Guatemala, Part 1 of 3

June 20 – July 7, 2016.

After a month in Belize, it was time to move along to Guatemala where we ended up staying three months. We crossed the border between Belize (Benque Viejo) and Guatemala (Melchor De Mencos) on June 20, 2016.

How can a country known for Civil wars, dictatorships, revolutions, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, extreme poverty, crime, drug trade and instability turn out to be one of our favorite country in Central America? Read our 3 part blog to find out!

Tikal

After crossing the border we got diesel, sim cards for our cell phones, local currencies (1 USD = 7 Quetzals) and headed for Tikal National Park to see the famous ruins. Tikal is one of the major sites of Mayan Civilization, it was inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. but flourished between 200 and 850 A.D. It was declared a national monument in 1931, a national park in 1955 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.   The National Park is set in the deep jungle with an abundance of wild life, ancient trees, birds and steep sided temples on more than 570 square km (220 sq mi).

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Tikal is only a two hour drive from the Belizean border.

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We were so exited about our first sighting of the infamous Guatemalan Chicken Bus! Retired North American school buses that have been heavily modified and decorated with the most creative designs.

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We camped just outside the main entrance so to avoid the crowds and the heat we got up at 6am. 

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For us the trees are just as interesting as the temples. 

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Yes it’s tall! Look how small Joe is at the bottom.

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Tikal is known for it’s steep sided temples! Here is a good example.

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Tikal has over 400 different bird species. We’re definitely not the best at spotting them but we manage to see this beautiful hawk!

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The pizotes (white nose coati) can be seen throughout Central America and they’re pretty much the equivalent of the raccoons of North America

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Getting up early was worth it. We really enjoyed the day we spent discovering another wonderful Mayan Site!

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We saw this Mini Cooper from the Netherlands in the parking lot, it is on a round the world trip part of the Car Challenge program. They visit 60 countries in 180 days spread over 6 years in 30 day stages. Unfortunately we did not meet the drivers!

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Orange peeler!

Flores, Peten

After a couple nights in Tikal we drove to Flores to get vehicle insurance and groceries and joined John and Mandi at a hostel that also welcomes Overlanders.

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View of the small Island town of Flores from our camp at Chaltunha Hostel on Lake Peten Itza on the San Miguel peninsula.

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Joe chilling in the pool with John & Mandi. We camped in the parking lot of the Chaltunha Hostel. Friendly host, clean bathrooms, palapa with hammocks, outdoor bar/restaurant with incredible views and a refreshing pool; this place has everything Overlanders are looking for.

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Lake Peten Itza in northern Guatemala

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These wooden boats are used by fishermen.

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From our camp we took the lancha (small boat) to the island of Flores for 5 Quetzals (less than 70 cents) per person.

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On our way to explore Flores!

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So colorful!

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Gallo beer for Joe and Licuado (fresh fruit juice) for Josée at Cool Beans Cafe.

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Flores evoques a Mediterranean ambiance.

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Exploring with John & Mandi is always fun!

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A huge mindset in our journey is trying to blend in, I guess I nailed this one!

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This dude brought Joe’s boots back to life!

Dolores, Peten

Neil, the owner of the hostel where we stayed in Flores told us about this place, Turicentro Los Cataratas (Waterfall Tourist Center). It is only 17 km from the main road but it took us an hour and a half to get there because the road was so bad. We got there on a Sunday afternoon and a few locals were swimming but by 5pm everybody left and we had the place to ourselves.

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When you have the place to yourself, you can walk around in your underwear!

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Or just sit and take it all in!

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In the adjacent field, I spotted two horses. They turned out to be magnificent stallions! I couldn’t stop taking pictures!

Poptun, Peten

When driving from Tikal to Guatemala City, Finca Ixobel is the perfect place to stop for a night or two or tree… It’s an eco friendly hotel and campground located in a beautiful setting of pine forest and jungle. This oasis is a real labor of love that was started in the 70’s by an adventurous American couple. They offer a variety of accommodations from bungalows to tree houses and a beautiful camping area! Activities such as swimming, hiking, caving, bird watching and horseback ridding.

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They serve fresh food coming from their organic garden and from local markets. But what they are known for is their baked goods, specially their yummy cinnamon rolls.

 

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When we pulled in we noticed a horse that was separated from the others. When we got closer we saw this little foal and found out that he was born just a few hours ago. They also told us that he was not drinking enough and they were concerned for his health.

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We fell in love with this little fragile creature and spent a good part of the afternoon with it. He was not nursing properly and the staff was trying to guide him and hold him so he could drink. The following morning we went to see him and learned that he did not make it and died during the night. We were so sad!!!

Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal

The plan in Rio Dulce was to camp a few nights and catch a boat that goes from Lake Izabal and then through a river to the Caribbean ocean to the Garifuna town of Livingston.

On our first night we got to see Saskia and Matt from Moxie Trek and their two adorable boys. We met them in Mexico but they were now living on a Sailboat. It was nice to catch up with them and share a diner at a restaurant they used to own in Rio Dulce.

Unfortunately the next day I woke up with a bad back that kept me in bed for 5 days! Probably the worst 5 days of this entire trip. It was extremely hot and humid and I had a terrible reaction to some codeine pills someone gave me. We had to cancel our boat trip to Livingston. Joe got to hang out with some expats mostly boaters since Rio Dulce is famous for being the safest place on the western Caribbean during hurricane season.

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We camped in the parking lot of Bruno’s Hotel and Marina in Rio Dulce.

Guatemala City

When we embarked on this journey a very close friend told us about their friends being posted in Guatemala City with the Canadian Embassy. And again through the magic of Facebook we became friends and they invited us to visit them. It could not have happened at a better time because after being sick it was so nice to be out of the camper and into a very comfortable upscale condo in the nicest neighborhoods of Guatemala City. We are always amazed how strangers welcome us in their homes and treat us like old friends. We stayed with Julie and Ricardo for 4 days and it gave me a chance to recuperate, do some laundry, clean the camper and get ready to pick up two of our grandkids and daughter in law coming for a visit. Oh and did I mention that Ricardo is an incredible chef, every night was a feast, and they even kept some of our stuff so we could free up the back seat of the truck to make space for our visitors.

Next Guatemala Part 2 … Stay tuned!

6 thoughts on “Guatemala, Part 1 of 3

  1. Nice to reminisce about Guatemala. Hope back problems haven’t returned. Quite a coincidence that you’ve met two Saskia’s. Nice to see pool back open at Chaltunha. Was pretty disgusting when we were there a few months previous.

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    1. Hi Doug,
      Thanks for the comments! Ya Guatemala was one of my favorite. Back is good so far 🤞it was nice seeing you at the Jazz Club in Panama City! We will have to get together in Colombia for more dancing. Salsa this time 💃🏽🕺🏻
      Cheers
      Josee

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