Everyone climbs Pacaya. If you spend any time in Antigua, chances are you might find yourself hiking this volcano. Big groups of tourists go everyday — two times a day: in the morning and in the evening.
People climb Pacaya for good reason. Not only is it nearby (an hour’s drive from Antigua) and cheap (around $6); it’s also stunning to witness first-hand an active volcano spewing out lava nonstop.
The climb isn’t especially difficult, though it’s still plenty challenging. The rocks are very sharp and sometimes lava-hot here — it’s all quite dangerous, actually, notwithstanding the mobs of tourists and minimal supervision.
The view from atop is reward enough. The other volcanoes in the region — the volcanoes seen from Antigua — are lined up beautifully amid the clouds. And if you go on the evening hike, you get to take in the sunset and the lights of Guatemala City, which shimmer in the dark.
View the Pacaya gallery.
Todos Santos was a low point. I went there on a whim — as I’d originally planned on going to either Nebaj or Xela — and ended up having a terrible time. It was cold and foggy, it was in the middle of nowhere, and worst of all, I suffered a crippling sickness there. Bad food? The altitude perhaps?
In any event, I didn’t do any of the hiking as planned. I was too sick to hike.
My bad experience aside, Todos Santos is an interesting place well off the tourist trail. The trip there takes you through Huehuetenango, an uninviting transportation hub — a mess of a city that’s the last stop before the Mexican border — and then, best of all, takes you straight up the side of a giant plateau in the Cuchumatanes sierra.
The scenery is often breathtaking from this point onward, and while the road to Todos Santos is slow and bumpy, it’s captivating. For me, it was the best part of Todos Santos — the ride in and out, up and down the mountainside, with sheets of clouds and far-off volcano peaks in full view.
View the Todos Santos gallery.
There’s a good hike here up to a waterfall overlooking the lake and the volcanoes. The monkeys are also wonderful; the butterflies not so much. The reserve is a quick tuk-tuk ride out of town.
Worthwhile afternoon visit. Bring a banana for the monkeys.
View the Reserva Natural Atitlán gallery.
Third-time visit to Lago de Atitlán. Went horseback riding this time. Stayed at Zoola in San Pedro and Mario’s Rooms in Panajachel, both recommended.
View the Lago de Atitlán gallery.
The highlight of our visit to the Río Dulce region was a trip out to an agua caliente (i.e., hot spring) on the north side of Lago de Izabal: Finca el Paraíso. I enjoyed the shuttle ride there as we passed by an hour’s worth of plantations, and the ride back was even more amusing as I rode on the top of the shuttle with a couple kids.
The boat ride down the river was also memorable, though the overcast sky left much to be desired. In fact, the weather was unfavorable throughout our visit to Río Dulce. It rained heavily.
Livingston, from which we began our visit, was unimpressive to me. I found it sketchy and ramshackle. We didn’t stick around there long. Stayed just a night — a rainy night — at Casa de la Iguana, something of a party hostel loaded full with backpackers, similar to La Iguana Perdida at Santa Cruz, Lago de Atitlán.
Instead, we found Nutria Marina, a classy eco-lodge tucked away between the bridge and the castle, and we chilled out there for a couple days before heading back to Antigua a day ahead of schedule. Really liked Nutria Marina.
View the Río Dulce gallery.
Tikal National Park is only a half-hour drive from El Remate, which made getting there in time for sunrise a little easier than it would have been from Flores, where most tourists stay. It’s not always easy to wake up at 5:00 a.m., especially when you’re on vacation, but in the case of Tikal, it’s well worth it. Sunrise is the best time to visit the park.
Sunrise is the best time because the air is cool, there aren’t many bugs (or tourists), and the tropical forest is full of life. For example, we didn’t make it more than a couple minutes into the park before we spotted spider monkeys in a tree tall above. Plus, we could hear monkeys howling in the distance all morning. Continue reading
Rather than stay in Flores as is most common, we chose to stay in El Remate while visiting Tikal and Lago de Petén Itzá. Little more than a dirt road with a series of lakeside accommodations, El Remate is well off the tourist trail. Even better, the lake is absolutely magnificent there, tranquil and seemingly untouched by man.
We arrived at night after a day-long journey from Lanquín. We’d left El Retiro at 8:00 a.m. in a shuttle, picked up a bunch of other tourists in Cobán (17 of us total), and finally arrived at Flores (or rather Santa Elena, the grimy city on the outskirts of Flores, where the main road is) around 6:00 p.m., just as the sun was getting ready to set. From there we found transportation to El Remate, which was another hour up the road. By the time we arrived — by tuk-tuk, no less! — it was well after dark.