Antigua is the Volcano capital of Guatemala. Not far from the city you will find volcanoes like Chichastenango and Pacaya, where we had decided to go for a day trip to the latter.
It was January 1st and apparently was is a tradition here in Guatemala to fire off a second round of fireworks at noon that day so we got to hear and see all the action happening in the sky over Antigua while hiking to the top.
The one hour hike to the top was easy. Easy enough to do in my slippers and when we got to the top we were handed sticks and marshmellows that we could heat in the cracks of the volcano while the sun was setting in the horizon. Costing just ten US dollars when booking at the Yellow House in Antigua, this was absolutely something I would reccommend for people deciding to spend a few days in the city.
Everyone I’ve met while backpacking has told me that Antigua is the most beautiful city in Central America, so as it drew closer to New Years we decided to stay there and explore the city for a few days.
One of the active volcanoes around the city
Antigua used to be the capital of Guatemala before it changed to Guatemala City which is just about an hour away. The city is made up of cobblestorne streets, churches and ruins, all amidst several volcanoes that can easily be seen from the city center.
The days were spent walking around the center, following the sights pinned to this map from GPSmyCity (available in the app store) to see famous restaurants, museums, shops and historical buildings. We also went up to Cerra de la Cruz to see the sunset- only to see that the sun was going down behind a volcano that was not very visible from the viewpoint.
On December 31st the streets were packed with people. It seemed like people had come from all over Guatemala to celebrate in the Antiguan streets which was filled with people dancing in costumes, food vendors, kids with firecrackers and chinese lanterns. Having celebrated in a new country every year the last decade I must say that Antigua has definately been one of my favorites. It will also be noted as one of my top ten favorite cities of all time.
Arriving in Antigua, amidst hills and volcanoes, the temperature in the air had changed drastically. After one night there we decided to get on a four hour chicken bus ride down to the coast, to a beach town known for surfing and turtle hatchings called Monterrico.
The feeling there was completely different to the coast of Mexico and Belize. First off, the sand there was black. Just like the beaches I’ve seen before in Italy, Hawaii and the West Coast of New Zealand. Secondly, there were no western tourists. All the tourists there seemed to be Guatemalan! Maybe because it was weekend and holidays, but there was for sure not much english speaking or places accepting US dollars like you would find in the Yucatan.
There was not much to do there other than sipping beer in a hammock or go watch the tiny turtles at the sanctuary, but it was peaceful, cheap and a pleasant athmosphere there. The highlight was watching the sunrise and sunset and just relax on the beach in between, charging up for the next days that would be spent in the colder city of Antigua.
Vang Vieng is to Laos what Monteverde is to Costa Rica, just as Lanquin is to Guatemala; it is an eco tourism paradise which lots of possible activities. The most famous one being the Semuc Champey view which was a 40minute uphill hike and then swimming in these limestone bridged pools afterwards. It was even more beautiful than the photos and will forever stay my favorite place in Central America, and one to remember for life.
What I thought was the highlight was the cave exlorations, where I did not know what to expect beforehand. When we entered the cave we all got a candle light and was told to hold on to a rope as we walked for about an hour through the pitch dark caves. The water was pouring through and we had to climb, crawl and swim through the narrow caves before we came to the end where we could jump from about 3 meters, then slide down and head back the same was as we came from.
The tour, which had costs us about 20us total ended with half an hour tubing down the river where kids would run next to us and throw beers to us. Lanquin is known as a party hostel town but it is much more than that and a must visit if you are ever in Central America!
The view from our hostel “Vista Verde”
One hour with only candle light in the caves