc Champey. Lanquin is a closer option.
In Lanquin, your shuttle bus is going to be beset by hordes of dodgers trying to take you to a hotel they work for. You’d better find accommodation in advance. Or you’ll end up in some poophole like we did. The place was called El Muro, had a perfect location and looked OK at first glance. It appeared to be a nightmare, some local dive bar with a few filthy rooms, rented to those who can’t keep it vertical any more. Stay away from it!!
At 5 am we were picked up from our hotel by a shuttle bus to Panajachel.
In Panajachel, we went straight to the harbor with our luggage and paid a tour ticket to San Juan, San Pedro and Santiago Atitlan. In each of the towns, the boat stopped for 30-60 minutes. After that, the same boat took us back to Panajachel.
The rest of the day we spent wandering around in Panajachel.
Our comment: It would be probably cheaper to buy separate tickets to the little towns located at the lake. It would also give us the opportunity to spend more time in towns we liked the most. But in our case getting the luggage safely tucked in the boat for the whole trip, without having to worry about it, was the priority.
At 7:30 we took a chicken bus to Escuintla (1,5 hours). From Escuintla, we took another chicken bus to Santa Lucia (there wasn’t any direct bus to Santa Lucia).
In Santa Lucia, we hired a taxi driver who agreed to take us, at a reasonable price, to two main places related to the ancient Pipil civilization: El Baul and Museo Cultural Cotzumalguapa, famous for ancient anthropomorphic sculptures.
From Santa Lucia, after the trip, we took another chicken bus to La Democracia, where we photographed the huge anthropomorphic Monte Alto sculptures, situated on the town square.
From La Democracia, we took a chicken bus to Escuintla and from there another chicken bus to Antigua.
Our comment: this trip is recommended to those interested in ancient civilizations, weird religious cults or anthropomorphic sculptures only. Others should spend this day in Monterrico or Antigua.
W H A T T O S E E N E X T