Our trip north from Guatemala City went smoothly, a short stop off in Antigua (an old colonial town) before heading along the heavily trafficked highway to Lake Atitlan. The highways themselves are crammed full of trucks, chicken buses (local buses that people take anything on – including chickens) and cars, there don’t seem to be any emission laws in Guatemala all vehicles pump out huge amounts of fumes – meaning it’s a pretty polluted placed to drive.
Lake Atitlan: Our Arrival
Lake Atitlan is a crater lake from a huge volcanic explosion years ago, on it’s shores sit a a number of settlements with tourist accommodation and food and local villages. In NZ terms kind of think of it like Lake Wakitipu with the Remarkables in the background – but a little warmer around the 20-24 degree mark. We were headed for the lakeside stop-off Santa Cruz. Upon arriving at the port in Panachjul, we used instructions of an American guy, Chris, and jumped onto a public boat that was headed for Santa Cruz. 10q (Quetzals – the Guatemalan currency $1USD = 8q) and 15 minute boat ride later and we were pulling into the jetty at Santa Cruz, with Iguana Hostel sitting on the shores we headed straight in and checked into a small room, no electricity but candlelight and showers with open roofs up into the tree canopy – very chilled out and very relaxing!
Our first night was spent chilling on the sofa in the main kitchen / dining area looking out over the lake while drinking local beer and Cel was enjoying her first G&T of the trip. Dinner was a big family affair, everyone sharing the same meal and chatting on a big table. We were lucky enough to witness an awesome electrical storm out over the lake, it was probably happening out on the coast (2hr away) but the lightening was filling up the sky every 5 seconds in behind the massive volcano, Atilan. An awesome sight and luckily we weren’t affected by any rain!
Getting out and About
The next few days we filled in with plenty of relaxing with books, but felt we needed to make the most of the location so took it upon ourselves to go hiking in the hills just down the way from our accommodation and to take a two-person kayak out onto the lake and explore the lakeline. The hike was interesting, we basically made our own path up a dry river bed (Bear Grylls tip there) until it water started to flow down it, we then boulder hopped out way up the valley through the jungle. We don’t think we found the waterfall we were looking for, but found one that qualified by our judgement so took the obligatory photograph. No snakes or big spiders were spotted, but we were definitely keeping our eyes out for them.
The kayaking on the lake was a good workout for the Fry-Dewe duo, although with the engine in the back we powered through the water no problems at all. Immaculate paddle stroke timing and deep strokes saw us head around 4 points to get a view of San Marco in about an hour. The cliffs around the lake drop down into the water steeply, which reminded us a lot of Taupo. There are a few pretty nice houses around the lake, 3 story mansions etc which look a little out of place given some of the struggle that the locals have to go through day-to-day. All in all, it was good to get some exercise under the Guatemalan sun, paddle past local fisherman trying to hook the big one and take in some awesome views of the volcanoes.
On our last day in Atitlan, we took a boat to San Marcos, really just to explore a new town and enjoy the awesome weather the lake had turned on. It didn’t disappoint, with great views back over the lake and of the two volcanoes.
Lake Atitlan has already become a trip highlight. It’s such a chilled out place, where you can eat lunch, have a beer or sip coffee, 5 metres from the lake edge with the backdrop of two massive volcanoes. The place is set-up for relaxation and the family style dinners each night at Iguana, overlooking the lake, cap off every single day perfectly. We’ve even managed to bump into a couple of kiwi girls (Julia and Alice), staying at the same place as us, one of which I went to university with her brother…small world.
The one thing we’re still acutely aware of is our lack of Spanish! So we’ll move on from Lake Atitlan in a day, headed for Xela where a week stay and daily lessons will hopefully help us to converse a little more with locals!