Serene and I visited Guatemala and Honduras in September 2006. We spent 10 days visiting the usual tourist stops (Antigua, Chichicastenango, Panajachel, Tikal, Yaxha, Ceibal) in Guatemala and (Copan) Honduras. I'd always wanted to visit Tikal ever since a former officemate mentioned how amazing it is. After visiting Tikal myself, I think it certainly lives up to its reputation. September appears to be the ultimate low season in Guatemala and we saw hardly any other tourists, even in Tikal and Copan. We had the ruins to ourselves most of the time and I certainly enjoyed the lack of crowds. The flip side of the low season is that the weather wasn't especially great for photography, with overcast skies giving little contrast most of the time.
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These are our favourite photos from this trip.
Antigua, Chichicastenango, Panajachel, Santiago.
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We flew into Guatemala City and headed straight to Antigua from the airport. We spent a day walking around Antigua and looking at the colonial buildings. Antigua is a nice place but I get bored very quickly when staying in cities. Our next stop was the Sunday market in Chichicastenango; we spent the morning and early afternoon walking around the market and looking at the various stalls. It was interesting for a couple of hours and then I was again itching to go to Panajachel. We got to Panajachel that afternoon and went for the obligatory Lago de Atitlan viewpoint. Unfortunately, clouds had obscured the view (a recurring theme on this trip) and we didn't see the famous view on either of the days we spent on the lake. The next day, we took a short boat ride across the lake to Santiago, which was quite uneventful. In Santiago, we walked around for a couple of hours hunting for the shrine of Maximo and eventually found it in an obscure back street; someone later told us that there are three different such shrines. On the return boat ride, however, it started raining and everyone without umbrellas to shield themselves (good thing we brought them) from the horizontal rain got soaked. So far, the first three days of the trip was uneventful.
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From Panajachel, we went back to Antigua and caught the 4 am bus to Copan the next day. We went with Atitrans, and I recommend that everyone should avoid them. The guy at the office told us that the driver would drop us at our hostel in Guatemala City but we were told otherwise by our driver on the return trip from Copan. He refused to send us to our hostel and instead left us at a shopping center where we took a cab to our hostel from there. So, I'd have to say to avoid Atitrans in Antigua.
Apart from the transportation hassles, I felt that Copan was worth the commute from Antigua. The ruins themselves weren't very impressive but the sculptures were the best we saw at the Mayan ruins we visited. Copan also has a large number of wild and captive macaws that swoop along the pathways in the jungle. It is quite an experience to walk along the pathways in the jungle, and then see and hear a trio of macaws squawking overhead. The museum in the ruins are well worth the US $5 admission fee; it's small but very well laid out and the exhibits are very impressive, especially the sculpture of a crane with a fish in its mouth.
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Tikal lived up to my expectations. I think it is as spectacular as Machu Picchu, but in a different way. We got up early for the sunrise tour (well worth the money because you get to Tikal before most other people get there), and spent a couple of hours sitting at the top of Temple IV shrouded in mist. It seems that you rarely get a good sunrise in Tikal because of the fog but the sunrise tour is still well worth the money. Sitting at the top of Temple IV listening to the birds and howler monkeys in stereo sound while being surrounded by mist is a magnificent experience (Listen to howler monkeys and birds!
). Temple IV is the highest temple in Tikal at 64 m (210 ft) and the view of the tops of the other temples emerging above the jungle canopy is stunning. Equally stunning (and perhaps more so than Temple IV) is the view from the top of Temple V (58 m / 190 ft). The great thing about visiting Tikal in the low season is that we often got the views from the temple tops all to ourselves. We also saw a lot of birds and monkeys hanging out in trees, including spider monkeys and toucans.
Yaxha, Ceibal, Flores
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Apart from visiting Tikal, we also visited the Mayan ruins of Yaxha and Ceibal while in Flores. Yaxha is the only extensive Mayan ruin that is situated next to a large lake. Even more so than Tikal, we had our run of the place, only encountering one or two groups of tourists in our time there. We also saw a grey fox (supposedly uncommon) in Yaxha, probably because Yaxha was so deserted. Ceibal is a small Mayan site with not very impressive ruins but we had a lot of fun visiting it. Getting to Ceibal involves a hour long boat ride that is supremely relaxing and great for bird watching. Then strolling around the ruins (no one else there except for us) with the boatman was also very interesting. I thought it was well worth the time to visit Ceibal even though it wasn't particularly impressive.
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Our last day in Guatemala was spent in Guatemala City. We stayed in Hostel Hermano Pedro, a small bed and breakfast 2 minutes from the airport that is run by a really nice lady and her family. The lady's cooking is excellent and we enjoyed our two nights in her B&B. The address is 6a Av. 20-53, Zona 13, Aurora II, Gautemala, Ciudad, and the phone number is (502) 2332-4474. We visited the Museum of Archaelogy and Ethnology, which was small but had many interesting exhibits from Mayan sites. Unfortunately, the hall of jade in the museum is closed on weekends and we didn't get to see the famous jade mask from Tikal. We also went to the zoo, which was surprisingly well laid out and had many animals; we saw many animals native to South and Central America that we'd never seen before. Unfortunately, they didn't have any Quetzals, which are apparently quite rare these days.