In order to pay the minimum price for my flight ticket I have gone for a 36 hours journey with three transfers. Prague to Reykjavik, six hours waiting in the airport, Reykjavik to Toronto, 8 hours in the airport, Toronto to Mexico City, 3 hours waiting and finally Mexico City to Guatemala City.
The first problem occurred with my first stop in Iceland. After booking my tickets I did some very dodgy research that suggested there’s no need to get a visa for me when transferring in Canada, which is not true! I nearly passed out when I was told that the system refused to print my ticket as I don’t have my ETA approved. I was really surprised, experiencing the 72 hour wait for my USA Esta approval when the lady told me that my plane is leaving in two hours and if I apply now I should be ok. It actually took about 30 seconds for Canadians to send me the confirmation email after filling in the application form and I could fly. No problems in Toronto. I actually had a very pleasant sleep in the bed I made of my yoga mat and sleeping bag in the corner of the airport hall.
Another unpleasant surprise was waiting for me after landing in Mexico City when I went to get my last flight ticket printed. The lady in the AeroMexico desk told me they had overbooked my flight (like wtf?!) which means that even though I paid for a seat in this plane they don’t have it for me and they have to put me on another flight, and that they would give me a breakfast voucher for free. As a free breakfast definitely didn’t feel like enough of apology for an additional three hours of waiting in the airport after 34 hours of travelling without showering I started making up pre-paid bus journeys and very important meetings that I was going to miss as a result of their mess up and insisted on speaking the manager… Eventually they paid me a $150 as a gesture of goodwill for the huge inconvenience caused and to finaly make me shut up.
It was a sunny day when we landed in Guatemala City. Walking down the airport hall I could hear a loud music. It was a band of about 10 people playing a huge Xylophone called Marimba, the national music instrument to welcome us in their country. Such a sweet airport welcome made me fall in love with Guatemala instantly.
Guatemala City is said to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world so I was really happy when my Couchsurfing host (more about Couchsurfing read HERE) Fernando offered me to pick me up at the Airport. His flatmate Felix picked me up after all and took me to a beautiful house in private housing area located in the centre of the city and as the guests room was occupied at the moment he offered me to stay in his own room and to have his huge king sized bed just to myself.
Although more than 60% of the Guatemala’s population lives under the poverty line My Couchsurfing hosts obviously belong to the the upper 40% and I was living like a princess for the first two days of my holiday. It seemed like guys took it as their personal mission to show me how fancy the life in Guatemala can be if you’re well educated and get a good job (Felix is a lawyer and Fernando works for Google). We were eating in amazing restaurants every day, they took me to play golf and we spent one afternoon just chilling by the pool in five star hotel. In all that luxury I completely forgot where I am actually and like I was at home poured myself a full glass of tap water and drunk it. Suddenly when I realised what I did first thing that came to my mind was a movie scene when ‘Sharlota’ from the Sex In The City opens her mouth while showering in Mexico. I don’t know if after spending three months in India my stomach can just about bare anything or the tap water in Central America is not that bad, but fortunately I was fine. Still, I won’t be trying that again!
Fernando also helped me to buy a local sim cart as you need to have Guatemalan ID to get one. The wifi really sucks most of the time and you are better off just using data in your phone. The Claro sim cart will work the same all over Central America (apart from Belize).
The majority of people travelling to Guatemala skip the capital completely and from the airport take a bus straight to nearby Antigua. I obviously enjoyed staying there, but who doesn’t like eating great food and chilling by the pool, right? But if you’re not lucky enough with your Couchsurfing as I was in the city itself, there is not much to see in comparison with the rest of this beautiful country, and definitely doesn’t make the best first impression.
My next stop was the lake Atitlan located about four hours western from the Guatemala City. The cheapest way of getting around in Guatemala is definitely the use of “cicken buses” – old American school buses that are being driven like Jeeps on Guatemalan roads full of huge holes even though the shock absorbers had been gone 20 years ago. They are called the Chicnen buses because there is usually three or four of you sitting on a twoperson seat, just like chickens. Every ride is a really intense experience, I highly recommend to travel with an empty stomach. This crowded skin on skin environment is a real paradise for pickpockets so be extra careful! I just looked out of the window for a moment and when I turned my had back I found the guy next to me holding my pocket book in his hand.
Using of chicken buses is super easy! The only thing you have to do is to tell about your final destination to the guy walking around the bus and collecting money. He will let you know when is the time to change and will get you directly on the connecting bus that is always already waiting there for you ready to leave in few minutes. So no worries even if you don’t speak Spanish!
Lake Atitlan has a truly magical set up. Set in a valley all around surrounded by volcanoes rising up to the sky through little white clouds, charming little towns full of colours and never ending jungle. To reach this bit of paradise you have to travel to Panajechel, the biggest of the bank towns that serves as the main local transport hub. From there you take a little boat to one of the nearby lake villages. Just the boat ride itself is an amazing experience, get yourself a place in the front and enjoy the views.
I got dropped off in San Marcos La Laguna. Streets have no names and houses no numbers over here. An address of any place is always defined just by the name of the house owner. My Couchsurfing host is called Juan so I had to get to La Casa de Juan (Juans’s house). When I tipped la casa de Juan to Google maps there were obviously no results. I asked a man passing by for help and he sent his little son to walk me to the place. He took me to a huge property located on the hill in the middle of the forest where I was greeted by two Guys from Belgium – Jean-Baptiste and David. We walked up steep stairs all the way in front of their house and I almost died after seeing the view from their balcony! What a beautiful place to live!
Jean-Baptiste moved to Guatemala about ten years ago because of his girlfriend. He met a guy who needed to leave the country asap and was selling this heaven just for 10 000€! The value of the property is at least with one zero more. Lucky!
David moved in two years ago to help with the starting business. Jean is a beekeeper and in his place produce honey, other honey products and now also absolutely delicious honey beer called Strong Bee.
I was really happy when Jean asked me whether I would like to go with him to feed the bees. I have never seen it before. Honey is being made by bees so they can eat it later on but bacause the beekeeper takes most of it away he has to feed them with sugar water instead. A bee uses her stomach to transform nectar collected from flowers into fructose. In the hive she passes it on to other worker bees who chew it until it gradually turns into honey. Then the bees store it in honeycomb cells. This isn’t all…. The honey is too wet and would go off, so they fan it with their wings for about two weeks to make it dry out and then close the cell with wax. So much work! “Do you want to try?” Jean asked me, took out one honeycomb, shaked off the bees and let me get some of the freshly made honey out with my finger. Amazing!
There is no other place with a clearer water & better to swim at this lake than San Marcos. From an organic restaurant Moonfish Café (where is definitely worth stopping by for lunch) continue for about 100 meters uphill till you see a narrow road on your left hand side leading down towards the lake which will take you to the best swimming spot in the village. It’s also great fun to hire a canoe or a paddle board and explore the the surroundings. San Marcos is very chilled and there is not much happening during the evening. If you feel like staying in busier place take a boat to San Pedro La Laguna or Santiago Atitlán.
In my opinion the most beautiful place around the whole lake is Jean’s balcony so most of my time I spent just chilling there and drinking Strong Bee. If you want more than a mattress on the floor the guys also have a beautiful AirBnb room to book HERE.
Expenses – 6 days – 32€
- Accommodation – 0€
- Transportation – 10€
- Food – 15€
- Sim card – 7€