Dec. 7-17: Guatemala: Tikal, Flores, Semuc Champey, Antigua

On day 37 (Dec. 7), Danielle and I left Sarteneja, Belize, and drove across the small nation into Guatemala. The border crossing went well enough and we got across Belize and through the border quicker than we had thought it would take. We then drove a little bit into Guatemala towards the world-renowned Mayan ruins of Tikal. Given that Tikal National Park is so large, we decided we would wait until the next day to visit the ruins, and so spent the night at a campground in the nearby town of El Remate. The campground was steps from Lago Petén Itzá, and we walked to it that afternoon for a swim. That evening at the campground we were invited to take a 'tour' of the owner's currency collection which had old and new currencies from all over the planet. Later, while we made/ate our dinner, the owner's young daughters came down and visited us, playing tag with Danielle and stirring up a ruckus.

The next day (Dec. 8/day 38) we visited the ruins of Tikal, and took in the magnificence of the park. While there, we saw many wildlife and because we arrived early in the morning, beat most of the crowds. Because of the size of the ruins, the lack of crowds, the lack of hawkers within the park, and the jungle environment, Tikal was far and beyond Danielle and I's favourite Mayan ruin. If you can only pick one ruin to visit, make it Tikal. If you're only visiting Mexico, then make it Palenque. After visiting the ruins all morning, we travelled to the other end of Lago Petén Itzá and stayed at a fantastic hotel/hostel right across the water from the famous town of Flores.

If you're in the Flores area, I highly recommend you stay at Chaltunha Hostel which is a short and inexpensive water taxi away from Flores with incredible views of the city. Camping at the hostel was very affordable, and the owner, Neil, is great. We stayed two nights at Neil's and while there visited and stocked up on groceries in Flores, as well as soaked in the views from the hostel.

On Dec. 10 (day 40), Danielle and I left Flores and made our way towards Semuc Champey, stopping for the night in the city of Coban. Coban was nothing special, and we left early the next morning (Dec. 11/day 41), driving the rough, long road to Semuc Champey, a natural limestone bridge with numerous aquamarine pools great for a refreshing swim. We stayed two nights near Semuc Champey, staying a very short walk away from the entrance at a local family's farm on which they allow camping and have a few bunks for backpackers. The farm had many chickens, a few piglets, and two strange birds which I think were young turkeys that hanged around Danielle and I cheeping away.

When we visited Semuc, we climbed the Mirador trail, soaked in the views, then descended the trail and soaked in the river. Although it was fairly busy, and getting to Semuc Champey is not the easiest drive, Danielle and I both thought it was worth the visit.

On Dec. 13 (day 42), Danielle and I left Semuc Champey and returned once again to the hotel parking lot we stayed at the last time we were in Coban. We spent another night, and left Coban the next morning (Dec. 14/day 44), and began an incredibly frustrating and long drive to Antigua. Throughout the drive, we passed through many small towns, where the market had been set up right along, and spilling into, the highway. Because of the plethora of people, stalls, animals, and wares set up basically in the street, an intricate gridlock would bring traffic to a complete standstill. This made driving through these puny towns, a distance of 500m or less, take 20-30 minutes. After the 6th situation like this, it became quite tiresome and very frustrating. Finally, when we reached a larger highway, we expected to pick up the pace. However, the road climbed very steep and curvy, seemingly never ending hills, and a construction project detoured us through not-on-the-GPS roads and towns. Getting through Guatemala City was also a bit of an adventure, but not nearly as bad as getting through the many markets.

Many hours later, we finally made it to Antigua, where we check into our hotel. The hotel was exceptionally located in central Antigua, but for the price, the wifi should not have been as poor as it was, and the “free breakfast” was quite pathetic. Nonetheless, Antigua was a beautiful city, with gorgeous buildings, and scrumptious restaurants. However, during our stay I didn't take very many photos, for various reasons.

As David Coleman of Have Camera Will Travel says “If God and the government had their way, Antigua would no longer exist.” Many years ago, due to repeatedly being devastated by earthquakes, the government decided it wasn't worth continuing to rebuild the troublesomely located city, and moved the capital to present-day Guat City. However, Antigua remains and beautiful it is. However, during our stay, God tried once again to destroy the city, as we were woken up around 5:30 to shaking. According to the USGS, a Magnitude 5.4 earthquake struck 15km east of La Gomera, Guatemala, about an hour's drive from Antigua. There didn't appear to be any fatalities or significant damage, but the shaking was a bit of a rude awakening.

We left Antigua on the 18th of December (day 48) and travelled across the country and into Honduras.

The Ruins of Tikal.

Anacari Toucans in Tikal National Park.

A spider monkey (I'm pretty sure) within Tikal National Park.

Flores as seen from the great hostel we stayed at across Lake Petén Itzá. The small boats you can see on the left shuttled people all day across for less than cents a ride.

Semuc Champey from the Mirador.

Where the river flows under the limestone 'bridge'.