Go Big or Go Home
I broke my usual solo travel routine and met one of my BFFs in Guatemala City for a Central American tour de force. And other than her over-the-top fear of snakes, bizarre case of even-stevens, and touch of moodiness when woken up for early bus rides, it was one of the best trips I’ve had and renewed my faith in travelling with someone. And I’m not insinuating that I’m free of quirks and annoying little habits. Thankfully though, she’s not writing a blog any time soon. Fingers crossed that she never does…
We met up in Guatemala City, known as Guate City to locals. I wasn’t a big fan, let me tell ya. Save the hate because I’m not saying anything negative about the people there; it’s just Guate city itself didn’t seem to have much to offer besides pollution and traffic. There are probably nice areas and interesting things to see, but from what I saw, it was all pretty sketchy. Thankfully, Antigua is only an hour away, and rides there are frequent and cheap.
Antigua is pretty touristy and busy, but it is beautiful and bright and worth the stop. And the people are as warm as the weather – always friendly, always welcoming. We stayed just outside all the action, which is hard to avoid since it’s everywhere.
We covered the city inside and out on our Antigua blitz. At one point I thought how many colourful, cobblestone streets can one explore? A lot, trust me. It actually felt like we were on a mission to see them all.
I’m never one to tell anybody how to spend his or her trip but you MUST make extra room in your backpack as well as your stomach if Antigua is on the menu. I bought out the main market in souvenirs and did my best to act cool when the starting price for everything was so ridiculously cheap that I actually felt bad bargaining.
We ate amazing food too, my favourite being the authentic Rincon Tipico. The place is hilarious; it consists of dirty cluttered tables in a smoke-filled room, food slopped on chipped plates, and distracted and overworked waiters. However, hordes of happy locals and tourists alike pile in to eat what I think could be the world’s best BBQ chicken.
We also found the world’s best margarita at Bourbon Bistro which is feet from the historic Arc de Santa Catalina. And coming from two margarita snobs, this title speaks volumes. Needless to say, we stopped in this little gem of a bar every time we walked by and were not only treated to fabulous drinks, and good music, but also friendly bartenders and random dogs walking in for treats as the place was proudly dog friendly.
Aside from the drinking and eating extravaganza, Guatemala has every activity you’re looking for. We did a day trip to the top of Pacaya volcano. Up at 4am, in the van at 5am, hiking at 6am, heat stroke by 7am, victory by about 9am. It wasn’t too strenuous of a hike but considering my friend was sick from chugging tap water in Mexico City the day before, it was a bit difficult for certain people who shall remain nameless (…Katie Halliday). However, we did it! We weren’t quite at the top because the volcano is still active but we were as far as we could go before melting. The victory came in the form of roasting marshmallows over hot lava with our team of hikers and a pack of wild dogs that seemed to kindly escort us up the mountain….although once the marshmallows and lunch boxes came out, we knew why.
Next on our agenda, was a few days in Semuc Champay, about eight hours away from Antigua. It was a little piece of heaven once we got there, but the drive on those winding mountain roads with no air conditioner and a van full of annoying tourists resembling One Direction, made us swear that if it wasn’t paradise when we got there, we would lose our marbles on someone. Considering I’m not in a Guatemalan prison tells you it most definitely was.
We stayed at El Retiro, which was straight out of the movies – jungle tiki huts near a rushing stream, a round-the-clock bar and restaurant, friendly staff and the cutest, most well-fed dog family that seemed to own the place and every visitor there. And the kicker was that it was all so cheap. We went cave swimming and exploring for about two hours, tubed down a river, hiked to what felt like the top of Guatemala, swam in hot springs and walked through villages, for like 20 bucks.
By far, the best part of Semuc Champay was the comic relief. My friend Katie and I shared more inappropriate laughs and inside jokes than I thought possible. We’ve always been a funny duo, but throw us in a jungle or cave with strangers who we shamelessly mocked with secret zingers and epic nicknames, and we’re downright hilarious.
Aside from the pints of blood I mercilessly donated to gangs of mosquitoes that roved this place, Semuc Champay was about as close to paradise as I’ve ever been. The whole country seems to be, actually. I know there is so much of Guatemala I haven’t seen, but that doesn’t upset me because I know I’ll go back and already have my next trip planned out. And it’s definitely go big or go home there, so I’ll be sure to pack my energy again. I will likely use Antigua as a starting point next time too, if for nothing else than a celebratory margarita. Or five.