We enter Guatemala in the north near Flores and head immediately to the famous ruins of Tikal. From there we cross most the country and stay for a while in San Miguel de Escobar near Antigua. We spend several weeks volunteering with the local organization and studying Spanish, before heading south again.
Below you’ll find updates of places we’re visiting and our usual cheeky shenanigans. Also, we’ll try to add useful information about our budget and internet availability.
This article is part of our Budget and Money Report series.
Our per diem expenses cover food, lodging, gas and other supplies and travel costs for three people. We travel in a 1997 Toyota 4Runner, tent camp in paid facilities roughly 70% of our nights and eat less than 10% of our meals in restaurants. This budget does not reflect personal spending money, which is mostly used to buy souvenirs and booze. We don't track this money, but we do know we have not come close to spending our budgeted amount of $10 per person per day.
Hello faithful readers! It's time for the next installment of: How much money did those fools spend in which country?! This time we're in Guatemala, wrapping up a two month stay. Our time in Guatemala was extra special, we spent nearly seven weeks in the same place, living with a local family, taking Spanish classes in the mornings and volunteering in the afternoons.
You might think this would make it easier for me, in my infinite wisdom, to guestimate how much money our two months would cost. You'd be wrong...horribly, horribly wrong. We were over budget, by more than a little. Yeowch.
Start: March 23, El Biotopo De Quetzal
Finish: March 25, Santa Ana, El Salvador
Hours Spent Walking Up A Mountain: 2
Number of "It's a Quetzal!" Said: Hundreds
Incredibly Rare Birds Seen: 4.5
Borders Crossed: 1
Our last stop in Guatemala was intended to be one of our most memorable: a hunt for the elusive national bird of Guatemala, the quetzal. Pronounced "ket-zal" for the español impaired. Sacred to the Maya, name of the national currency, pictured on the country's flag...how hard could it be? They should be everywhere, right? No, not so much.
Thanks to the time we spent in Antigua we have an inkling of just how difficult it can be to see this bird. My Spanish teacher has lived in Guatemala for more than fifty years, and she's never seen one. In fact, I can't remember meeting one Guatemalan with anything more than a second-hand report of a sighting.
They speak of the bird as some great mystery, a piece of Guatemalan culture that has been lost. I'd go so far as to propose the analogy that it would be like the US having bigfoot on their flag, and instead of saying "give me five bucks", we'd say "give me five bigfoots". Nobody would really know why, but we'd all agree that bigfoot is awesome, and as American as apple pie, baseball and all that other stuff.
This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General Availability: High
Quality of Bandwidth: It’s a crap-shoot. Usually low with wifi and high when connected via cables.
Frequency of internet in hotels: High in hostels and mid-range hotels. Low in guesthouses or budget hotels.
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Campgrounds that were part of other lodges or restaurants all had wifi. Camping in national parks did not have any type of internet.
Average cost to connect: Free with accommodation. Sorry, we don't have any information for internet cafe rates.
Areas Visited: We spent nine weeks in Guatemala. About two weeks in the north around Tikal, Coban, Lanquin. For the rest of the time we lived with a family in Ciudad Vieja, a suburb of Antiqua. On the weekends we took several trips to other areas in Guatemala, including Lake Atitlan and Copan, Honduras. We have not explored either coast, or the northwest of the country.
Start: March 17, Antigua
Finish: March 22, Raxruja
Spectacular Natural Wonders Seen: 2
Car Parts Replaced: 2
Hours Spent Spelunking: 4
Back on the road at last! For those of you following along at home, you may recall that one of our last articles before arriving in Antigua covered our short stay in Lanquin. It was our last stop before arriving at our home stay, and we decided to skip seeing the nearby natural wonder known as Semuc Champey due to horribly rainy weather.
But never fear, we said, we will return! And we did. And it was AWESOME! Not only did we get to see Semuc Champey, but we drove even further north to visit the caves of the Candelaria where we spent an afternoon spelunking and tubing down a river. What we saw was beyond compare. Words can't begin to describe it, hopefully these photos will do the trick.
Start: March 10, Antigua
Finish: March 16, Antigua
Volcano Eruptions Witnessed: 2
Delicious Last Suppers: 1
Gallons of Curry Cooked: 3
It's hard to believe our time in Antigua and San Miguel Escobar has come to an end. Seven weeks of delicious home-cooked meals, Spanish lessons and afternoons volunteering at the GV office. We met a bunch of awesome people. This last week has been about saying goodbye to them and to the city that has been our home away from home.
It has been very nice to take a break from the road; packing and unpacking camp, cooking every night, driving every other day. But I'm not going to lie, we're all looking forward to getting this show back on the road after saying our farewells.
Date: Saturday, March 3, Antigua
Types of Coffee Tasted: 7
Cups of Coffee Drank: 9
Number of spitoons used: 4
A couple weekends ago we headed up the road to Finca Filadelfia, a local coffee plantation that offers tours and lessons in the fine art of coffee tasting. Accompanying us are our two friends Whitney and Amanda, visitors from Seattle, and our new friend and fellow Global Visionaries volunteer Melissa.
It promised to be both an energetic and educational afternoon spent sampling coffee like the pros and learning a thing or two about how Guatemalan coffee farms operate.
This is a story about a place called Pastores. On first glance it looks like your average small Guatemalan pueblo. Quiet streets, not a lot of people out and about, plenty of stray dogs, and shops covered with security bars.
Start: Saturday, March 3, Antigua
Finish: Sunday, March 4, Antigua
Religious Processions Observed: 1
Hours Spent Wandering Around Antigua: 14
Street Tacos Consumed: 9
After a month, we finally had a chance to explore Antigua! It's hard to believe that our time in Antigua is almost at an end. Until last weekend we have not had a chance to explore the city, even though we walk across it twice a day.
It turns out that we once again happen to be in the right place at the right time. The holiday of Lent began roughly ten days ago, marking the start of many cultural activities and religious observances leading up to Easter. Not only did we see the best the city had to offer, but we were able to witness one of the most amazing yearly events held in Antigua.
Start: February 9, Ciudad Vieja
Finish: February 20, Ciudad Vieja
Construction Projects Completed: 3
Volcanoes Seen: 4
Liters of Beer Consumed with Fellow Overlanders: 12
This past weekend we took a bit of a break from the daily grind of Spanish school and working at the volunteer office. For two and a half days we were officially tourists again, visiting the towns of Panajachel and San Pedro La Laguna on Lago de Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is certainly one of the must-see places in Guatemala. It's a part natural wonder, part tourist trap and 100% Guatemalan.
Start: February 12, Antigua
Finish: February 12, Antigua
Pounds of chocolates consumed: 2
Cost: $20 per person
Chocolate, it is so easy to devour. Jessica and I set out to find out how much work goes into making a simple bar of chocolate. What better way to kick off a Sunday afternoon than a tour of the Chocolate Museum followed by a hands-on class on making chocolate from scratch.
It is hard to believe that one cacao tree can only produce seven bars of chocolate each year. Or that one hectare of land with 530 trees will take two years to produce one crop of cacao.
Once the cacao fruit is ready for harvest, the seeds are removed from the fruit. The seeds covered in a slimy coating are then fermented for two weeks in wooden crates. The fermented cacao seeds are then dried to remove most of the moisture. This is where we come in...
Bugs. Flying biting bugs. I remember mosquitoes. I remember when mosquitoes were the worst of the flying biting bugs.
Now, I dream of days when the only bug I have to swat was a mozzy. Ahhhh, those were the good times. Last week, 22 mosquitos bites on my ass. Through three layers of fabric. Yeah, that was fun. All I could think was, thank god they were only mosquitoes.
This place, it’s not so bad. There are some fleas here. Small ones. Hard to see, but you still feel the bite. They are sneaky.
Start: January 31, San Miguel Escobar
Finish: February 6, San Miguel Escobar
Birthdays Celebrated: 2
Pairs of Boots Purchased: 1
Hours Spent in School: 20
Vehicle Malfunctions: 1
After one week in Antigua, today marks the longest time we've spent in once place since our journey began over four months ago. We haven't done any traveling or sightseeing, and yet this week has been the busiest in quite some time. It's a good kind of busy, we're learning a lot, volunteering and enjoying the fact we don't have to make and break camp every other day.
Our day starts with an early (for us) breakfast at 7, followed by a harrowing bus ride into Antigua and four hours of Spanish lessons. Then it's back home for lunch, and off to the Global Visionaries office to do volunteer work in the afternoon. We spend our evenings eating simple and delicious Guatemalan food prepared by our host mother, and if we still have the mental faculties, studying Spanish.
Start: January 25, San Jose Succotz, Belize
Finish: January 30, Ciudad Viejo, Guatemala
Borders Crossed: 1
Tallest Mayan Pyramid Climbed: 1
Hours Spent Driving: 19
Leaving the country of Belize, we head back into Spanish-speaking country and deeper into Central America. After another uneventful border crossing into Guatemala, we spend two nights in Tikal before driving farther south. Our end goal: the Global Visionaries office in San Miguel Escobar, just outside of Antigua.
It took two very long days of driving on less-than-optimal roads, some snap navigation skills and a bit of luck to take us from the border to Antigua in such a short time. On the way, we stopped in the town of Coban for one night, and spent two nights recuperating in scenic Lanquin before making the final seven hour push to our new home for the next six weeks.
This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.
Border name: Melchor de Mencos
Between cities: Benque Viejo Del Carmen, Belize and Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala
Cost to exit Belize: BZ37.50 ($18.75 USD)
Cost for visas: Q20 ($2.60 USD) per person (unofficially)
Cost for vehicle: Q18 ($2.34 USD) for fumigation, Q160 ($20.78 USD) for Vehicle Import Permit
Total time: 55 minutes