A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Days 23 & 24: Antigua – San Pedro La Laguna (Lago de Atitlan

sunny

We woke up to sunshine which showed Antigua in its true beauty. Cobbled streets and colonial buildings surrounded by 3 large volcanoes, one of which is erupting.
Antigua

Antigua


Antigua (3)

Antigua (3)


We celebrated by going for a morning coffee in Parque Central (a plaza) and watching the cosmopolitan crowd going about their Sunday mornings. We then went for a quick stroll through the market before meeting up with some friends in a sports bar to watch the England-Italy game. It was a little surreal walking in off the cobbled streets into this huge sports bar full of locals and foreigners... the vast majority of who appeared to be supporting Italy. We used the defeat to sample a generous portion of Guatemalan beer.

After the game we returned to the hostel for a dinner of pasta, before meeting up with friends again to eat cake in the plaza – an activity instigated by ourselves because we thought the original plan of more drinks was a tad extravagant.

After a less than restful night (possible cake overdose plus possibly the most uncomfortable bed in Guatemala), we went for a trip to the market to hunt for bargains.
Antigua (7)

Antigua (7)


The market was so vast and consisted of stalls of everything and anything you could possibly imagine – fruit stalls next to mobile phone stalls next to shoe shops next to butchers next to pay to use toilets! We made several attempts at bartering but it seemed our suggestions were a combination of hilarious and/or offensive to the market-tellers and we eventually left empty handed... but not before we spent nearly an hour searching for the food section in the market which we had been told was cheap and tasty. We eventually found it and it was cheap, and it was indeed tasty - and also extremely filling.

This afternoon we have travelled by bus to Lago de Atitlan, a huge lake in Western Guatemala considered by many to be one of the most scenic places in the country. We have arrived fairly late but from what we have seen it does look pretty special. We are staying in a small town called San Pedro as it is the best place to book tours and activities here – tomorrow we have a guided hike (just the 2 of us and our personal guide) around several lakeside villages. We plan to stay in the village we like the best from the tour as there is a loud bongo club down the road and our neighbours are evidently big fans of Israeli dance music – Lago de Atitlan is meant to be a quite a tranquil place!!

Posted by Joe and Sarah 20:49 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Days 25 – 28: San Pedro – San Marcos, Lago de Atitlan

sunny

We met our guide, Dominic, and walked to the lake to take a small boat to Santa Cruz, a larger town across the Lake.
San Pedro

San Pedro


Patchwork Hill, San Pedro

Patchwork Hill, San Pedro


From here we walked about 3 hours passing through a number of other little towns on our way, along tiny thin paths perched on the side of steep hills and up and down rocks! We stopped in San Marcos, where we made a reservation at a hostel for the next couple of nights and book some Spanish lessons! Most exciting! From here we took a Tuk Tuk to the next couple of towns, stopping in each, before arriving back in San Pedro.
Lago de Atitlan tour (5)

Lago de Atitlan tour (5)


The tour was a great way to see the little towns and take in the lake which is surrounded by volcanoes. Our guide was brilliant and although he had limited English we learnt a lot from him and were able to practise our Spanish too! One town we visited (San Pablo) has no hostels or hotels and so is not touristy at all – the locals don’t want tourists there as they want to maintain their own customs and traditions. Fair enough! The other towns on the lake have welcomed tourists with open arms as we provide so much work for the locals and put a lot of money into the community. It was so interesting to learn about the Mayan culture and get an understanding of what they think of us! Despite being very beautiful the lake does not have the same protection from humans as it would in a developed country such as New Zealand which means that a lot of the land, right the way up the steep hills, has been developed for farming and there is the messy sprawl of small towns along the edge of the lake. It’s kind of sad to see in a way but then it is the peoples’ livelihood!

After a small rest and some food we headed out to a local fiesta in the evening; we are here during their week of celebrations...for something, we are not quite sure what! Although we gathered that this fiesta was to celebrate a new Queen in the town and all the other Queens from other towns came to celebrate. We were first entertained by a singer, a major crooner in a shiny blue suit and white shoes, followed by a lot of dancing along the stage by all the Queens. We left at about 9, and walking down the street heard the same music from a shop and saw that the show was on National TV too! The lady in the shop told us it was going on until 4 am – they are hardcore!

Next day we took the boat across to San Marcos, a smaller, quieter town, where we planned to spend a couple of days to have some Spanish lessons. It is a super hippy place, with a lot of yoga and meditation occurring and we felt a little out of place without dreadlocks or odd peculiar clothing, however it’s a lovely quiet town and we have really enjoyed our stay here! We had four hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons on both days which was great! We both felt we really benefitted from it and hope we make more sense when we are speaking now! Joe spent a lot of time teaching his teacher about the Geography of Europe (in Spanish) whilst Sarah learnt about the Guatemalan war – heavy stuff!

Today we planned a relaxing day to enjoy the area prior to an all day bus journey tomorrow. We headed back across to San Pedro where we witnessed a Tuk Tuk come very fast down a big hill and then tip over on its side! Everyone appeared to be ok – Tuk Tuk drivers are crazy! We then went to a local market which was the noisiest experience ever as there was almost constant fireworks going off for the ongoing fiesta – they were the loudest fireworks ever known to mankind and were lit within metres of one’s face! Exciting!
San Pedro market

San Pedro market


We enjoyed some Tostadas (Tacos to you and I) whilst watching a local band play a few tunes – we spied we were the only Westerners there, it was great! Back in San Marcos we headed to small nature reserve home to excellent jumping rocks into the lake and a jumping / diving platform about 7 metres high. Sarah enjoyed a smaller refreshing jump whilst Joe took on the big jump a number of times!
Jumping, San Marcos Nature Reserve (6)

Jumping, San Marcos Nature Reserve (6)


Jumping, San Marcos Nature Reserve (16)

Jumping, San Marcos Nature Reserve (16)


It was a beautiful spot with stunning views of the lake and the volcanoes. Guatemala is a beautiful country and has exceeded our expectations...but with four countries remaining, El Salvador here we come!!

Posted by Joe and Sarah 20:51 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Days 29 & 30: San Marcos (Guatemala)–Santa Ana (El Salvador)

all seasons in one day

Since the inception of the Central American blog, a behind-the-scenes drama has been evolving and gathering pace... do we or do we not visit El Salvador? Initially we considered leaving it out to enjoy more time in other countries. Then Joe read somewhere that it has some of the best surf spots in the world – back on the agenda! Then Joe read the next paragraph and discovered that the majority of the waves break over shallow reefs and have world class surfers riding them and it is common to get robbed on the walks to the beaches. Oh dear. Then Joe read more and discovered that there are surf schools and so there must be some more sensible waves and safe places to stay but then it wasn’t explained clearly and so Joe was confused and put the book down feeling confused.

We decided to ask people who have been there instead - 95% of travellers asked in Joe & Sarah’s El Salvador research responded with a verdict of ‘do not go there as it is not as nice as the other countries in the region and is more expensive and is not safe’. Closer inspection of the results however confirmed our suspicions that most of these people only went to the capital San Salvador and in all honesty we also didn’t particular like some of the people asked. Instead we listened closely to a nice Irish couple we met in El Remate (Guatemala) who told us it was amazing, people were so friendly and it is also cheap. We decided to trust them and go for it. Fingers crossed it’s a good choice!

The bus journey took 11 hours to get here! We passed through amazing Guatemalan countryside, before changing buses in first Antigua and then Guatemala City. Guatemala City was ridiculously busy and the bus station appeared to be located in the scariest part of town. It was nice to get out of there! The border crossing out of Guatemala was also very exciting with crazy men shouting ‘dollares’ ‘dollares’ at us repeatedly (El Salvador uses the dollar). Finally across the border we had our passports scrutinized by El Salvador customs man but once he was happy with whatever he was looking for he returned them with a friendly smile which was nice. We disembarked the bus in the dark in a city called Santa Ana which we knew little about but assumed it was better than getting off the bus in San Salvador in the dark and was closer to where we are heading to tomorrow. We got a taxi as a huge bloke strolled past and muttered ‘be careful’ to us... ok, thank you big scary man! We asked the taxi driver to take us to a hostel we thought sounded nice in the book. Despite being pretty close he charged us a small fortune and when we got there the place appeared closed. 95% of travellers may have been right after all... until we found the doorbell and entered one of the finest hostels we have stayed in. Huge double room, cable TV, fan, clean sheets, walk in wardrobe and a huge shower with hot water. It also had an amazing kitchen and the smiliest hostel owner in the world. We then went out to dinner at a local restaurant and had possibly the finest meal of our trip followed by a slice of Pie de Limon which was so good it is beyond words. Welcome to El Salvador – we like it already!

We awoke feeling happy to have made the decision to come here. We got an early bus to a small town called Juayua, which hosts a ‘world-famous’ food festival every weekend.
Chicken Buses, Santa Ana

Chicken Buses, Santa Ana


Santa Ana market

Santa Ana market


On the way out of Santa Ana on a chicken bus, what seemed like thousands of market-tellers jumped on the bus trying to sell us everything you can think of – Joe got overexcited and purchased a pack of authentic El Salvador playing cards for 25 cents only to realise too late that they were made in China. When we arrived in Juayua we found a good hostel, dumped our bags and headed down to the food festival. Wow – stall after stall of incredible food. Steak, chicken, fish, prawns, rabbit, apparently there was even Iguana there although we didn’t see it.
Food Festival, Juayua 2

Food Festival, Juayua 2


Sarah plucked for a fishy dish whilst Joe plumped for steak. Complete with plenty of rice, avocado, fruit, potatoes, chorizo they were terrific meals! We watched the football final in a cafe and at full time booked onto a coffee tour tomorrow with one of the other viewers who happens to be a guide. We spent the afternoon wandering through the amazing market agreeing that the decision to come to El Salvador has already been a good one – we love the country!
Church, Juayua

Church, Juayua

Posted by Joe and Sarah 19:27 Archived in El Salvador Comments (0)

Days 31 - 34: Juayua – El Tunco (El Salvador)

sunny

Today we had an early start to go on a Coffee Tour! Our guide Cesar picked us up from our hostel and we headed off to first look around a few coffee plantations. There was only the two of us and Cesar was brilliant so we learnt so much!! El Salvador is obviously well known for it’s coffee, most of which is exported. Very little of the good stuff is consumed locally which is something Cesar is trying to change as it would really help stabilise the local coffee economy. We learnt all about the plantations and the work which has to be done to maintain them.
Arrabica Coffee Plant, Juayua

Arrabica Coffee Plant, Juayua


Coffee Plantations, Ruta de las Flores

Coffee Plantations, Ruta de las Flores


View from coffee tour guides house, Juayua

View from coffee tour guides house, Juayua


After this we headed to the small factory to the “quality control” area where all the local coffee is assessed by a coffee pro!
Local coffee bean samples, Juayua

Local coffee bean samples, Juayua


Here we watched beans be roasted, then ground, then water added...then we were allowed to smell it, taste it (and spit it out!) before being allowed to drink a whole cup with some lovely coconut cookies!
Sarah taste testing freshest cup of coffee ever, Juayua

Sarah taste testing freshest cup of coffee ever, Juayua


Joe aroma testing fresh coffee, Juayua

Joe aroma testing fresh coffee, Juayua


It was rather like wine tasting...and it was so good – so fresh! We also learnt that instant coffee is made from all the duff beans, shells and twigs that are picked out of the good beans! It’s then frozen with nitrogen before having aromas added – as all the natural aromas have been frozen out!! Joe and Sarah are now officially coffee snobs and we will not be buying instant coffee again!
Exhibit A, 'defect coffee beans used for instant coffee'. Please do not drink instant coffee, Juayua

Exhibit A, 'defect coffee beans used for instant coffee'. Please do not drink instant coffee, Juayua

After the excitement of the coffee tour we hopped on a chicken bus to visit another town on the “Ruta de Flores” – a route famous for it’s lovely flowers at spring. As it’s not spring there were no lovely flowers but the route was still impressive with volcanoes lined with coffee plantations as a general view. Ataco, was the first stop - a nice little town although very quiet – we feel there may have been more excitement here at a weekend. However, we enjoyed some local food at a little Comedor before heading back on the bus to a rather posh restaurant (recommended by our guide) for some pudding and coffee! We sat through a torrential rainstorm, in the restaurant’s beautiful gardens, before heading back to Juayua.

Next day we had another day of travel to get to the El Salvadorian coast. After 6 hours, 4 chicken buses, and 1 wrong stop (we blame a local who told us to get off in the wrong place) we arrived in El Tunco, a small coastal town famous both locally and internationally for its good surf! It’s a sleepy little town which apparently becomes something of a party town at the weekend – fortunately for us old fogies it’s not the weekend! We are suitably impressed with the coast – it is beautiful with black sand beaches and amazing, if a little scary, surf! We’re staying in a hostel just off the beach which also has a little swimming pool which is a nice treat! We spent yesterday in and out of the sea which was quite exciting with strong winds and rather strong currents. In the morning, whilst hunting for body-boards, Joe bumped into a lovely Irish couple we had met in Guatemala, and we said we would meet them on the beach later on. Joe found a body board and we headed to the beach...and it was a good job we did as Joe became a lifesaver. Not a joke. We had been warned of a very strong current taking you out towards some rather big, spiky rocks that the waves were crashing against. Our Irish friends, both very strong swimmers, got caught by the current and were just not able to get out of it. They disappeared behind the huge rocks and all that could be seen were massive waves breaking! It was a terrifying sight! Joe, with his flippers and board swam to them and managed to swim them to safety on the board, whilst Sarah stood helpless on the shore. They both had horrible cuts from the rocks but they were alive! We were very glad and so were they! Joe is a hero! From then Sarah and Joe remained in the shallow water!

We had a huge storm in the evening with the loudest thunder ever and the skies all along the coast were lit up to daylight by the lightening. The power went out for the whole evening which was exciting! Today the sea has been much calmer and we have enjoyed a lot of time in and out of the sea with Joe expertly body-boarding some huge waves and Sarah being thrown around like she is in a washing machine. Much fun! As much as we would love to stay here for another week or two, time is ticking and Honduras is beckoning!
Playa El Tunco (30)

Playa El Tunco (30)


Playa El Tunco (22)

Playa El Tunco (22)


Playa El Tunco (19)

Playa El Tunco (19)


Playa El Tunco (25)

Playa El Tunco (25)


Playa El Tunco (3)

Playa El Tunco (3)

Posted by Joe and Sarah 18:29 Archived in El Salvador Comments (0)

Day 35: El Tunco (El Salv) - Santa Rosa de Copan (Honduras)

overcast

Playa El Tunco 2 (1)

Playa El Tunco 2 (1)


We woke up to a lovely swim in the pool and sea, followed by a quick breakfast before checking out.
Playa El Tunco 2 (4)

Playa El Tunco 2 (4)


We were sad to be leaving El Salvador as it has been our favourite country in Central America so far... but we were also excited about seeing Honduras. The journey from the El Salvadoran coast to the Honduras border was horrible – a combination of buses and taxi transfers, the final leg to the border was in a very busy bus blaring out terrible dance music with the deepest bass imaginable.
The border crossing itself was eerily quiet and easy. No men surrounding us trying to change our money as at every other border and we even got smiles from the Honduran customs man which was lovely. A short taxi ride took us to our first Honduran bus which was so much better than the El Salvadoran version. We headed north to a town called Santa Rosa de Copan which is not on the usual tourist trail but sounded nice and so we thought we would give it a try...

...oh dear - please could the next stops in Honduras be nicer. To be fair, the locals seem very pleasant and helpful, despite some lingering stares (we appear to be the only westerners in town) but that would be where the compliments end for now. Please let us quote and review Lonely Planet’s ramblings about this town; it has ‘great bars and restaurants’ – the first recommended restaurant contained a solitary builder and an open space where a restaurant once stood proud. The second we tried contained 8 staff, no customers and smelt suspiciously like vomit. That concludes the eating options for our evening.

So instead we headed to the cinema which is conveniently opposite our hostel. Cheap tickets, English language movie and comfortable seats were pluses. Negatives included nachos – a bag of Doritos cut open at the top and drenched in slimy cheese sauce and some jalapenos. It sounded pretty cool to us but was not too pleasant when we got to the bottom of the packet. The popcorn was also pretty poor. And the film, which we blame on Hollywood rather than Honduras was a shocker!

So not the most successful first evening in Honduras but at least we could retire to our ‘impeccably kept hostel’ (Lonely Planet, 2010). The impeccable hostel appears to be an ideal home for cockroaches and we suspect the hostel owner is sympathetic to the cockroach population. We found one in our room and so asked for a cockroach-capturing device. Mr Hostel owner however came to play the role of hero, gallantly crushing the offending bug and disposing of it manfully out of the window, before strolling back to reception. We became suspicious that all was not well however when through hushed discussions we both agreed that no dead cockroach had been viewed by our eyes. Our suspicions were then raised by the fact that the cockroach was happily skipping around under the bed where he had always been. Our hostel owner is a magician of sorts. After a brief exchange about the miraculous re-emergence of the bug, he let us into another room which has a large gecko approximately 1 metre from our heads but it looks friendly enough. We should mention that the hostel is dirty and horrible and we are looking forward to waking up early and heading to Gracias down the road which is meant to be lovely!

Parque Central, Santa Rosa de Copan

Parque Central, Santa Rosa de Copan

Posted by Joe and Sarah 09:26 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

(Entries 36 - 40 of 48) « Page .. 3 4 5 6 7 [8] 9 10 »