I promised to write for Mismatched Knitwear a long time ago, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t until I was in an internet café in Guatemala that I finally put metaphorical pen to paper.
For those who like specifics, I’ve been volunteering with the YMCA (it’s called the ACJ here- Asociacion Cristiana de Jovenés) for the past ten weeks and you find me on my final day in the beautiful tiny town of San Cristobal pretty much directly in the centre. I’m sad to go back to the UK, but before I do, I thought I’d give you my top reasons why Guatemala is a forgotten travel destination, but well worth the visit:
1. It’s cheap
With £1 being equivalent to Q11 and a can of beer around Q5, I’ll let you do the maths. For the first time in my life, I had my beard wet shaved by a barber, it took around twenty minutes and all he wanted was Q5. I was amazed! We have taken to buying a few cans of local beer and sitting on the shore of our beautiful lake here in San Cristobal. When you can buy a full dinner on the street for under a pound (and not get ill once you work out where to buy), staying out all evening for under a fiver becomes quite possible.
2. The Mayas
After spending the last weekend in Guatemala’s most famous tourist destination, I can only hope to come back. The Mayan city of Tikal was once home to 100,000 people and the ingenuity of the city’s planners will take you by surprise. By lining the buildings up with the Sun, they could tell the time of day, year and then start to plan crop rotation to feed a city of that size. The site is dotted with hills which aren’t hills at all, merely other buildings reclaimed by nature and yet to be excavated. It is a truly incredible place and I suggest you go to Flores, stay at ‘La Casa De Los Amigos’ (along with every other tourist, there’s a reason you know!) and then get a guide day one, but return on your own. There is so much to see not only in Tikal, but in many other Mayan sites around Guatemala, it’s worth taking some time to explore the ruins of this incredible civilisation that was far more intelligent than its European contemporaries.
3. The wildlife
Five minutes into that trip to Tikal, we had already seen a monkey lean down from one tree to dine from another by hanging on by only one leg and a well-placed tail. I suppose you can find that on a David Attenborough documentary pretty regularly, but just like anywhere, actually seeing an animal like that in its natural habitat and the image of defying gravity was even more special. On that trip we also found a natural tarantula, but in the next place I’m about to mention, columns lasting dozens of metres of leaf cutter ants, crossing the paths to build their nests were commonplace. Not to mention the beautiful national bird the Quetzal and the smorgasbord of colourful butterflies you can find here.
4. Semuc Champey
Who doesn’t like waterfalls and swimming in clear water? In fact, the water in Semuc Champey is so clear it goes a Turquiose colour that just looks fake in every photo I have seen of it. It is true though; the waterfalls that sit above the surging river are calm and clear, leaving an air of tranquil paradise. For those who prefer hiking, there is a viewpoint up on the valley side that is well worth the forty-five minute hike. I have never seen anywhere that does the tourist photographs so much justice and even surpass them like Semuc Champey.
5. It’s a thoroughfare for Central American travellers
We’ve all heard of Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama right? But when I got some friends to mark Guatemala on a world map before I came here, you’d be amazed how many opted for Central Africa! Guatemala actually borders Mexico to the north on the arm that connects North America to South and for many travellers is simply a country to pass through on their way up or down towards the better known destinations. This means that there will often be travellers in the hostels to link up with for your journey, but because Guatemala is somewhat forgotten, nowhere feels busy.
6. The People
Once you get out of the pretty dull (from a tourists perspective) Guatemala City, the people come alive and want to chat and be friendly like few other places. After inadvertently moving to the front of a bathroom queue and then apologising in Spanish, I was instantly whisked to the front again to cries from the assorted Guatemalan’s of “Gringo speaks Spanish” “Esta un Chapín (Guatemalan)”. It was a lovely moment and although it is clear females get quite a different treatment here to men as in much of Central America, the generosity of people should not be dismissed when deciding where to spend your next adventure.
Big thanks to Benjie for sharing his amazing experience in Guatemala (now I really want to go!) He runs an awesome film/travel/bit-of-everything blog which you should definitely go and check out!
Fancy sharing the details of one of your favourite destinations? Hop to my Contact page and send me a quick e-mail.
Until next time m’lovelies xx