2023Central AmericaCitiesGuatemalaLandscapes

Guatemala: From the tropical lowlands to the indigenous mountains

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala is the narrowest that we have crossed so far in our 50 countries traveled with Shujaa. At first, we simply overlook immigration and customs when entering the Guatemalan side: there is hardly any parking space for a vehicle with the size of Shujaa and so we have to change our parking position three times during the otherwise unproblematic border formalities.

We decide to drive to the famous Mayan sites of Tikal the same afternoon so that we can be among the very first visitors the next morning when it opens. It is already dark when we arrive at the campground meadow in the evening, and we have to be careful not to run over one of the numerous animals scurrying across the road. Tikal the next morning is amazing: the screaming of the howler monkeys, the wafts of mist moving from the deep jungle over the pyramids, the coatis playing around, and, above all, we are the first visitors! We are surprised by the spaciousness of the facility and spend the whole morning there, being inspired by the unique atmosphere. Tikal, along with Calakmul in Yucatan/Mexico, is for us the most impressive of the numerous Mayan sites we visited during the recent weeks.

We continue to the Flores peninsula on Lake Peten Itza: praised by many for its idyllic charm, the place is rather a disappointment for us; We can’t think of anything special about it, but we take the opportunity to replenish our food supplies again. The price level here is again very affordable – especially compared to Belize. The same applies to our largest monthly cost item: diesel. Through tropical lowlands (geographically speaking, this northeastern part of Guatemala still belongs to the Yucatan Peninsula) we drive south to the Rio Dulce and – on Christmas Day – take a great jungle boat trip to the Garifuna enclave of Livingston, which can only be reached by boat: very nice, but it doesn’t quite come close to the Garifuna vibe from Hopkins in Belize 😉.

The tropical temperatures – although no longer as extreme as on the Yucatan Peninsula – are exhausting in the long run and so we are happy to drive west to the indigenous highlands of Guatemala. A different world awaits us here: Great poverty, extremely steep ascents and descents, as well as incredibly narrow streets that lead through towns with many one-way streets that are neither signposted nor shown on our sat navs or other online maps… and suddenly we are standing in the middle of market stalls and have to go backwards out again. Luckily, the residents are all super nice, positive and very friendly. Driving is now extremely strenuous and our average speed is falling as rapidly as our average fuel consumption is increasing.

We are happy when we reach the town of Chichicastenango, known for its weekly market – one of the largest in all of Central America: it is also simply called Chichi. There we also find a campground that is suitable for our vehicle size. Nice boondocking places, as we are used to, is very problematic for us here in the highlands: the topography hardly offers any level parking spaces and paths away from the main roads for our size are only available in towns that are correspondingly busy and noisy. The market in Chichi impresses us very much: not only the size and variety of the goods as well as the fascinating indigenous market women, but also the church ceremonies accompanied by loud gunfire (which have nothing to do with the approaching New Year but are always part of the ceremonies) create a great atmosphere.

But the roads become even curvier and steeper as we drive to Lake Atitlan. Shujaa once again proves himself to be a masterful mountain scrambler and clearly has fun overtaking even normal cars on steep mountain passages… the average consumption is already over 50 liters/100 km, so one can have a bit of fun 😉! We are rewarded with a bombastic panoramic view at Lake Atitlan from our overnight place on the spacious lawn of a restaurant: in front of us the glittering lake, on the other side of the lake the countless volcanoes behind which the sun sets atmospherically in the early evening.

The location is also perfect to use our other means of transportation again: With Shujoo we drive over wild mountain roads to other towns on the lake. Karin is particularly fond of San Marcos la Laguna… with its extremely spiritual vibe, the appropriate people and the goods and services on offer such as massage, yoga and meditation, it reminds her a lot of India. She would like to stay here but overnight parking spots for Shujaa are not really available. We explore the seaside surroundings of our overnight spot using our kayak Flipper and have to be careful that the waves from the numerous passenger boats – which are the primary means of transport here on Lake Atitlan – do not cause our kayak to capsize. Exciting experiences, we really like Guatemala so far!

One comment

  1. Great to see that Chicci is still the amazing place with lots of spiritual vibes…. 🙏🏼 as when we were there many years ago. And not been run over by tourists !! Nice to read that you liked Tikal so much too really an amazing place 😍😍

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