Guatemala Travel Podcast. Conscious Travel in Green Land

Guatemala Travel Podcast. Conscious Travel in Green Land

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It's travel Tuesday and today  we are off to Guatemala.  Well known as an Unesco world site thanks  to the beautiful town of Antigua, Guatemala,   known as the land of trees, with over  35 volcanos including 11 active ones   is another great destination  to visit in central America.,  I travelled there in a different way,  I hired a Responsible Travel tour agent   who crafted the whole itinerary for  me, they are called Beyond Tourism,   you will have to listen until the end to know if  I recommend them and maybe get a discount code.  This episode is not sponsored, and even if it was,  I always give my most honest opinion. I always  

plan my trips on my own but sometimes work gets  in the way, and we simply don’t find the time,   so it is very useful to have a tour guide as long  as it is not one of those big tourists’ buses   with 50 people in it, that it is something  I will definitely never do, no offence. So we started in Guatemala City where our guide  and driver for the rest of the trip was waiting   for us to take us to our hotel for the night. The city is reputed to be dangerous,   but again like everywhere, you will  be fine walking during the day in the   historical district and not venturing where  you shouldn’t. I didn’t feel unsafe at all,  

if anything people are more curious than  anything malicious, in my personal experience.  Good place to start it is the national palace,  it is situated right in the centre of the country   then they take you to this place that shows you a  typography map of all the volcanos in the country,   super interesting to understand all  the places you are going to visit. And then, of course, it is time for  a market visit and eat some food.  60% of the population is Mayan and 22  languages, with Spanish as the main one,   are spoken in the country with 25 different  dialects, so imagine how diverse the food is.  When someone says to me Mayan food,  I immediately think about Mexico,   and the ingredients were very similar. A bit of a unique street food experience   is from these shepherds with their goats standing  in the streets who serve milk straight from the   goat, and people drink it fresh and warm. That  was not for me, firstly I do not drink milk  

and definitely not straight from a goat looking  at me…but yeah, if that your thing, go for it,   it is organic after all, haha. Ok, back to solid  food, the place to visit is Mercado Central,   not only for the food but also for everything  else, clothes, crafts, fruits, vegetables   and so on. To eat they have corn tortillas,  chicharron, all sort of tacos and tostadas,   Pepian (a Guatemalan stew), guacamole, coffee and  chocolate (the best in central America actually). So what are the top things  to see and do in Guatemala?  In one sentence, the top 3 are Lake  Atitlan, Antigua and Tikal with little   gems in between. Spoiler, I did not  go to Tikal ruins but opted for the  

other little gem instead. Now let’s dive deeper. Firstly, you can explore most of  the sites in the space of 8/10 days,   but I wish I stayed longer, so if you have  2 weeks, you should make the most of it,   especially because it takes a while to get  around due to the windy mountain roads. And   the best time to travel is November to April, I  was there around Xmas time for about 8 full days. Number 1: Lake Atitlan After exploring Guatemala City for an afternoon,   our guide took us for a 3h drive the next morning  down to the city of Panajachel which is one of the   main hubs to start your lake adventures.  It is the central point for most people  

to get on boats and travel to the many villages  surrounding the lake. You can logistically drive,   but it is quicker and apparently safer to  cross by boat and it gives the best views.  From there we took a scenic boat ride across Lake  Atitlan (about 30min) to the village of San Juan   La Laguna where we women’s cooperative that make  textiles and source the cotton fabric locally and   dies it with natural product such as clay and  plants, products are of very nice quality. It  

is also a village full of artists and you can  visit the studios / homes of local painters. After that we went to the village of  Santiago where we visited Maximon, a Mayan   God that smokes and drinks and learn about the  spiritualism and beliefs of the T’zutujil Maya.  The visit consists into going into  a suspicious alleyway at the back of   the village, and there is shrine where you can  provide offerings, the shrine is protected by   guardians who makes sure everything is protected  and respected around the tradition, the statue is   taken out during semana santa  for a folkloric ceremony. San Marco is very cool, hippie village. If  you are looking to find your spiritual self,  

that is probably the place haha. They organise  meditation retreats, yoga retreats, Temezcal   ceremonies (Mayan cleansing under a sweaty  hut, like a steam room but inside a rock, very   intense experience but I do recommend it, done  it in Mexico, you feel so great afterwards and   chanting from the shaman is so beautiful) ,  all food is vegan, a lot of shamans fake or   real… anyway, I did like it, it was interesting,  if you are into this kind of things. Of course,   you can imagine, it is very…international… I would  say, so not the place to immerse in the culture.  I mean, spirituality is my thing, but I don’t like  extremes, I like a bit of a balance, especially in   a new country so I would spend a few days there  maybe for a yoga retreat for example and then   take all the steam off in San Pedro La Laguna. Just joking here of course, but that village is   known to be party central; it is where all the  hostels, many bars and most restaurants are. 

Actually, I didn’t go there myself, but  if you want to be active and looking to   hike a volcano, San Pedro la Laguna is the  place to be. I just had my dose of volcanoes   in Nicaragua and didn’t feel like climbing  another one. However, I am off to Indonesia soon,   so this type of things will be back on the list,  your girl got to get that epic sunrise picture.

Number 2: Semuc Champey and Tikal The second thing that Guatemala is famous for is   Tikal National Park, I didn’t really have time for  this, but I do recommend it. It is a spectacular   Mayan Ruins with temple scattered around the  jungle, it is an unesco world heritage site,   you can even encounter jaguars sometimes and the  setting surrounding it sounds out of this world.  However, on the road to Tikal, there  is a little gem called Semuc Champey,   which are natural pools in the Lanquin region.  This is a 6-7h drive from Atitlan, so we   stayed about 3 days there exploring the area. First of all, It is the chocolate producing area   of the country, so you should definitely book  a tour to get some education on cacao beans or   just enjoy all the chocolate by booking a  specialised cooking class, the recommended   place for that is at the Utopia Eco Lodge. Then get up early the next morning for a drive   up the rocky mountain roads, for a little  hike, observe natural pools of turquoise   water from the highest viewpoint and  then jump into the mini waterfalls,   not from the viewpoint… obviously…you  will have to hike back down for that. 

So let me describe this: you will have to walk  down super steep stairs and you will get to the   base of the river but the unique thing about  this place, the translation of Semuc Champey,   means river that flows beneath the earth. And the  water that is on the surface comes from a hole   in the mountain that form these pools who then  flow into this massive river flowing underneath,   I hope it is not too confusing, but pictures  are on my website. It’s truly incredible and   beautiful landscape, would make a really cool  shot to fly a drone there. And these pools of   water are of a stunning shade of light green and  dark blue sapphire, especially when the sun is out   helping to reveal the deep colour and you also  have little fishes that come to eat those dead   skin under your feet, no need to go to those  fish tank where everyone else put their feet in,   especially in the current climate… It was a fun day out for sure.

There is also a tour in a dark cave that  you can do holding a candle that doesn’t   look like it would be lasting until the end  of the activity, but I was not interested   since a very traumatic canyoning trip back when  I was living in Mexico, more on that very soon. Number 3: Antigua After all that adrenaline,   it was time for a good night sleep and leave the  next morning to the other famous spot to visit,   beautiful, colourful Antigua. It used to be  the capital pretty much the whole of central   America. There is a very rich history linked to  the Spanish inquisition that was in place there  

as well as several colonial churches which  have now been turned into stunning hotels.  For example, our hotel was located in  an old Covent with a stunning garden,   and each room had its unique style. I think this is one of my favourite   cities in the world, I know I say that a lot,  but Antigua is a mix of colourful houses with   these amazing wooden crafted doors, with beautiful  cobble streets and a surprise at every corners.   I just loved how you had all the mystery doors  that would lead to some hidden houses, hotels,   bars or restaurant courtyards with  live music and super delicious food.  What I did for dinner was just getting lost  in the city at night following live music,   looking at a restaurant menu that would look  attractive and then discovering a couple   of speakeasy bars. There is a wine bar hidden  under an arch that I really liked it was called   Tabacos y Vinos and also remember great cocktails  Café No Se, if you like Mezcal, this is the place   to be and it stays open late into the early hours… Even walking through the touristic sites such   as churches, cemeteries, colonial houses is a  beautiful experience with so many opportunities   to take pictures, amongst those I recommend  a visit to the Mayan Jade Museum. The green  

colour of jade is the symbol of Guatemala and  the stone used to be a mean of exchange in the   past along with the currency, Quetzal. The museum  takes you through the whole history and you still   have workers inside cutting stones, it also  has a beautiful garden to relax over a drink. How do they made the tour  sustainable and if I recommend them?  The elements that made this tour sustainable  is that firstly it is relatively affordable,   I cannot quote a price here because  it depends on how long you want to   stay and also the level of luxury you request. The owners have visited the countries themselves,   so they are experts and are in contact with local  agencies that will send local guides and drivers   which makes for the best conversations and tales. For accommodation, we stayed at Eco lodges and  

local owned family B&B that employ people from  the area and source their food from the vicinity   or literally their back gardens. For example, in  the hotel we stayed at in Lake Atitlan they grow   their own coffee at the back of the property and  a diversity of fruits and vegetables, so you can a   proper farm to table breakfast when you wake up. The tour takes you to try the food in markets   to eat the same things as the locals. For  example, we also stopped by a local market   on our way to Atitlan, a couple hours  outside of town, they sell local crafts,   clothes, natural products such as face mask  made of clay coming from the local volcanos,   anti-muscle pain creams made of local  plants. And you will pay the normal price,   no need to bargain, you have to be in the  known because it’s only open twice a week. 

And of course, tours of clothes making factories  that uses natural product to die the fabric   shows the interest in sustainability. Also, the fact that we are taken to   see the spiritualism to understand  the country and different tradition   is a good way to let us immerse into  the culture and understand boundaries. Yes, I completely recommend using The Beyond  Tourism Company. All the transfers and tours   were private, accommodations were of exceptional  choice and the communication with Simon,   one of the founders was outstanding. You could ask  any questions and he would kindly respond, even   before I had fully paid and confirmed the trip,  he was always there to respond to any questions   and not putting any sales pressures at all. He was  even suggesting and capable to arrange a transfer   from the San Cristobal, a border town in Mexico,  where I was planning to be at the time. But I  

ended up arranging my own flights from Mexico  City due to changes in my plans and itinerary.  Even when you are in location you are given  a local contact if there are any issues,   in any case you can also ask your very  knowledgeable assigned guide or driver.  I am planning a trip to Ecuador soon  and this is who I will be going with.  So, if you are interested in exploring  further what Beyond Tourism has to offer,   I have linked their website in the description  and don’t forget to fill in the form so I cand   send you the code to get a discount on your  first booking, no need to be based in the UK.  Feel free to fill in the form with  any other questions you may have.

Now some practical tips: Money: Guatemala is relatively cheap compared   to the rest of central America, especially Costa  Rica. They use Quetzales, a currency represented   by a bird. They take USD but probably better  to have the local currency, as I mentioned in   the Peru episode, things will be cheaper if you  have cash. Use a card that allows to take cash  

abroad such as Revolut and always use ATMs inside  big bank branches, don’t use random ATMs on the   street. The good thing about Revolut is that you  can load the money you need, take the cash out   and then freeze the card until you need it again.  As a result, nobody can copy your card number and   try to pay for things online with it, this feature  has saved me money many times during my travels. Getting around: fly into Guatemala City is the  only airport and then you can take a shuttle or   hire a driver or even uber to take you around  the country but it takes a long time to drive   because the roads are windy and can give  you motion sickness on top of the altitude   sickness. That was definitely a great advantage  of having an experienced driver through the trip  

as he was a local guy who knew the roads very  well and he had a well-maintained car. Lucky for   me too, because on top of the altitude sickness,  I had a stomach bug, surely caused by one of my   adventurous trip into a local dive bar… let’s  just say I couldn’t wait to get out of that car. I have heard of people renting cars, the  roads are fine, just a lot of speed bumps   here and then. If you want to do that,  you will need an international driver  

permit and car rental insurance. Don’t  waste your money on the insurance that   they try to sell you at the counter of the  car rental company, you can get this type   insurance here in the UK for like £90 a year. There are many other ways you can get rental   car insurance as part of your travel  insurance, but this will take a whole   podcast to explain. Drop me an email if you  are interested and I will send the guide. Safety: as I said earlier, it felt safe, you  must be cautious like in any other big cities   in Europe or the States. The advice stands  the same for all Latin America, do not get   involved in drugs, prostitutions or any other  trafficking and you will have a peaceful trip. What to pack: the weather is Spring  like in the middle of the country,   but it was a bit cold at night in the highlands.  So, I will for sure take the usual hiking boots,  

combo trousers, my favourite Patagonia jacket,  sun cream, sunglasses, hat and obviously the   camera. For the rest, you can find  most thing locally, if you get cold,   you can get a poncho, a scarf etc at the market  and it makes a great souvenir to bring back. Well, that’s it, I hope you get the chance  to visit that amazing country but if not,   forward this podcast to your friends, I  am sure there is someone who will want   to go. But leave a review telling me where  you want to go so we can start a dialogue.

In the next episode, we are going to  Mexico with very interesting guests,   so press follow and here is a quote from  Dolores Cannon to keep motivated until then. Don’t be afraid of shining a light. Don’t be afraid of being powerful.  Don’t be afraid of being more special. There are no limitations, unless you   create them yourselves. Anything is possible. 

You are only limited by your own imagination.

2023-06-14 12:26

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