Upon arriving in Guatemala, I didn’t really know what to expect. Having recently visited the well traveled tourist-laden tropics of Costa Rica, I was imagining something similar. I had read a little bit about Lago de Atitlan and spoke to fellow travelers who have been there, but it was hard to imagine what it would be like in person.
Panajachel, the biggest tourist town on the lake, is surrounded by towering cliff-like mountains on either side, split in half by a “river” in a huge bed of would-be building material. The views of the volcanoes across the lake are startling, and the water mirrors the clouds. The town’s homeless and independent dogs wander freely from street to street, visitor to visitor and restaurant to restaurant. Panajachel, made of two main streets, is full of artisan shops, restaurants, hostels, and a lot of travelers who look for something a little more untouched.
Having only enough time to chose one other lake town to visit, we took a small fiberglass boat across the lake to San Pedro La Laguna. After a morning of walking around under the threatening clouds, we were blessed by an afternoon of hot sun and billowy clouds. In complete contrast to this quiet village, a visit to the Sunday market of Chichicastenango also offered us a glimpse of the hurry of Guatemalan markets, as well as the opportunity to experience some ancient Mayan rituals a top a sacred hill.
Antigua was a contrast from all we had seen and experienced at the lake. I will say one of the most prominent differences for me, since I’m a little bit crazy(about dogs), was the lack of street dogs in Antigua. As it is a city, (and an extremely clean one at that – I think NYC should start using their palm leaf brooms to clean the streets and parks. awesome.) I guess dog owners keep a tighter reign on the them as they can’t frolic as easily and safely around the bustling cobblestone streets and cramped market spaces.
The colors of buildings, the surrounding volcanoes and mountains, the arch, the park…all were somewhat reminiscent of a older European town trying to stray from the binds of modern construction and uniformity.
Easily one of the most memorable and favorite experiences I’ve had to date, is our climb up to the sunken secondary crater of Volcan Pacaya. I will never forget the feeling of walking on sharp porous volcanic rocks- piled precariously on top of each other, allowing mineral-rich steam to seethe out of the vents below them. The orange of the lava flow and fluidity of its motion downward is burned into my head. There were hungry dogs jumping around the capricious rock piles as other climbers were struggling to jump from one area to the next. The views of the land around the volcano were clear, and a grassy meadow right below the volcanic rock began was a respite. The climb was energizing and calming.
It was over all too quickly. here are 10 of the most memorable moments I had:
1. seeing the volcanoes at the lake as the clouds cleared, for the first time.
2. wading up to our knees in Lake Atitlan, under a tree in San Pedro
3. sipping Gallo by the piers in San Pedro
4. feeding a street dog my leftover dinner- beans and bread
5. watching a Mayan marriage blessing at a 464 yr old altar
6. everything about the volcano
7. learning old Guatemalan recipes in a cooking class
8. listening to music in our headphones and drinking Chilean wine on the balcony of the hotel on the last night
9. skimming across the lake in the boat from San Pedro back to Panajachel
10. my chicken sandwich after arriving in Antigua. yum.
Me encanta a la Guatemala.