Guatemala - Jungles, waterfalls & volcanoes

in #travel6 years ago (edited)

Semuc Champey from above

Making my way into Guatemala via my first ever land border crossing was quite the anticlimax as I walked through with my bag still on my back, got my passport stamped and was out the other side and in another country in less than 10 minutes. We befriended the only other foreigners in sight at the border and shared a taxi for the two hour or so trip to Flores, an island town in the middle of lake Peten Itza. After checking into the hostel, paying slightly extra for a dorm with air conditioning, we set off to find some food and explore for the afternoon.

With barely any sleep we awoke at 2:45am to get a 3:00am shuttle to Tikal for the sunrise tour. Tikal is the ruins of an ancient city found in a rainforest and is a world heritage site filled with temples, pyramids and other buildings. Despite the very early morning and fast paced hike to the top vantage point it was all worth it to be there as the jungle began to wake up. Howler monkeys were screaming and swinging from the trees right in front of us and birds started screeching and whistling as they flew, waking up more animals in their path. As the fog and mist started to lift, temple ruins began to appear in all directions. The morning was spent exploring the ruins site and climbing the steep stairs of the many temples for a different view of the national park. It definitely paid to go early to beat both the midday heat and the crowds to get near empty photos.

The main plaza

The main plaza

Lauren and I happened to have our ten-year anniversary fall while we were in Flores and I wanted to do something special for it. We'd been staying almost exclusively in hostels up until this point and had been travelling together for around five weeks, and me for four months. I booked us a night in Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel without telling her where we would be staying. It was, however, a surprise to both of us when we arrived and were amazed that such a place could exist in a country like Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. On arrival the staff greeted me by name and handed us both a welcome cocktail before sitting down together on a lounge to sign for the check-in process on already completed forms, already a very different experience to the usual sweaty, passport required, rule-driven hostel check-in. We were then lead to the next part of my surprise. For our "room" I had booked a private cabana built over the water and overlooking the lake, complete with jacuzzi, king bed, private deck and sunroom, three seating areas, his and her bathroom sinks and to our biggest excitement a shower with hot water!

We spent the afternoon laying around the pool enjoying a swim, the pool bar and uninterrupted views of the lake. I had advised Lauren earlier in the day to make sure she allowed enough time to be ready for our dinner plans. Meanwhile, following my typical relaxed approach to getting ready I was showered, dried and dressed quickly allowing plenty of time to set up and pace around nervously in preparation for what was to come next. I had positioned my camera on a tripod in the corner of the outside deck and using the remote trigger had it continuously taking photos in our direction, before asking Lauren to come out and join me for a photo. The difficult lighting combined with my nervousness meant I almost skipped setting up the camera, but looking back I'm glad I did as otherwise I wouldn't have shots like this...

The moment

The moment

The reaction

The reaction

That's right, if you hadn't already guessed I proposed to Lauren and she said Yes, or more precisely, "Of course!!"...

For my final surprise we went for a walk up the bar for a drink, which was really just to stall and get Lauren out of the room. While we were out the staff snuck in and set up a private dinner for the two of us on the deck of our cabana. We returned to a candlelit table and private waiter and had a nice, romantic dinner with some amazing food. Lauren couldn't finish one of her courses so in true backpacker style she hid it in the fridge to eat the next day... In saying that we still ordered dessert too, as there is always room for dessert.

Romance, luxury and privacy were shortlived as later the following day we were back to hostel life with dorm room bunk beds but it was a nice treat and something I'm sure we will remember forever. We hired kayaks and paddled up the lake to a local house that had been clever enough to capitalise on their perfect lakeside location and build a rope swing, diving platform and patio filled with hammocks. They charged a very small entry fee (10 GTQ / $1.60 AUD) and provided the ideal place to hang out for the afternoon before we paddled back into the sunset.

Me trying to catch the frisbee and vortex off the swing

Me trying to catch the frisbee and vortex off the swing

Rio Dulce

The next day was a travel day and we took a bus from Flores down to Rio Dulce. Our accommodation was a short boat ride away in a hostel built like a three storey tree house above the water. Thankfully they provided mosquito nets to sleep under as the shallow wetlands were heaven to every type of insect that wants to bite. The place was run by a friendly couple and was cheap, quiet, served great food and was impressively well built, especially when I later learned it was built by hand by an Australian guy without any power tools. Rio Dulce is located on the eastern side of Guatemala and lies around the river with most locals opting for boats over cars to get around.

We took local transport, a collectivo, to Finca Paraiso beside a village in the middle of nowhere. It was an amazing waterfall feeding near boiling water from an underground spring into a pool of icy, cold water below creating a steamy spa-like swimming experience. We floated around for close to an hour when a young, local guy offered to show us through the caves behind the waterfall. The dark caves were a tight fit crawling through on your stomach and looking back probably not the safest thing to be doing but it was great to be shown through something that not many others have likely ever seen.

Lauren at Finca Parasio

Lauren at Finca Parasio

Casa Guatemala is a volunteer run boarding school in Rio Dulce housing kids from as young as three years old to fifteen. We visited for a day and helped out, which for us just meant playing with the kids all day. The little ones were especially excited to see us and came running up to give high fives, hugs, and hold our hands. We participated in physica class (P.E) playing basketball and soccer with the kids and took the kindergartens to the park to play on the equipment. It was kind of embarrassing when a Spanish speaking five year rolls her eyes and has to translate "What is your name?" to English for us but it inspired us to get more serious about learning the language and we promised to get some lessons once we reached Antigua. Being as useless as we are, we forgot to bring any food for the day so we joined the kids in the canteen line to buy snacks. We finished a fun and rewarding day by sitting in on an English class before jumping back on a boat home.

Young love

Young love


Lanquin is located five hours north in the centre highlands of the country. According to the map our van seemed to take a "shortcut" right up and over the mountain instead of around it. The dirt road was so bumpy that it was impossible to do anything but look out the window and at times that was the last thing you felt like doing when it was a sheer cliff right beside you and no guard rails. The driver laughed and thought he was doing us a favour by driving as close to the edge as possible so that we could get a photo. We passed everything on the single lane road from horses and wild dogs to semi-trailers before eventually arriving at our next home for three nights, Zephyr lodge, a hostel perched on a hill with a brand new resort style pool and surrounded by views of mountains and a river. The showers and toilets even had open air windows so you could look out to the mountains as you went about your business. A nights accommodation here was a splurge at $14/night in comparison to most of the other places we stayed.

This hostel had no wifi, which was at first annoying when it came to planning our next destination but proved to make the place a much more social atmosphere and it was here we met lots of new friends as well as catching up with a couple we met on the sailing trip in Belize. The next afternoon we floated slowly down the river on inner tubes, beers in hand, also a great way to make friends.

Semuc Champey was the main reason we stopped in Lanquin and included a tour through a complex, pitch black cave system lit only by our handheld candles. We climbed up and down dodgy ladders, and wadded through ankle to above head deep water. A steep step climb was up next to get to the high viewpoint of the many pools below. It was a hot, sweaty climb but we took comfort knowing the we could swim when we got to the bottom. There were six freshwater pools separated by small waterfalls and all with clear, blue water to swim in and cool down.

Semuc Champey from above

Semuc Champey from above


We shared a packed minibus eight hours down to Antigua with our new found friends Anthea, Jamie, Jane and Aaron and discussed plans to book a volcano hike together. They talked us into the overnight trek to camp on Acatenango Volcano overlooking Volcano Fuego, famous for being constantly active. We teamed up with some more of their friends that were arriving the next day and were lucky enough to have our group make up the whole tour. The trek was the hardest thing any of us had ever done. We had to carry all supplies including sleeping bags, clothes, food, tents and enough water to last yourself the two days. After five and a half hours of walking straight up we had arrived at the campsite. Exhaustion, altitude and dehydration from trying to conserve your water all played a part in the struggle to reach camp but it was all forgotten the second we saw our first volcano eruption. We went into it with low expectations on seeing an eruption but as it turns out at one stage Fuego was erupting almost every 20 minutes. Each eruption was as exciting as the first with everyone cheering and shouting as it went off. The bigger ones caused the ground to tremble and sent red lava lighting up the sky before running down the side.

Fuego erupting

Fuego erupting

At that altitude we were very exposed to the weather and the temperature dropped to 0ºC during the night. We wore all the clothes in our bag and huddled around the campfire to keep warm, roasting marshmallows and melting blocks of rich Guatemalan chocolate into hot drinking chocolate. Eventually we headed to bed but the cold and discomfort meant no one really got much sleep. We climbed out of the tent at 3:50am to begin the hike to the summit in time for sunrise. The view of the sunrise above the clouds was well worth the tough walk and reaching the summit at 3975m was a rewarding accomplishment. We had a quick breakfast and begun our descent. Whilst it was definitely a quicker trip back down it was far from easy with the dirt/gravel slope being very slippery and difficult and our muscles and knees were aching from holding the weight. It was such a relief to finally see the bottom and although we all agreed it was well worth it, it just might be the end of our volcano hiking career.

Antigua itself is a beautiful city, rich in history and Spanish influence with plenty of things to do and see. It had quality food ranging from the ridiculously cheap street food to fancy restaurants and with Guatemala being famous for both coffee and chocolate it was the perfect place to try some...almost daily. We often stuffed ourselves with fresh meals at the cheap food stalls, walking away having eaten 3 persons worth of food all for less than $3 each. The markets were a cheap source of absolutely everything from toothpaste to fruit to live animals and were ideal for stocking up on anything we were out of. One lunch was spent in the park cutting up fresh avocados, tomatoes and mangos with corn chips, more a tasty activity in itself than an exercise in money saving, despite it costing $2-3 for the lot.

One of our main objectives for Antigua was to take some Spanish lessons in an effort to improve our skills. We found space in one of the many schools in town and booked in 4 x 4hr classes. We started at our level (ie. the basics..) though rather than only learning vocabulary words, which we can practice and memorise in our own time, the teacher suggested we spend a lot of the time on grammar and the rules. It was hard to forget the differing sentence structure of English and also accept that there will not necessarily always be a direct translation back into English but over time we got better. We wanted to make a serious attempt at the lessons so at night we revised what we had learnt that day and, like good nerdy students, copied the notes into our 0.16c exercise books we had bought from the local markets. We chose a two on one class and got on well with our teacher who was impressed with our homework diligence and thought we were good students despite the majority of my practice sentences in class being based either on cerveza (beer) or teasing my novia (girlfriend).

"I like working with students who are intelligent!"

Despite the lessons being a fun activity we really need to improve our Spanish before moving into South America where some parts will likely be completely non English speaking so during the lessons we moved accommodation to a homestay with a local family as a way to further practice. Most of our interaction was with the grandmother who cooked our meals and spoke absolutely no English. It was a bit like being thrown in the deep end but we managed to have some funny conversations with her at the dinner table with the assistance of our notebooks if we got stuck or needed inspiration for our next incredibly basic question or statement. The excitement on both parties faces when we realised we had both understood what was said was both encouraging and rewarding.

Antigua streets

Antigua streets

Lake Atitlan

As previously mentioned, the roads and especially the driving were worryingly bad in Guatemala and the minibus to Lake Atitlan was no different. When you also combine the fact that most of the vans have bald tyres, are overloaded with people, and the drivers reluctant to slow down even in the pouring rain I came to the conclusion that it was easier to relax if you accepted that you are going to crash eventually.

We stayed in San Pedro, a small tourism driven town on the shore of the lake and surrounded by escarpment and three volcanoes. We caught back up with our volcano trekking friends who were staying in the same hostel and went out for dinner and drinks with the first stop being a common recommendation, Jakuu, for their excellent yet cheap food and giant portions. The streets of San Pedro were filled with shops, restaurants and cafes all overlooking the large lake and we were surprised by both the quality and cheap price of everything on offer. Whenever you didn't have time to sit or were just in need of a quick snack you could always rely on the ladies walking up and down the street with baskets on their head selling freshly baked banana and choc-banana bread. In fact the price of everything was below the already low prices we had seen throughout Guatemala with a nights accommodation costing only $6.70!

Breakfast with a view

Breakfast with a view

A short boat ride across the lake was San Marcos, another small lakeside village with a nature reserve on the water's edge and man-made platforms to jump off into the water. We laid around in the sun for a few hours, climbing the trees overhanging the water and swimming in the clean and clear freshwater lake. Conveniently just as we were getting hungry a group of kids came along selling banana bread which kept us going for a while and then on our way out we had built up the courage to jump from the 7 metre high platform and both took turns.

Our final activity with our group of friends was a day trip to Chichicastenango markets, a large, colourful market catering for both tourists and locals alike. We walked around for a few hours admiring the colourful fabrics, fruits and animals for sale with the girls negotiating prices on small bags and notepads and the boys buying unusual foods and taking photos. The difficult part about meeting so many great people when travelling is always the goodbyes as we go our separate ways. We had shared grueling volcano hikes, shivered in tents passing around wine from the bottle, hot bus rides, meals, card games and many laughs in between and with a bit of luck we may cross paths again in our travels.

Chichicastenango markets

Chichicastenango markets

For a country that was supposed to be dangerous and rough it gave us nothing but good memories and friendly people. Sometimes you can't believe everything you hear on the news..

Next we are making our way down to El Salvador, a country often skipped past and one many have warned us against but we figured we would at least give it a try.


In 2015 my girlfriend and I quit work, packed our bags and travelled for over a year. This is part three in a series of blog posts and photos that cover our adventures in Central and South America. -

Days away from home403
Photos taken13,463

Previous: (Part 2) Belize - Island paradise Belize

Next: (Part 4) El Salvador - Sunsets & pupusas El Salvador


Great post , thanks so much for sharing.. and how romantic for the proposal.

I'm sure it's hard to get back into work after a year off - we did the same through North Africa and the Middle East but only six months.. although for a while its nice not to live out of a backpack and on the move all the time!

I still get itchy feet - and especially when I see posts of places I've yet to go. Our next major trip will hopefully be another long one this time through Canada, North America and South America

Hey @shellyduncan, thanks for the comment.

Haha thanks, I at least tried to be romantic...

It's funny, after doing it for such a long time the living out of a bag didn't bother me that much anymore. Lauren got a bit more homesick than me. We made it as far down as Patagonia and finished in Brazil and I could’ve happily gone back to the start and done it all again had the money not run out... I was not ready to go back home to real life. Sure, I missed family and friends but after a week catching up with them back home it was all back to normal.

Definitely itchy feet, we are currently planning our next trip(s) too. Probably not as long but still so much more to see. Likely some of Europe and also would love to do a roadtrip across Canada.

North Africa and the Middle East would be very interesting, I've got a few friends that have done similar and they raved about it.

Looking at your profile you've got some great content. Started following you!

How many times a week do you think 'fuck it, I'm leaving everything again and going to travel full time'?


@forexbrokr haha it was definitely more frequent when I first got back and was hard to get back into the real world. Facebook doesn't make it easy either with its 'On this day' memories of my photos every few days.

I have done the exact same tour, except the rio dulce, two years ago! Feels good to read about it again. I have even been at the same restaurant with the rope swing, it was one of the best evenings I ever had there!
Also congratulations ;)

Hey @bypaul. That’s great to hear you could relate and recognise the places. I was very surprised and impressed by Guatemala. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much because it’s not a beachy place but it ended up being one of the favourites, especially now that we have the engagement memory too!

Dude it was bad enough seeing your posts the first time around and now i gotta relive the FOMO pain in Steemit too lol.
Amazing photos and they're encouraging me to reread your adventures and perhaps even inspiring enough to write a proper blog about the adventures of Jenna and Dylan.
Love Steem man. What a community!

Haha thanks mate, I had no idea you were on here too. Will be having a read through your stuff today if I get a chance. I’m keen to get more into it, wish I had found steemit earlier.

Yea I’ve been asked by many people recently (both friends and strangers) for tips, information and even itineraries on each of the countries I visited on this trip so I realised it could be valuable or interesting content for the public too. Plus I’ve got so many more good photos I can post too. Haha you should definitely get some Jenna and Dylan adventures up! I’ve got some other ideas that are unrelated to travel that are more technical that I want to post too I just need to find the time.

When you find some time let me know and i will buy some. I am running on 25hrs a day schedule. Its crazy.
Steem dollars come at me

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Heya, just swinging by to let you know you're being featured in our Daily Travel Digest!

This is in all honesty one of the most undervalued posts I've seen! You're still a new user of course, so it takes time to build up an audience, and with these kind of amazing posts you'll rack up a following fast enough!

I wish I had known about your post earlier (pretty close to payout time now), so I could have given it more exposure! I'll see if I can get some more attention specifically for your post though!

Congrats on getting engaged by the way (even if it's from a while ago, haha!)

Did as much as I could here, I think you'll appreciate the effort, haha!

I would like to ask though, to provide some verification it is really you and not someone else ( which is not to say I don't believe you as I do think it is you)! But a little note on your blog linking to Steemit or anything like that would be good! Your future posts should be getting better rewards in that case too!

Hi @martibis, I realise you likely wrote the comment from @steemitworldmap too but I wanted to directly thank you as well! I very much appreciate it and it is definitely motivation to put more time and effort into the platform. I wasn't sure my content was suitable given it wasn't as regular as some others who have a big following but I enjoy the writing and its great getting feedback and comments from people.

The existing content was originally just for myself as more of a diary of memories and also for family to keep up to date from back home but since returning I've been asked by many people (both friends and strangers) for tips, information and even itineraries on each of the countries I visited on this trip so I realised it could be valuable or interesting content for the public.

I'm happy to add a reference/link somewhere to further validate me as the author. I have many more posts and photos to come so anything I can do to improve the content and increase followers I'm happy to do.

Thanks again!

Heya, yes I'm @martibis as well!

You're so welcome, I saw your post at 2 SBD only and couldn't believe it, so figured I'd round up some help, haha!

That's great, definitely let us know when you have a reference or link from your website to your blog on here! Keep in mind that in general original Steemit content will get higher rewards though!

Also if you really want to succeed long term on here I suggest you do a bit of networking in groups like PAL as well:

Also getting in touch with other people from who you like the content is a good way! Just leaving a genuine nice comment goes miles in establishing some nice relationships on the platform!

Hey @martiibis & @steemitworldmap,

Sorry for the delay, I just wanted to let you know I have just added a SteemIt reference and link at the bottom of the travel section of my website.

I wanted to get it up before my next post which I have also just published.


Thank you so much for the kind words. I've only just discovered the platform after being referred by a friend so I'm still getting familiar with how it all works. Any tips on being recognised?

I was browsing similar travel posts yesterday to get an idea what works and the formats others are using and I noticed the @steemitworldmap. Great idea, I only wish I had found it earlier for my previous posts. Nevertheless, I have many more travel posts to come so I'll be sure to add it.

Thanks again, and hopefully you'll like the coming post in the next day or so.

Just following up, I managed to get my next post up quicker than expected. Added this one to @steemitworldmap too 👍

El Salvador - Sunsets & pupusas El Salvador

I spent a couple months in Guatemala last year, and your words sparked so many lovely memories (though we never left the highlands - always more to see)! I can still feel the cold of night on Acatenango... Congrats on your engagement, though by now I expect that's old news haha.

@therovingreader, thanks for your comment. We were so not expecting the cold of Acatenango. I know what you mean about always more to see. On returning from a ~13 month trip away many people have asked me if I have now “got it out of my system”. If anything the list has only got longer not shorter!

I'd definitely recommend more of Guatemala as mentioned in my post. Even after all that there were still places I wanted to see but it was time to move on to El Salvador.

Old news now on the engagement haha but thanks all the same!

Hi, thanks for using the Steemit world map, if you keep making posts like this you will have a lot of success.

I did the same route as you about 6 months ago. Started following you and congrats on the engagement.

Hi @anomadsoul, thanks for your comment. I wish I had found the Steemit world map sooner for my earlier posts, its a great idea. I'll be sure to use it on all my upcoming posts.

Just followed you back, its always interesting to see another view on the same places you have seen as I'm sure there are plenty of great places we missed. More reason to go back! Thanks for the congratulations too :)

Also, I managed to get my next post up quicker than expected. El Salvador - Sunsets & pupusas

wow .. is the place far, how far

Hi, thanks for reading. I'm not really sure what you mean? That depends, far from where?

who took the picture, can i save it for me

They are all my own photos. Where would you like to use them?

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