Given the very shrewd advice of Hotel Don Pedro (a cheaper version of the LP recommended Casa D’Acuna, 1 block away), we left Coban at 8:30 AM by huffing it 15 minutes to the North Terminal to catch “Mario!”’s mini-bus to Uspantan. Bus Terminals are any open dirt area where vehicles can gather without blocking the road (too much) and someone yelling at you “where you are going” – not that you’d understand that in Spanish, but your destination is the expected response. Usually they then yell out a driver’s name so he knows he has a few more suckers to squeeze into his already dangerously overcrowded vehicle.
After a scenic drive (along the now thankfully mostly paved road) and an overnight in Santa Cruz Del Quiche (yuck), we arrived at Panajachel on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan and stayed in a cute Hotel Jere with a balcony, sliver of a lake view, and private bath for $20. The lake is an enormous volcanic crater almost 10 miles wide which drops off quickly to 300 meters deep. Subsequent volcanic activity formed three volcanoes that surround the lake.
On New Years Eve, we spent a beautifully sunny day on a public boat tour (75Q pp) to three lake side towns. In the first town, San Pedro, we finally found a real coffee roaster and great lattes in a coffee producing Guatemala. It was quite a day, just wandering thru these small towns and cruising below the three volcanoes. Check out the video we took cruising around the lake (5Meg WMV file).
Ringing in the New Year on the shore of Lake Atitlan was truly amazing. Guatemalans have a great love of fireworks, and Americans do too: we watched an American family light a great display of pyrotechnics, culminating with a string of 10,000 firecrackers. At the stroke of midnight we sat at the edge of the lake and watched the spectacular displays going off all around the lake: really quite breathtaking.
We moved on to Antigua, an old colonial town, which used to be the capital of all of Central America. Some say it is the most beautiful in Guatemala and we’d have to agree. Unfortunately, since they are located in a seismic area, most of the old churches are either completely destroyed or show some evidence of damage. However, their staunch preservation of these helps to make the town fascinating and endearing.
Quite possibly one of the most amazing tours we have done thus far was the afternoon Pacaya Volcano tour. We traveled just south of Guatemala City to one of the three active volcanoes in the country. After a 1.5 hour hike uphill, we were amazed (and terrified) to be able to stand on top of the 2 month old active flows. The heat is intense (although it was FREEZING on the way up and down – be prepared with layers and a flashlight) and the footing treacherous. Bring thick soled shoes – hiking boots – we witnessed lesser soles that melted. We have two videos: one of the flow from the side actually showing a girl roasting marshmallows over the lava (7.5Meg WMV file) and one showing the nice shots of the active moving lava (6Meg WMV file).
Next stop the Copan ruins and the capital Tegucigalpa in The Honduras.