Tag Archives: Guatemala

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

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Palenque, Mexico – Impressions

Palenque is a small city in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico on the border of Guatemala. There’s not much going on in the city itself with the city’s recognised monuments all being covered for restoration while I was there. But it’s not the city that draws people to this region, it’s the nearby ruins of the same name only 20 minutes away.

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The Palenque ruins aren’t the only ones in this area though, there’s also Yaxchilán nestled on the Guatemalan border and Bonampak a further 40km south. It’s not difficult to get to any of the sites, with regular collectivos – taxi buses – going to the Palenque ruins every few minutes and daily tours leaving to the other two sites.

I began with a tour to Yaxchilán, a two and a half tour bus ride south of Palenque. The tour picked me up from my hostel at 6am and delivering me home at 7.30pm, so I prepared for a long day. The roads in Mexico are no better than anywhere else in Central America, but because of the early start I slept through the bumps and regular speed humps. There was even a stop for breakfast along the way, all included in the tour. We eventually arrived at Rio Usumacinta, the river that separates Mexico from Guatemala, and boarded a river boat for a 45 minutes trip.

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The river is wide and deep and is said to contain five metre crocodiles, but we only spied two small ones that were shy at our approach.

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After another nap, we eventually arrived at the Yaxchilán ruins. To get into the site you need to walk through some dark tunnels made by the Mayans around 700AD. The tunnels are said to travel 30-40km to Bonampak to the south, but most are closed. There’s also an ancient ritual associated with the tunnels which involved the ingestion of magic mushrooms and walking through the tunnels in the dark being casted depending on which exit you emerge from.

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On the other side of the tunnels is the Grand Plaza stretching 750 metres in length with temples and buildings along each side. It was originally an open plaza, the trees have grown in the 14 centuries since the city was built.

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The Mayans had a fascination with ball games, where inevitably one of the players gets his head cut off. If it’s the captured leader of another city and he loses, chop chop and his head becomes the ball, if he wins he’s set free. If the match is between people from the same city then it’s the winner that faces the chop, that’s right, the winner. It’s an honour for him to be beheaded, as he goes forth into the underworld in style.

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In the Mayan world the royal family and priests had to be the fittest people, as they were the only ones allowed to climb the many steps to the temples or to the Grand Acropolis.

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Dotted around the Grand Plaza are several Esteli – carved stone blocks. Most depict members of the royal family in different poses, often giving blood sacrifices such as the queen piercing her tongue and running a two metre rope through it, or the king having his penis pierced. Lovely.

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After a couple of hours at the site, we travelled back along the river to the bus then set off to Bonampak, which also has a grand plaza, although smaller than Yixchilán.

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Bonampak was a ceremonial site important to the Yixchilán kings. Bonampak means ‘painted walls’ in the ancient Mayan language as on the inner walls of one acropolis are several full colour paintings.

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We only had an hour at Bonampak before it was time to head back to the city. We were thankful for the air-conditioned tour bus as the last couple of hours of the day became quite humid.

The following day, a couple of us caught a collectivo to the Palenque Ruins.

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But since we arrived an hour before closing, entry was free but meant we had to rush around the complex. Still it was a wondrous place to visit and thankfully quieter near closing time. Similar to Yixchilán they have a grand acropolis, several temples and a palace boasting a tall watch tower.

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Next, I head north to the city of the Merida on the Yucatán to explore the ruins of Uxmal.

The World Wanderer

Flores, El Petén, Guatemala – Impressions

Why the northern province of Guatemala between Mexico and Belize looks like Bart Simpson’s head is anyone’s guess…

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But about where Bart’s eye would be is a lake called Lago de Petén Itzá. And on that lake is the island of Flores.

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Connected to the mainland by a causeway, Flores is a popular tourist destination with plentiful hotels, hostels, restaurants and bars. The island isn’t that large and is easily walked around in about ten minutes, but unfortunately before my arrival substantial rains had caused the lake’s level to rise, flooding the road that runs around the island in several places.

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But flooded or not, water taxis transport locals and tourists alike from the island to many locations including the small colourful settlements around the edges of the lake…

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You can also visit the small island of Santa Barbara which holds the local museum, which was unfortunately also flooded when I arrived.

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On one side of the lake is a lookout, which after a stiff climb provides impressive views of both the island of Flores and other portions of the lake.

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A short Tuk Tuk ride from Flores is Las Cuevas Actun Kan, a natural system of caves being set up as a tourist attraction. When I visited the complex, which stretch through many caverns both large and small, I was the only one there. The silence underground and the sometimes misleading signs had me walking in circles, which I’m sure would be nerve-wracking for some, but something I thoroughly enjoyed as I eventually navigated my way out.

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But Flores isn’t the primary reason most people come to this part of Guatemala. Barely an hour by bus north of Flores in the depths of the jungle is Tikal, a set of Mayan temples and ruins dating back before the birth of Christ.

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I chose to take a tour beginning at lunchtime and ending well after dark, walking for several kilometres to various structures in the spread out complex that once housed around ninety thousand people.
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The tour also included encounters with spider monkeys and this cute little guy, a tarantula…

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Then as it began to grow dark we climbed one of the pyramids to watch the sun set across the jungle and the monumental temples rising from the trees.

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The many temples are a wonder to behold and add to the rich history of Latin America in a similar way as the ruins of Macchu Pichu in Peru, Incapirca in Ecuador and Ciudad Perdida in Colombia.

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My visit to Tikal is the first in a series of Mayan ruins I plan to visit in my last weeks in Latin America.

Next, I travel to the island of Caye Caulker in Belize.

The World Wanderer.

Antigua, Guatemala – Impressions

Nestled under Volcán de Agua in the Guatemalan highlands is the colonial city of Antigua. The city was once capital of Guatemala but has had a rocky history, literally. In 1717 an earthquake destroyed 3000 buildings, then in 1783 another earthquake decimated more of the city, causing those in power to move the capital to the safer Guatemala City.

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Because of its location Antigua is a hub to explore Guatemala, with Guatemala City only 45km to the east, the port of San Jose on the Pacific coast an hour south and Lago Atitlan to the west. For those keen enough, a long shuttle ride to the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal far to the north of the country can be organised.

Volcán de Agua…

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The streets themselves are cobbled. But not the perfect jigsaw of cobbles seen in some modern streets, instead a crazy mash of rounded stones that make driving on them in Tuk Tuks a bumpy experience. The city is flat, however, so unless you’re carrying a lot of baggage or just lazy, walking is the best way to get around.

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Beyond climbing the volcano it’s the scattered colonial buildings and churches that draw the most interest in the city. While some of the old churches survived the earthquakes…

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… some were not so lucky although still usable.

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Those that didn’t fare so well have been cordoned off and for good reason.

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The city does have a touristy feel about to it and because of this it’s more expensive than other places in Guatemala. Around the central park there are many fine restaurants and bars. And for the first time in Central America, a working fountain!

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Next I head west to San Pedro la Laguna on the shores of Lago Atitlan.

The World Wanderer