Antigua, Guatemala, was just blissful in the morning. It was the perfect temperature, a hint of chill in the shade, but warm in the sun with a delightful breeze – like the first hot days in Europe in the spring. The buildings were low and brightly coloured, the roofs tiled, the streets cobbled. And everywhere you looked, the volcanoes towered above the city and green hills were visible.
It was built in the 16th century after the previous capital of Antigua had been destroyed in a flood – surrounded by three volcanoes it has suffered from numerous earthquakes and volcanic explosions over the years (the last in 2012), but the old colonial architecture has been preserved. After earthquakes in the 1770s, the capital was moved to a new location and became Guatemala City. Today, its main industry is tourism and it is known to be a great place to live for a few weeks or months while attending one of the many Spanish language schools.
I love arriving into a city late at night – I did the same with Santiago de Compostela in Spain and I really think there is something about first seeing a city in the morning light, energised and with fresh eyes, that really endears it to me.
I arrived about 10pm from Guatemala City airport, in a taxi organised by the hotel which cost $30. I was greeted by the owner of the hotel, asked if I wanted anything, and then was shown up to my room. Whereupon I almost immediately fell into bed. Oh and how wonderful the bed was – such a change from the places I had been staying! Pristine white sheets and a thick, thick mattress – I was so happy. And the next morning – a hot shower! With water pressure! And a personal wifi router for my room so it worked really fast and I was able to facetime James!
This little miracle was Casa del Arco – a wonderful little B&B very, very close to the main square in Antigua, for less than £50 a night – slightly more than I would want to spend when travelling by myself for five weeks, hence staying one night as a treat, but really not expensive if you’re sharing the cost or travelling for a smaller amount of time! It really was wonderful and I have already decided that (1) I am definately coming back to Antigua and (2) I am definately staying at Casa del Arco.
After breakfast I set out for a wander. With absolutely no idea of where I was going, I just walked around the streets, marvelling at the beauty of the buildings, the city slowly starting to bubble to life, until I ended up in the main square, where I sat and relaxed to the sound of running water in the fountains, birds in the trees, and the beautiful view of rooftops, mountain tops, and clear blue skies.
I spent the time until the minibus arrived just wandering around some more, walking into a little shopping market that would be described as a “souk” in the middle east, and exploring the Casa de Santo Domingo. This is a beautiful 5* hotel which used to be a Covent and I was recommend to visit by the owner of my B&B. Anyone can wander in for free to explore the grounds and the numerous museums within the hotel, from an archeology museum and a museum of pre-colombian art to halls dedicated to contemporary art. Oh… And the parrots.
I considered staying one more night in Antigua – I was enjoying myself so much, but eventually decided against it. I’m really glad I did as this desire to stay just one more night was something I felt everywhere I went in Guatemala!
At 12.30, my tour bus came by the hotel to pick me up. I was quite happy when I first got in the bus but I had to start biting my tongue when an Australian family got on – a mum with her teenage son, and a squabbling husband and wife with two tiny children (it turned out the two mums were sisters). The teenage boy behind me was constantly complaining and trying to act like a complete know-it-all and I had to fight every urge to turn around and tell him to shut up. In front of me, the mum was in a horrendous mood as we were stuck in a traffic jam and “who’s idea was this anyway?“. In fact, the best behaved of the whole lot were the two tiny children! I plugged my headphones in and tried to block it all out – although occasionally eavesdropping for my own enjoyment!
The road crawled through traffic then began to climb high, high up over the mountains, albeit on a pretty good quality road so it wasn’t too twisty turny or bumpy. Eventually, we took a left and started descending down a very steep, winding road. Then the lake finally came into view to our right, a huge expanse of water, with the sun sparkling onto it through the clouds, creating patches of glitter like islands.
Down we went, into Panajachel and to the boat docks, where we were immediately met by more than five men who worked for the local tourist agency, swarming the minibus like flies before the doors were even opened so we could get off. It turned out we were all going to the same village, San Marcos, so they said they would take us all in a boat for 25 quetzals each (I was very surprised that the uptight family were going to San Marcos which is known as the hippie village, but figured perhaps they liked yoga…. I found out later that evening that they had already decided to leave San Marcos!). I had read that the journey in a public bus would cost 20-25 quetzals so that seemed okay to me, and so we all followed them to another boat dock behind a restaurant.
Once we were all in the boat we were told that we would all have to pay another 5 quetzals each to make the boat a private boat, or it would be a public boat and we would have to wait until it filled up before setting off. Obviously this was a scam as the boat was not at the public dock and so there was no reason anyone else would come to this dock – we would have been waiting a long time! 5 quetzals is not very much so we all agreed to pay – however, had it not been for the embarrassment of everyone else thinking I was too cheap, I would have got up and left the boat on principle!
But anyway. Finally the boat sped off over the waves on the lake and we were on our way to San Marcos!