5 weeks Guatemala... loved it... trip report part 1
Replies: 9 - Last Post: Dec 30, 2011 4:33 AM Last Post By: soniaberode
Dec 22, 2011 4:07 PM
5 weeks Guatemala... loved it... trip report part 1We arrived in Guatemala City at 1:00 pm. No ATMs in arrivals. So go outside, cross the street, take the elevator to departures (3rd floor), cross the street, go inside, ATMs are behind the stairs, behind the money exchange kiosk. When we came back out of departures, a taxi driver offered us a ride, showing his ID, he drove us to Zona 1 , to Monja Blanca bus station for a ride in the direction of Coban but we got a ticket for the Biotopo del Quetzal (Q48 per person). We asked again on the bus, not a problem to get off there. The bus stopped once, people got food and drinks, we had an ice cream. It got dark before we got there. We had enjoyed the landscape up till then but the driver was pretty wild (Pullman bus), the worst driver we had in 5 weeks ! (chicken buses felt very safe after this guy, he was passing on blind curves etc…) We had some construction on the way (widening of the road ?). When we thought we were getting close to the Biotopo I asked the ayudante to drop us off at the Ranchito del Quetzal. No hay problema ! 20 minutes later we saw the sign : Biotopo del quetzal… the bus did not stop ! I made my way to the front, the ayudante was on his cell ( by the way, our Spanish is basic but I do recommend you learn the basic phrases you will need !) and I said to him : Biotopo ? And he smacked his forehead, he had forgotten ! They stopped the bus 10 km further and the ayudante talked to some random guy who would take us back for Q15… we were in no position to refuse… of course we realized we were doing exactly what we were not supposed to do : accept a ride from a stranger in the dark… but he got us to the Ranchito… which was closed for the night ! He kept calling : Buenas ! We were just hoping someone would come… a young girl appeared, opened the gate and told us about the different rooms. For Q130 we got a basic room but were very happy to have one ! The girl came back to tell us we could have dinner if we wanted to (Q35 per person) but right now or it would be too late. She was actually cute and the whole family was very friendly. So we went to the dining room right away. Everything seemed wet/moist, we were definitely in the cloud forest ! We had a nice meal : chicken, papas fritas, avocado, tomato, onion, tortillas.
The whole night it sounded like rain but it was mostly water dripping from the trees. At 6 am we were ready to see some quetzals. The host had told us she would guide us to a tree on their property where the quetzals like to come between 6 and 7 am. Two quetzals did appear (!) and also some oropendolas (nice yellow tail although the ones we would meet later in Tikal seemed larger and louder). The quetzals flew to a lower tree (still on their property) later. Just magical to see their colours and see them fly. We had breakfast at the Ranchito and walked to the Biotopo (very close). We paid Q40 per person. There is a long trail and a shorter one, we did the long one and most of the short one. The plants are amazing, the trees, the ferns, the waterfalls. It is so green and there seems to be something growing wherever a spot is available. In the afternoon we went for another walk on the property of the Ranchito, great plants and flowers and another waterfall.
The next morning we were looking for quetzals again and one came to the same tree and flew to the same lower tree and played in the branches for a while… amazing. We waited on the road for a minibus to the Chilasco Cruce. At the Cruce we started walking and got picked up by another minibus. It was a very misty, rainy day. We got to the tourist office in Chilasco. They called a guide and offered boots but we declined as we preferred our hiking boots… maybe not the best choice… The trail was extremely muddy (November, just after the rainy season). We got very dirty and got sucked into the mud more than once. The final descent to El Salto (they claim it is the highest waterfall in Central America) was very steep. We could not see anything from the miradors. Luckily at the base we did get an idea of how impressive this waterfall is… but we would have loved to see it in better weather. On the way back we stopped at a smaller waterfall, still very nice. The way back up was pretty steep ! Lots of mud ! By the end of the hike the fog lifted and we saw fields and hills and lots of broccoli. The broccoli is all exported. We had to climb a few fences as well. Back in the village we bought some drinks and snacks from a tienda behind bars. We had a funny moment with the guide… at the beginning of the hike he started talking but much too fast for me to understand so I said : mas despacio and he slowed down his walk to almost not moving ! So I had to tell him the hiking pace was fine… I just needed him to talk slowly ! The hike was 4 km and took us 3-4 hours. Rate : Q35 per person + Q35 for the guide. We got on a minibus back to the cruce. It was packed (we learned very early to share our seat with at least one other person if not two… there is always room for two more !). At one point Ray’s backpack fell off the roof and the ayudante stopped the bus and retrieved it… it was all muddy and looked like we had travelled for months instead of 3 days ! We got off at the cruce and saw an old Mayan lady with a grooved face on our bus, she was smiling and that face was so worth a picture and a painting but we did not want to impose. At the cruce we waited for a minibus to Coban (which was even fuller although we thought that was not possible !). We saw green hills and valleys, Mayan men and women carrying all kinds of things on their backs and heads, many flowers and a large white bird. In Coban we were dropped off quite far from the parque central. We walked to Hotel Central and in the parque there was a celebration for the new president. There was music, fireworks of course, lots of street vendors. Hotel Central was nice, Q115 for a room (two people) with private bathroom. Nice courtyard. We ate at Cafetaria Santa Rita, cheap, okay, small portions. We hit the food stalls after, churrasco and churros ! The next morning we explored Coban, went to the market, bought pastries, went to the Templo El Calvario and for a very short stroll in Victoria National Park where we saw some blue birds. Around noon we took a minibus to Lanquin.
Maybe a word about safety here : we felt safe everywhere… in Coban there were more soldiers than in other parts but we always felt welcome and the locals seemed very much at ease. We got stared at often, maybe because we did not see any other tourists till Tikal (November is still very much low season). I was a bit nervous before leaving because of all the stories of people being robbed or worse but again, we felt very safe. We took chicken buses, minibuses, pick-up trucks (only 2 shuttles)… and had no problems whatsoever.
The drive to Lanquin was great : green hills and mountains. It was getting warmer too. Just when we said : we will be there sooner than we thought, we hit the unpaved, very bumpy road (for the last 11 kms). We saw a small owl, very cute. We arrived in Lanquin and although we were offered a ride to El Retiro, we decided to stay right “downtown” at Rabin Itzam, Q40 per person without private bathroom (cold shower outside but it was warm enough), Q75 per person with private bathroom. Nice area to sit outside and enjoy views. We saw an awesome lizard/iguana ? and lots of leaf cutter ants. We had practically all our meals at Comedor Shalom (Q20 for meat, rice, veggies and tortillas). The first night we walked to the bat caves. They told us they had no power and gave us candles, we also had our headlights. The caves were nice (we would have liked lights actually to enjoy them even more) and quite large (at one stage we thought we had gotten lost), quite slippery too. We heard the bats and by dusk we made our way back. Saw them leaving the caves and sat at the entrance (in the cave) and took pictures. So many bats all around us, very cool, very impressive how they can navigate, they never touched us although in the pictures they seem to be very close indeed !
The next day we made our way to Semuc Champey… this will be part 2 of our trip, I guess. Please bear with me !
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Dec 30, 2011 4:33 AM
9Yes, we feel very fortunate to have seen several quetzals. My father-in-law saw them too, years ago, at the same hotel near the Biotopo (Ranchito del Quetzal) ! They are indeed amazing. We saw them fly and sit in trees and flit from branch to branch. I was able to take some nice pictures, a bit blurry but still pretty good !
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