Tikal ended up being my absolute FAVORITE temple site of all the sites on the Ancient Mayan trail. It’s less visited by tourist, so the surrounding jungle is still intact and you get more of an authentic experience trekking through the trees to find the temples. The centerpiece is the giant, ceremonial Mundo Perdido “Lost World” Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. Sitting at the top of the temples, you can see the other pyramids sticking out from above the trees. It’s a mystical and awe inspiring site!
Lake Atitlán and Volcano
Lake Atitlán is a beautiful lake created from a volcanic crater in the middle of the hills. Surrounded by indigenous villages and volcanos, we started our tour actually climbing one of the volcanos! It was a little scary when our tour guide blatantly ignored the sign that said “do not pass this point, dangerous to proceed” but he seemed confident that we would be okay venturing that close to the volcano. We got so close to the lava that I could see the heat waves in the air above me. I tossed an empty water bottle into the moving river of lava below me to see it fissile bright blue and disappear. This was one of the most exciting experiences of my life, for sure.
Indigenous Villages around lake
After playing around on the volcano we visited some of the Mayan villages and the town of Panajachel where they sell traditional textiles. We also went to the Solola market and the Santiago market. I loved the Santiago market because it was so colorful and we got to try on some of the woven huipiles and headwear they were making on site. The little girls in the village had never seen curly hair and were obsessed with trying to braid mine.
Other than the volcano, my favorite experience in Guatemala was riding the chicken busses in-between towns. They are called chicken busses because there are actual chicken passengers that ride along with you (both on the seats and on your head). And the best part is how seriously the drivers take decorating their buses. The buses themselves are just regular school buses, but the owners deck them out in bright colors and decorations. Usually, the buses go really slow especially on the narrow mountain roads, but occasionally you will get two drivers who want to race each other! It’s hilarious. I wish I had a chicken bus travel around in back home.
Finally, we ended our trip in Antigua. Also surrounded by volcanos, Antigua is known for its romantic architecture and brightly colored churches. There’s always music playing on the street and lots of great espresso shops. We went to the famous music dive, Café No Sé where they sell their own brand of mezcal and bring in some of the best musicians in the Guatemala. We stayed at the Casa Santo Domingo to be centrally located to all the sightseeing and enjoy the pool in the late afternoons. The service was fantastic and the hotel itself has a great atmosphere. I highly recommend it if you get a chance to visit Antigua!