Xela and Antigua
We spent 2 more weeks in Xela taking Spanish lessons and doing small trips in its surroundings. Afterwards we headed to Antigua to begin our trip through the rest of Guatemala and Central America.
Our Spanish lessons ended up working out pretty well. We couldn’t really communicate in the beginning but now our Spanish is good enough for a lot of every day stuff (directions, ordering in restaurant, etc.) and we can hold a basic conversation. However, we underestimated how exhausting 4-5 hours of one-on-one Spanish classes are, so we didn’t end up doing as much in our free time as we thought we would.
One of our trips was an excursion from our school to one of the biggest markets in the area called San Francisco El Alto. All the streets in town were crammed with vendors on market day and you can buy anything from livestock to electronics to clothing. In the middle of the town is a quaint little church with an accessible rooftop that overlooks some of the frantic market below it.
On one of the weekends we climbed the biggest Volcano near Xela: Volcán Santa María. The climb was very strenuous, 4000 ft in ~3 miles, and the trail was in very bad condition in a lot of areas. The view from the top is supposed to be great. On a clear day you can see the almost constant eruption of Santiaguito and even the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, when we made it to the top we were covered in clouds and couldn’t see anything the entire time despite spending a couple of hours on the summit. It was also sad to see that a lot of the trail was completely littered in trash. There were a few American teachers who had taken their Guatemalan students on the hike specifically to educate them about the environment and litter, and they had the kids pick up trash. We attempted to help them out a bit, but it felt like a drop in the bucket. Once we reached the trailhead, we saw that the sky had cleared up–frustrating.
Most days in Xela we cooked one meal at home and ate out for the other which is pretty affordable at usually 3 USD per person. Our favorite place to grab lunch is called Huehuetecas. The daily menu changes every day and the place is always crowded with locals. One night we took a Guatemalan cooking class in Xela and learned how to prepare Chile Rellenos.
The last weekend we took a trip to nearby Lake Atitlan and stayed in San Pedro de Laguna for 2 nights. It’s a small, laid back tourist town on the lake and we had a great time relaxing there. We rented a room on Airbnb that had a great view over the lake and a huge terrace with hammocks.
We spent our last night in Xela at Cafe Panorama. Strangely enough it is a Swiss restaurant (they even have Raclette and Fondue) on a hill that overlooks the city. It was bittersweet to leave Xela. We enjoyed our time there a lot and this will be the last time that we spend this much time in one spot for quite a while.
We left Xela for Antigua at 8am and arrived there by 1pm. We booked a shuttle through Adrenalina Tours, although a chicken bus would have been the cheaper option for this route, it would have taken a few bus changes–something we try to avoid when we are traveling with our larger packs. For Megan, Antigua was love at first sight. The colonial architecture, bright colors, cobbled streets, and volcano backdrop lead to romantic atmosphere. We rented a room in an AirBnB which essentially had the same set up as a hostel–multiple rooms to rent and everyone shares the kitchen, living space, and bathrooms. It was ideally located, clean, and the other people staying there were lovely. One of the first things we did in Antigua was look up the location of a place we were recommended to ship packages outside of Guatemala. As there is currently no working postal service in Guatemala, one is forced to use private companies, who with a monopoly on the situation are known to quote up to $200 USD to ship a small package to America. We heard through word of mouth of a small startup in Antigua, UTZ Market, who has an internet marketplace for local artists can send things for much cheaper, we sent a 3lb package to America for approximately $20. They were a bit difficult to find and seemed confused at first that we were there, but super appreciative that the word is getting out.
While many people hike the nearby volcanoes from Antigua, it can take a long time to reach them, so we decided our time was better spent enjoying the city. We walked to Cerro de la Cruz to have a panorama view of the city. During one of the evenings, we went to a rooftop bar to enjoy the sunset.
Since this was a proper tourist bar, we only ordered rounds of their cheapest beer. We decided to save up and splurge on dinner–proper Texas BBQ. This place was on-point and better BBQ than many that we’ve had in a lot of places in the US…