Sunday, July 21, 2013

Flores and Tikal (13.07.2013 - 16.07.2013)

The lovely old town of Flores lies on a island in the Lago Peten Itza. We wanted to stay at Los Amigos but there was no place left so we had to settle with a shitty place for the first night and could switch the day after. Which was super decision!

After a day off to relax from the uncomfortable mini-bus ride we did a Tikal-Sunrise-Tour. Which meant we had to get up at 3 in the morning! On the way to the ruins we had the luck to spot a jaguar crossing the street. Arriving at the ruins we climbed temple IV (four) to wait for the sunset. We were all sitting there and listening to the jungle waking up. We could hear howler monkeys and dozens of birds chattering away. We waited and waited and the night turned to day but sadly there was no sunrise to observe as it was too cloudy. But nevertheless we enjoyed the view, which George Lucas used for the landing of the millenium falcon on Yavin 4 in Star Wars IV. 
We walked around in this huge area with dozens of temples to visit. Some temples you can't climb anymore because of a deadly accident, but the guards enforcing this only start working at 8 in the morning. So our guide asked us if we wanted to climb the pyramid and we didn't hesitated ^^
Around the many temples the jungle thrives with wildlife, we saw spider monkeys, toucans, tarantulas, foxes, some kind of wild turkey and some silly long nosed mammals. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Holistico Hostel, Antigua

After our first night in the disappointing Black Cat Hostel we switched to this relaxed place. The staff was friendly, there is a roof top terrace, nice courtyard full of plants and you get free water, coffee and tea.

We paid 12 USD/CHF for our private room with shower.

PS: First time there was a reliable internet connection in guatemala, hooray! ;)

Antigua and Semuc Champey (09.07.2013 - 12.07.2013)

We reached Antigua in one of the many tourist shuttle busses which dropped us off in the city center. After having found a place to stay (which we changed for the second night) we went to wander around this old town with its many half demolished buildings/churches. We saw a poster about O.X. an adventure tour operator and headed there inquire about one of the many volcano tours. Sadly the next overnight tour would only depart 3 days later. So we decided to do the downhill bike tour the next day. Which was awesome! They took the two of us and a young american couple (kids basically ^^) up the mountain on a pick up truck. From there we had to ride maybe half an hour more or less uphill through villages and corn fields. The downhill part that started there was exciting and you could get quite some speed. Just beware of the farmers coming uphill :) After arriving in a little town the guide told us we could grab a little local shuttle bus to get up hill again, for not even a doller each. The americans had enough but the two of us didn't ^^

The next day we headed up north to Coban, where we had dinner at one of the many food stalls which are parked around the main plaza in the evening. All the stalls sell/server the same menu, not so entrepreneurial...
The day after we visited Semuc Champey. These lime stone kind of waterfalls and pools are of a awesome colour and quite some fun to splash around! We did the steep climb up the viewpoint first, the view was definitely worth the exhaustion. Swimming in the pools afterward was even more refreshing that way.

Around Lago Atilan (06.07.2013 - 08.07.2013)

In Xela we decided to go to San Pedro la Laguna an not directly to Panajachel. So we took again a Chicken Bus through the mountains down super steep and narrow roads. Always a good feeling if the bus has to back up to get around a corner with just a narrow border before the deep plunge...

San Pedro is a little laid back town on the Lago Atilan. We stayed at Mr. Mullets just around the corner of the docks, a really nice place. The lake is surrounded by (inactive) volcanoes, quite a sight! We went kayaking and swimming and enjoyed the great view. The first evening we stayed in San Pedro was some kind of local festival going on. We joined the few guatemalans which where dancing in front of the stage. Around three-quarter of the spectators where only standing around, supposedly their church doesn't allow them to dance...

To go to Pana we took one of the many ferries on the lake. Pana itself was a little busier and more touristic than San Pedro, which we preferred more.

Black Cat Hostel, Quetzaltenango/Xela

We found this place only by accident but loved it on first sight. The friendly staff will serve you at the bar/restaurant and there is a lovely courtyard.

We paid around 30USD/CHF for our private room with shower and hot water! ;)

PS: Avoid the Black Cat Hostel in Antigua! Smelly tiny rooms, dirty toilets and showers. Doesn't really live up to its sibling in Xela...

Get some sweets - San Christobal de las Casas

La Vina de Bacco, San Christobal de las Casas

This tiny wine bar/restaurant right on the main shopping strip/pedestrian street is wonderful! The staff is super friendly and always brings you nice little snacks, I love popcorn!

Every glass of wine you order comes with a free tapas! A bottle brings you a whole platter! Awesome concept! Just encouraged us to drink more ;)

Los Camellos, San Christobal de las Casas

We had a huge private room with two big beds for around 20USD/CHF in this lovely place. The hostel is well equipped, there is a great kitchen, a nice court and backyard. It lays only a block away from the main pedestrian street.

Try to avoid the hustlers at the bus stop, there is a reason these hostel employ the particular methods...

San Christobal de las Casas and over to Guatemala (01.07.2013 - 05.07.2013)

We took the ADO bus from Palenque to San Christobal de las Casas passing by Tuxtla. But before we reached Tuxtla we got stuck in traffic because of a car/truck crash. Just minutes ahead of us two trucks crashed into each other, we still saw them burning...! About 6 hours later the fire died down enough that they could clear the way and we could head on to Tuxtla. Where upon they told us they wouldn't continue to San Christobal as there where some undefined roadblocks. Nobody could tell us what kind of roadblocks (political, zapatistas?) or when they would be cleared. Stranded in the middle of the night in a huge city with no clue where to stay or when we could head on we decided to wait it out. The first regular bus would/should leave at 4am and then every hour and finally at about 8 in the morning there was a bus leaving for San Christobal, hooray!

Just at the bus stop a guy talked us into taking a look at Planet Hostel. They would pay for the cab so we decided to take a look. In the end it was so cheap and we were so tired that we stayed for one night but changed places the next as it was quite dirty and without warm water. You appreciate a hot shower in this cold weather! Bring a sweater, it is quite cold in the mountains here! The other hostel (Los Camellos) was quite lovely and we could relax a bit and visit the charming town of San Christobal. Especially worth mentioning is the bar/restaurant La Vina de Bacco, we spent quite some time and money on the fine wine and tapas they serve!

Feeling relaxed enough we took a bike tour the other day, which would lead us around the country side of San Christobal. We visited the Mammoth Cave (no mammoths beside a stone which might look like a mammoth with a lot of goodwill) and stopped at a lovely little village to rest.

We decided not to take one of the all-inclusive-shuttle-services to reach Guatemala and took the ADO bus to the frontier. After having our passport stamped on the mexican side we shared a cab (with an elderly lady, small girl and a chicken) over the border to Guatemala. We changed our remaining pesos and wanted to take the Linea Dorado bus to Panajachel on Lago Atilan. But we would have to wait 4h till the bus would leave, so we decided to take the local option, Chicken Bus! These old north american school busses are re-painted colourful and usually run between two towns back and forth. Luckily the guatemalan people aren't too tall, as these busses were built to transport kids. I'm not the tallest but still my knees touched the bench in front of me, Melanie had no problems... ;)
They told us we would have to change to another bus but would reach Pana, so we got dropped of at an intersection and hopped on another Chicken Bus. After becoming assured multiple times that this bus would take us to Panajachel we enjoyed the ride through the green valleys. As the day turned to dusk and then to night there where fewer and fewer people on the bus till we were the only two left. Shortly after it stopped at a gas station and told us that is the end of the line and there would be no bus to Pana leaving today. Bummed to be stranded (again) in a unknown city with no clue where to stay we took the next cab and trusted the angry driver (at the traffic, not us... hopefully) to bring us to a hostel. He dropped us of at the Black Cat Hostel, which turned out to be a lovely hostel in Quetzaltenango (the mayan name Xela is much more common and easier to remember/pronounce).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cozumel, Chichen Itza & Palenque (19.06.2013 - 30.6.2013)

We stayed a whole week in Cozumel as we did our Rescue Diver Certification there. The course was quite exhausting, a lot to read and remember so we took it easy. Besides the course we went diving, check out the pics with the nurse shark! Another day we rented a scooter and took a ride around the island. We loved the beaches and crazy waves on the eastern side of the island. The main town San Miguel has several cruise ship docks, so we did try to avoid these crowds and the restaurants/shops catering for them around the boardwalk.

After our certification we headed back to the mainland, to Valladolid close to Chichen Itza. So the next morning we were at the ruins before all the busses from Cancun and Playa del Carmen arrived. Also most of the stands selling tourist rubbish weren't set up when we entered. The whole site was nice, but the big pyramid was definitely the main attraction. On our way back the parking lot was full of buses and tour groups bustling around, come early!

Next we headed to Campeche, at the western coast of the Yucatan peninsula. We stayed two nights in the nice old colonial part of the town. We took a walk to one of the fortresses guarding the coast as recommended by the tourist info which got us the map, the didn't mentioned that it was closed for renovations... 

After this we left the coast and visited Palenque, another place with a mayan heritage. Here you can climb the ruins, something which wasn't allowed in Tulum or in Chichen Itza. Also most of the ruins lay overgrown in the jungle beneath little rivers and waterfalls, nice! We visited the museum first and then took the walk/climb up with the biggest sites as the finish, highly recommended you do it this way. Again there weren't too much people around despite the fact we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. Furthermore there weren't even a tenth of trinket sellers than in Chichen Itza. This was definitely the nicest mayan site we visited so far!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Margarita & Ed, El Panchan, Palenque

El Panchan - Tel: 916 111 91 12 - Cel: 916 348 69 90

El Panchan lies just at the entrance to the national park containing the ruins of Palenque (take a collectivo from town). Margarita & Ed have spotless cabinas with mosquito nets all around the walls and roof, set amid the jungle. Because of the open rooms and the position beneath the trees make it pleasant cool in the night, we didn't used our fan.
There are two rooms in one cabin, with the walls not going all the way up to the  thatched roof. So you hear everything which is spoken next door ;). As there are no windows you hear the howler monkeys in the trees and the reggae beats from the bar around the corner as well.

Nevertheless we really liked it and with 20CHF/US$ quite a bargain compared what we had the night before in Campeche...

Tamarindo Bed & Breakfast, San Miguel, Cozumel

While on Cozumel for our Rescue Diver Certification we stayed at this lovely Bed & Breakfast (there is no breakfast during low season). We switched between the fan and a air-con room as there were people coming with a reservation but liked the fan-only room way better.
The cheaper room was a little bit larger, closer to the kitchen and terrace and it had a hammok!

We payed 33CHF/USD for the fan and 44CHF/USD for the air-con room.