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Central America Guatemala Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey

January 30, 2016

Though Guatemala is growing in popularity as a tourist destination, relatively few make the trek to this area (when compared to many other countries) and even fewer into central Guatemala to Semuc Champey.

As we bumped along, approaching over 12 hours in our cramped minivan, we couldn’t help but question just how worthwhile our detour to Semuc Champey would be; it was certainly a remote patch of the world!  With no flights in, we had no choice but to journey, often over unsealed, pot-holed roads, from before sunrise until after sunset (more on that soon)…

Little did we know that Semuc Champey would be one of the most breath-taking, relaxed placed we’d ever had the pleasure of visiting and though, in some ways, it would be great to keep this spot a secret, it’s not hard to see why more and more people are heading over.  The roads and length of travel time deter some, but it’s only a matter of time before tourism in this area increases.

Our journey began in Panjachel where we were picked up from our accommodation at 5.45am (eeek!) in a shared van.  Our ticket told us we’d arrive at 8.15am, ready to depart on our next bus at 8.30am… however, it also said that they journey itself would be 2 hours and 45 minutes.  Now it sure was early, but even with my tired eyes, I could see that was cutting it fine, and that wasn’t accounting for the unexpected petrol stop and general madness that you sometimes encounter on these roads.  Regardless, on we drove, assured that the next bus would wait for us – luckily we’d booked all the way through with Marvelus Travel so there was never any doubt that they knew we were on the way.

We proceeded to arrive in Antigua at about 8.30am, ready for our connection, only to realise that our driver didn’t know where the office we were told we’d be dropped off at was… a bit of a problem!  After driving around in circles for 30 minutes or so, we eventually parked up to find our next bus had pulled in behind us – some things are just meant to be.

On we climbed into the minibus to begin the main part of our journey to Lanquin, the gateway town to Semuc Champey.  The journey in itself was quite an adventure; pulling through towns with locals absolutely swamping the road, watching overloaded trucks transporting Guatemalans across country roads and mountain-top highways, free of barriers, enough to make even the most unshakeable traveller feel a little nervous.

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The roads through Guatemala aren’t the best but for the most part, they are good enough… that was until we reached the turn off not long after lunch.  Pot-holes galore, our speed halved instantaneously.  Next, we were greeted by an unsealed road, weaving around cliff faces with trucks attempting to pass from the other side; without doubt, the longest white-knuckled ride we’ve ever experienced.

As the sun was preparing to set, we pulled into Lanquin and prepared for the last stretch to our final destination.  After a 30 minute delay, we piled onto the back of a ute and bumped our way along…  that road into Lanquin that only an hour ago made us feel a little nervous was now looking like a main highway!  In the dark, we charged up 4WD tracks, careful to hold on tight and braced ourselves as we slipped back down the other side.  As we moved further and further from civilisation, we couldn’t help but wonder just how they’d get help in if heaven forbid there was actually an accident.

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After 30 minutes or so on the back of the ute, we pulled up alongside our home for the next few days; Greengos.  Travelling so far from civilisation, we were struck by just how gorgeous the night sky was and the peaceful calm all around us… even without venturing to the pools, it was obvious that Semuc Champey was a special place to spend some time.

Check out the view that we woke up to…

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The rooms at Greengos are basic but comfortable and tidy and the kitchen made delicious meals at reasonable prices, especially considering how remote it is.

We opted for a room with a private bathroom (which turned out to be the right decision… more on that soon!), but it is worth noting that as the bathroom rooms are on the bottom floor, you may end up with people stomping away overhead in the top room.  As a couple, it’s often cheaper (or not much more expensive) to get a private room, but there are dorms available for those of you travelling solo or with friends.

When we were there the wifi was pretty problematic, but how often is it that you make it into the Guatemalan jungle – we weren’t there to sit on Facebook all day!  The power only runs for a few hours in the morning and between certain hours in the evening – this isn’t the type of place to visit if you’re wanting all of the modern conveniences of a town/city, but the remoteness really added to the experience for us.

Unfortunately Nathan ended up with a really upset stomach (grrrr, dodgy gas-station chicken sandwiches!) and didn’t manage to make it out of our room… imagine the disappointment at travelling all day, knowing that we’d have to travel almost as far out in the opposite direction again, to miss out on the action!  The team at Greengos could not have been more welcoming though – they were happy to bring extra supplies as we needed them, brought food down to our room for Nath and provided copious amounts of tummy-settling tea for him.  Golan and his team really went above and beyond for us!

After hanging around for the majority of the day in the hope that Nathan’s tummy would settle, it reached the point where it was ‘now or never’ for me to get out to the pools.

Begrudgingly, I left Nathan behind and walked for twenty minute until I got to the entry of Semuc Champey where I paid the small entry fee and abled along the jungle path until I reached the pools that we’d travelled so far to see.

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Many people choose to join a tour around Semuc Champey, including caving or tubing, but it is absolutely possible to visit the pools independently.  Prior to our arrival we spent a lot of time reading up on the caving and found there to be seriously mixed reviews.  Though it didn’t end up being an option for us to go anyway, we’d already decided against venturing into the caves.  I’m almost always up for an adventure – sky diving, bungy jumping, white water rafting – you name it, I’ve probably done it, but having read horror story after horror story about people breaking bones and badly cutting their feet, we decided it just wasn’t worth the risk, especially when we knew we wanted to go caving in Belize and needed our feet in one piece.

Due to my late arrival at the pools, I missed out on hiking up to the look out which was a real pity – the view from up there looks absolutely breath-taking!  Even without the views from up high, Semuc Champey took stopped me dead in my tracks.

The cascading turquoise pools are naturally formed from limestone and if you venture up to the top one, you can slide and jump your way between them.  Each pool is home to what must be hundreds of little fish, that love the occasional nibble on your legs (in a friendly, I’m-giving-you-a-clean kind of way) and whilst the water certainly wasn’t warm in December, it was quite comfortable.

I spent a number of hours swimming and wandering about on the jungle paths, enjoying the birds and waterfalls before heading back to join Nathan just before it got dark.

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Before we made it to Guatemala, we’d been warned by others about safety concerns but even as I walked along these rural roads by myself, I never once felt uncomfortable… quite the opposite, I felt incredibly fortunate to experience first-hand a place as beautiful as Semuc Champey.  If you have the opportunity to go, don’t think twice, just go!

PS: If you plan on booking at Greengos, be sure to get in touch with them three weeks out as that’s when they start taking bookings.

PPS: I recommend you check out Living on One Dollar on Netflix to learn more about the life many rural Guatemalan’s lead – it’s eye opening.


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Semuc Champey Guatemala - everything you need to know

Back Packing Central America Chichicastenango Guatemala

A Flourish of Colour at the Chichicastenango Markets, Guatemala

January 19, 2016

The Chichicastenango (ChiChi) markets are held in the highlands of Guatemala twice a week and though it’s a bit of a trek out there, it’s well worth the effort. Each Thursday and Sunday this sleepy town comes to life in a flourish of colour, as it plays host to the largest market in Central America.

We were fortunate to visit the ChiChi Markets on a festival day; the festive dancing, firecrackers, music and floats certainly made it a day to remember!

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The markets welcome both locals and tourists and we were pleasantly surprised to find so many Guatemalans browsing for fresh ingredients and traditional clothes.  It would seem that this market serves the locals first and foremost which makes it that much more appealing for a traveller wanting an authentic experience in this stunning country.

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We elected to take a shared shuttle from Panajachel to the markets, leaving at 7am and departing ChiChi at 2pm.  We could have caught a chicken bus which would have been significantly cheaper, but as we only had the one day (and had limited Spanish), we wanted to be sure we’d get to the right place in a reasonable timeframe.

We booked through Lake Atitlan for approx USD20 (return) each and were happy with their service, though there was a bit of confusion upon pick up as they were a little late.  The trip itself was about 1.5 hours out of Panajachel, through the winding roads of Guatemala, with gorgeous views almost every step of the way.

If you have a good command of Spanish and plenty of time to spare, you could choose to catch one of the local chicken buses, as seen in the pictures below.  I don’t doubt they’d make for an exciting ride!

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We’d definitely recommend you plan your time in either Antigua or Panajachel to co-ordinate with a day at the ChiChi Markets!


How to get to and from the Chichicastenango (ChiChi) Markets, Guatemala - itinerary guide

Antigua Back Packing Central America Guatemala

Amazing Antigua

January 18, 2016

Antigua, the stunning ex-capital city in the central highlands of Guatemala, welcomed us into the country with open arms.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site, set amongst the mountains of Central America delivered much more than we’d ever expected on our first visit to this part of the world.

With an unassuming beauty, thanks to the city’s architectural Spanish Baroque influence, worn cobbled roads, ruined colonial churches and friendly, welcoming Antiguans, Antigua stole our hearts almost instantly.

Many people choose to use Antigua as a base from which to learn Spanish.  Possibly for this reason, the locals are incredibly patient with foreigners, but it is important to note that Spanish really is the main language throughout all of Guatemala so the more you can up-skill yourself on the basics, the better (I learnt some key phrases and words on Duolingo; it’s now my go-to app when I need an introduction to a new language).

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During our time in Antigua, we stayed at the Yellow House and we’d highly recommend basing yourselves there.  Antigua isn’t massive so it was an easy (and flat) walk into town and we had plenty of restaurants and sights close by.  It was a steal at USD15/night for the both of us in a private room (with shared facilities) and included a delicious and generous breakfast each morning.  The hostel was clean and tidy, the guests were respectful and the hammocks hit just the spot!

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Guatemala security

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Our fabulous included breakfast at the Yellow House, Antigua

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The view from our room and breakfast perch

We spent our time in Antigua wandering around, taking in the sights and practicing the little new-found Spanish we’d picked up… oh and chocolate, we ate our fill of chocolate!

Guatemala is of course well known for it’s cocoa beans and the Choco Museo will not only give you a conclusive run-down of this plant’s history in the area, but will also have you making chocolate tea, a variety of hot chocolates, and of course, chocolate from scratch (including roasting and grinding cocoa beans).  We elected to do the ‘beans to bar’ tour which took about two hours; it was great fun and an excellent way to meet people (we kept bumping into some of our tour-companions weeks later over in Belize!)

Looking back now we wished we’d done some hiking in Antigua – we’ll just have to save it for another trip!

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When in Guatemala… make chocolate!

Having been warned off Guatemala whilst flying into LA, there was a slight degree of trepidation arriving into the country… after-all most New Zealanders would struggle to point Guatemala out on a map, let alone know people that have visited.  Choice to head to Central America for us was certainly a bit of an unknown but as soon as we pulled into Antigua, late in the evening after over 24 hours of travel, we knew we were onto a winner!

If you too are planning a trip to this beautiful Central American country, we suggest you check out this fantastic Guatemala travel guide.  If you’re not currently planning a trip there – what are you waiting for?!

PS: Check out the gorgeous town square where we spent many hours people-watching and soaking this city in.  I dare anyone not to fall in love with Antigua!


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Antigua, Guatemala is the best place in the world to learn Spanish. This beautiful town is the perfect introduction to Central America, filled with coffee shops, beautiful streets and helpful people.

Central America Honduras

San Pedro Sula – It’s the Most Violent City On Earth, but is it a Holiday Destination?

July 19, 2014

San Pedro Sula was once again recognised at the ‘most violent city of earth’, with a murder rate of 169 people for every 100,000.

“Satan himself lives here in San Pedro,” a mortician from the second largest city in Honduras told The Guardian. “People here kill people like they’re nothing more than chickens.”

Over the last few years, homicides in Honduras have risen, even while violence falls in neighbouring countries like El Salvador and Guatemala.

Arms and drug trafficking have flooded the country, contributing to high gang violence. Lax gun laws (civilians can own up to five personal firearms), corruption, and poverty make life in San Pedro Sula even worse.

What’s more, inmates have controlled Honduras’ 24 prisons since the state gave up on rehabilitating convicts, according to a recent report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Taken from the Business Insider


With information like that floating around, one has to ask, is it worth the risk?

Initially we’d planned to visit the islands off the Northern coast of Honduras which would have had us spend a day in San Pedro Sula… because flight would have arrived around 8am and out outbound sector wasn’t until 10pm, it would have left us either wandering the streets with our packs or waiting it out inside a (presumedly pretty basic) airport for 14 hours.  Neither of these prospects sounded particularly appealing and with a quick onwards connection to Puerto Rico and our cruise, we would have limited time to replace our gear if it was pinched.

With that in mind, and in a bid to save money, we decided to spend time in Belize (we were originally only going to use it as a jumping off point) and continue on to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen in Mexico.  It’s a better use of our time and money as we’ll be in that area anyway and flights to Puerto Rico worked out cheaper out of Mexico, and we don’t need to spend the day walking the streets of San Pedro Sula (Honduras) with for all intents and purposes, all our worldly goods.

Without doubt, you can’t believe everything you read online.  There’s also the potential of danger being sensationalised for any number of reasons.  Is it really as bad as it’s made out to be?

I remember travelling solo to New York as an 18 year old female, at a time when crime was a much bigger problem than it is now, and feeling surprisingly comfortable walking around at night by myself.  It may have been youthful ignorance, but there’s no doubting that I felt safer there at night than I ever would walking Auckland City by myself in the dark.

At the end of the day, we decided it just wasn’t worth the risk (or the extra money and time).  We’re excited to explore Belize and see more of Mexico so for us, leaving Honduras and Costa Rica, was a simple decision to make (though it was much harder to say good-bye to my Costa Rican dreams for now).

Ignoring the fact that money and time played a significant role in our decision making, would you have made the same choice?

There’s a lot to be seen off the beaten path and we’re not risk adverse in our travels, but when does the risk outweigh the potential reward?

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