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Guatemala

Guatemala

Semuc Champey- Lanquin, Guatemala

There are two reasons why you are going to ever go to Lanquin, Guatemala..  The first reason is to visit Semuc Champey and the second reason is to swim in this pool!

The Zephyr Lodge is a well oiled machine. When you arrive you are greeted with a free beer. If you stay here 3 nights, the 4th is free! The 5th day you have happy hour drink prices all day.

Dorm rooms, private rooms, tours, two bars and a full menu of food. Zephyr is a one stop shop for all of your needs in Lanquin. Or is it?

They have a tab system that is a brilliant way to take the money from your pocket and put it into theirs. It took me a couple days to realize why they give you free nights and cheaper booze for more stay. Because your second night there is spent sober planing for a tour the following morning and you start to notice the spiders as big as your hand and the cockroaches all over the rooms. (Keeping in mind that you are in the jungle and bugs definitely do happen. Big ones!) But I have been in rainforests in Thailand, Laos, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, jungles in Panama, Peru, and the Amazon jungle and never saw a single roach!) You begin to see that this place is just someone’s piggy bank. It was never geared towards your comfort. It’s just an unbelievably awesome pool in the jungle surrounded by lots of tricks to get you to buy overpriced drinks and spend money. Free beer when you get there? To get you to buy 6 more beers. 4th night is free? To get you to buy $35 of food and more booze. 5th day happy hour? Turns into a 6th day hung over. If the place was nice and comfortable they wouldn’t have to trick you to stay longer.

(If you could sleep outside in a tent this place would be paradise!)

Now if I could do it all again, I would stay at the newly built hostel on the next hill over called The Oasis. It will soon be 6 new bungalows with river access and you can walk to Zephyr for a day of pool drinking and lunch. (I only wrote about the negatives because if someone would have warned me my Lanquin trip would have been much better!) Now to the good stuff…

After an night of boozin and a day of laying by the pool you can book your Semuc Champey tour. Your morning will start with a 45 minute drive through the jungle in a 50s lifted Dodge monster truck. When you enter the park you will be greeted at 10am by a few local kids introducing them selves and trying to sell you beer.

After locking up your goods in a lock box you enter a cave on the side of a mountain! You will light a candle and walk with your shoes on through an underground river for a couple hundred feet until you are neck deep! Walking and swimming through the river wile keeping candle light above water but it was one of the craziest things I have ever done! Repelling up waterfalls with a candle in your mouth. It was all so wild! After exploring for a bit we reached a cliff with a small pool at the bottom. People climbing the walls of the cave to jump in!

After exiting the cavern we did some rope swinging into the river and then grabbed some tubes and floated down the river wile the local kids follow you on tubes with a cooler of beer for sale. They keep a running tab for everyone wile remembering the names in their head! Then those with the sand to give it a try jumped off a 30 foot bridge into the river.

It was time for more brews and lunch. A Mayan woman set up a buffet style barbecue on the side of the road for us and the little boys did their best to talk us into drinking 2 beers at a time. The girls sell home made chocolate. Pretty good actually! After that we hiked up the side of one of the mountings to get the view I came here for! Semuc Champey..

It’s a system of limestone pools along the river that have every shade of emerald water you could imagine!

Fish swimming around your feet and the water is literally the perfect temperature.

Such a peaceful place..

After an 8 hour day of adventure you can still make it back to the hostel in time for a game of strip Jenga!

A little recent history about the village of Semuc Champey. (Told to my by my guide) The owner of the land of Semuc Champey for many years lined his pockets with cash without doing anything to help of his local village. So they basically overthrough him, kicked him out of the village and took over Samuc Champey. He and his family fled to Guatemala City. The money earned by the park is now used to do repairs the the park, pave roads, put more villagers to work and build schools for the children. I don’t know if it’s all true but I like that story..

Where to stay-

The Oasis- $12 dorm beds, river access, clean

Getting there and away-

-Panahachel to from Lanquin has a direct shuttle service for 200 quetzal that takes between 9-11 hours. Lots of dirt and gravel roads.

-Flores, there is a shuttle service with two prices- 130 or 150 if you prefer AC. It takes 8 hours. I would pay the extra buck or two. When you get to the lowlands it is extremely hot!

Good luck!

Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

It’s official El Salvador is now the murder capital of the world. After a few days of traveling from Nicaragua through Honduras and spending a day in El Salvador I was about an hour from San Salvador, the worlds most homicidal city. I thought it didn’t look so bad at all actually kinda beautiful in the hills and along the sea side. But apparently the gangs the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 are the main gangs averaging 18 murders per day in El Salvador.

 (photo insightcrime.org)

Now the gangs are coming apart at the seams and they are not only at war with police and each other but internal wars within the gangs. The conflicts and blood are spilling over into Honduras and Guatemala. Most of them are covered from head to toe with tattoos including their faces. Apparently I have some of the same styles and tattoos on the same places as one gang and the other will murder you if you have an “M” tattooed on you. So I thought traveling through this region may not be the best idea. But a few days and a few busses later and I wandered through the most of the crazy parts and ended up in Antigua, Guatemala.

This place is unbelievable! The culture that I have been lacking all of Central America with great food and all of the history that you can handle! Surrounded by volcanos there are 360 degrees of photo opportunities in Antigua.

The Kingdom of Guatemala once was made up of current day Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. The Capitol of the Kingdom of Guatemala was destroyed by earthquakes or abandoned a few times.

Antigua was named the Capitol in 1543. It became one of the richest capitals of the new world! For 200 years it was the Military seat of the Spanish colony. It too was destroyed by earth quakes and by 1776 it was abandoned.

In the 1770s the population of the city peaked at over 60,000 people. Compared to the present day 34,000. (Probably because the hostel owner told me that a small house in Antigua goes for over 1 million USD!)

 

If you are lucky enough to be here during lent every weekend there is a celebration and a parade. The streets full of these rugs made of grass, flowers and colored saw dust. Parades of people, smoke and men wearing purple robes fill the street. It truly is a sight to see!


Antigua has cuisine and accommodation for every budget. As for me I stayed a few nights at the Hacia El Sur Hostel. It’s not the prettiest place but the location is great, showers are hot and the beds are good! The owner is a great guy as well. There is a rooftop restaurant above the hostel, Italian food next door, and a middle eastern restaurant two doors down that has big plates of really good food for $4. There is also a laundry service on this block. This photo of Volcan Fuego erupting was taken from the roof of the hostel! (While eating chocolate cheese cake.)

Antigua is also home to one of the best pizzas I have ever had (EVER)! Do yourself a favor and visit the San Martin Bakery. Baked goods, great coffee and deserts and the pizza is the best I have had by far in Central America!

 (Photo revuemag.com)

On Sunday check out the local market. Stalls packed full of hand made Mayan crafts and souvenirs. Mayan women wearing entricitly woven traditional dress, hand made shoes and many with smiles full of gold teeth.


There is also a great local market near the arch ran by a very nice Guatemalan man with a pony tale. He walked me around and showed me art, told me I was welcome in this country and that it was nice to meet me and then told me that my lip ring is very sexy.



Where to stay-

Hacia El Sur Hostel- Dorm bed $10 per night. Good beds, rooftop restaurant, good wifi, Excelent free breakfast!

Getting to and from-

From Leon- The shuttle from Nicaragua takes about 16 hours. Leaves at 2 am and drives through Honduras, El Salvador and takes you to Antigua for $55.

Lake Aritlan- Shuttle is direct and takes about 3 hours. Cost-$11 (80 quetzal)

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