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Archive for the ‘Guatemala’ Category

Aug
18

Transportation Options in Guatemala by Nicole Fancher

What’s the safest, most reliable way to get around a developing nation like Guatemala? That was my question this past June when I traveled to the Central American country with two friends. The answer, to my surprise: there are a variety of exciting ways!

Guatemala’s transportation infrastructure is well maintained and expansive. You can take a Greyhound-style bus to just about anywhere along the main arterial routes. We took a six-hour bus ride from Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast for about 65Q (US $8) and experienced only very brief stops, comfortable seats and on-board Spanish-dubbed movies.

For long-distance travel, choose one of several bus lines. Two of the best: Litegua and Línea Dorada.

Another common and safe way that visitors choose to travel is via private shuttle, available to book through all hotels and hostels. Fare is generally more expensive, but you’ll get curbside drop-off and a faster ride (US $12 to $15).

(Important Safety Note: Taking the municipal buses within Guatemala City is absolutely to be avoided. Robbings and murders of bus drivers have been rampant in recent months and years. Take a safe, metered taxi for travel around the capital, and have the address of your destination ready to give to the driver.)

Other fun, cheap ways to travel in Guatemala:

  • Chicken bus: These old school buses from the United States are transformed in Guatemala, painted in bright colors, given names like “Rosita,” and are packed with way too many people and, more often than not, chickens. Great for short-distance travel between towns. Rates vary depending on how far you’re going (15Q to 35Q in general). Note: Hold tight to your belongings! Pickpocketing is common.

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  • Tuk Tuk: Small, golf-cart-style cars that seat three people in the back, and get to a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour. Negotiate your price before you ride—be aggressive!

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  • Lancha: There are many lakes and rivers in Guatemala, and traveling between the watery communities often requires taking this exhilarating, speedboat ride, which also offers a fresh view of your surroundings. Extranjeros (foreigners) are usually charged more, but try to barter your fare down.
  • Hitchhike: It may sound like poor advice, but really, it’s a common form of transportation in Guatemala. Drivers will often pull over and simply ask if you need a ride. When I hitchhiked, I was traveling with my girlfriends and four people we’d befriended at our hostel, and felt totally safe. The story: We were waiting for a chicken bus to come along to take us to a sightseeing spot several miles up the road, but a giant flatbed semi truck came along first, so we flagged it down. We hopped in the back, and each grabbed hold of one of several stout wooden posts that stuck up around the truck’s edge, and went barreling down the dirt road to our destination. Best hitchhiking experience—ever.

Have you ever traveled within Guatemala or elsewhere in Central America? Please share your experiences.

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Aug
04

Last month, I hostel-hopped across Guatemala with a couple of girlfriends. Guatemala borders Mexico and Belize, and is a land of stunning geographical and cultural contrasts. It’s also home to 33 volcanoes and some of the most active volcanoes in Central America.

Guatemala’s prime volcanic region lies in the country’s Western Highlands, a region of phenomenal hiking. Lago de Atitlán is ringed with volcanoes (dormant) and the giant lake is a caldera (collapsed volcano), the result of a massive ancient eruption.

Volcán Pacaya

If you want to hike alongside lava, head to Volcán Pacaya. This popular hike near the historic Mayan capital of Antigua, is steep, challenging but not too difficult, and will let you feel the heat; some hikers roast marshmallows over the hot lava rocks1 The 7,600-foot Pacaya is always a different experience for each visitor because its continuous eruptions mean that it’s growing and changing shape all the time.

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Bubbling lava on Volcán Pacaya. Photo by Alexander H. M. Cascone.

The hike is an hour and a half up and an hour back down. Be prepared for volcanic gravel in your shoes, burning quads and breathtaking views. There are several vista points, which are phenomenal on clear days but still awe-inspiring to see in the drizzly afternoon of rainy season. Volcán Agua, below, is one of three other volcanoes in the vicinity. At the top, you’ll see—and hear—the gushing, spurting lava and fireballs rolling down the volcano.

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Volcán Agua peeking through the clouds. Photo by Ray Rogers.

Getting There

Several tour companies in Antigua offer tours to Pacaya. We booked a tour through our hostel, Casa Amarilla. It’s an excellent hostel; 45Q per night (US$5.50) gets you a delicious complimentary breakfast, free Internet and clean drinking water.

It takes about an hour and a half to drive to the trailhead, where you’ll be greeted by a knowledgeable local guide (who will only speak Spanish) and dozens of village kids who’ll try to sell you ponchos and hand-whittled wooden trekking poles. I declined, but after an hour into the hike as it continued to get steeper, I sort of wish I’d bought the stick!

The tour guide stops often to ensure everyone is traveling together in a group. [Note: there are occasional reports of “banditos” in the area, but the guides are lightly armed and have radios to contact other support staff on the mountain; I felt completely safe.] For those who make it halfway and realize you can’t go any farther, locals with horses will come to your assistance.

Our tour cost: 90Q (US$11) with another 40Q (US$5) for the entrance fee into Pacaya National Park. Check out Quetzaltrekkers, a reputable trekking outfitter that specializes in daylong and multi-day volcano hikes.

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Jun
02

I’m an awful trip-packer. I get caught up daydreaming about the destination until suddenly, it’s the day before my flight and I end up throwing everything I think I might need—or not enough—into my bag. This time, I’m making a packing list.

In one week, I’m flying to Guatemala to meet up with a couple of college girlfriends for a two-week backpacking trip. We won’t be schlepping through jungles and mountains for two solid weeks, but we do plan on exploring primarily by foot and hostel hopping. For that reason, I need to pack wisely and as lightly as possible—so that I have room to bring back handmade Mayan crafts, of course!

It occurred to me that others planning a light-backpacking trip to Central America (or to any mid-latitude developing nation) might benefit from a general packing list. I’ll give it a shot. And if any of you have suggestions on what I’m forgetting, please share your experiences and ideas.

Things to Consider

First, think about what the destination will be like once you’re there. Some important questions to ask:

  • What will the weather be like? Rainy season or dry?
  • Will you be hiking every day or traveling by bus from town to town?
  • Are there any infectious diseases that are possible threats? How should you protect yourself?
  • Will you have access to clean drinking water?

My List

Gear: Lightweight backpacking pack (REI Women’s Flash 65), Cocoon mummy liner (in lieu of sleeping bag and great for hostels), mini flashlight, small camera, water bottle, Sawyer Inline Water Filter, small journal and pen/pencil, umbrella (June is the rainy season in Guatemala), sunglasses.

Clothing: shorts (2), Capri pants (1), dress (1), skirts (2), socks (5 pair), tank tops (3), t-shirt (2), long-sleeved shirt (1), light fleece (1), rain jacket (1), waterproof Vasque hiking shoes (1), Chaco sandals (1), undies (enough for a week-ish) and swimsuit (1).

Health kit in a sealed plastic bag: sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, mosquito repellant, cholorquine prescription (Malaria is a potential threat in Guatemala), half-dozen Band-Aids, small tube of antibacterial ointment, travel toothbrush, small all-purpose soap (Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One is the shizzle), small squirt tube of hand sanitizer (for gnarly hostel bathrooms), wet wipes (always handy).

Looks like a lot, huh? Let’s see:

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And packed up:

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With room to spare! (I used an Eagle Creek clothing compartment and a stuff sack to help organize and create more space.) Now, I’m pretty much set. Oh wait! I almost forgot: PASSPORT.

Am I missing something? Let me know what else I should consider taking along (or taking off my list).

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