They say Monday is a difficult day. For us it was anything but: in five short hours we transferred, pain-free, from Granada, Nicaragua to Antigua, Guatemala. Another day – another country.
Antigua met us with a small eruption from Fuego Volcano, which, as we learned, is a daily thing and not a big deal. Earthquakes are completely different beasts: the city suffered a few devastating shakes, one of which, a couple of hundreds of years ago, put an end to Antigua being the colonial capital of Guatemala. There are several ruins of churches and monasteries left from that time. Otherwise, it’s a colorful and beautiful city with well-preserved colonial houses. It was pleasant to stroll about.
Cycling, on the other hand, was impossible: all streets are paved with cobblestones. I had to push my Brompton to the beginning of the asphalt just outside the city on my way to Guatemala City. The ride wasn’t as hard as I anticipated: after 12 km going continuously up, I was mostly rolling down for the rest of the way. Though the last 10 km were not pleasant at all as there was no shoulder to ride on, heavy traffic, and thick smoke coming out of the ever so colorful chicken busses.
Our only outing coincided with International Women’s Day with its manifestations, flags, and banners. The city itself was as bland as other capitals of Central America we visited – though allegedly more dangerous. On the upside, we stayed at the swanky Intercontinental.
We fret about the trip to Tikal for a while: we changed the dates and the flights a couple of times, we changed the hotels, we mulled over whether to go to the ruins at sunset or sunrise. Eventually, we set our minds and we arrived in Tikal – the ruins of one of the largest cities of the Mayan civilization.
Shortly after our arrival, we hopped on a sunset tour. Our guide led us through the jungle and archeological park towards viewing point in an area called the Lost World. On the way, he fed us some facts about the history of this ancient city and its rediscovery hundreds of years after it was abandoned. He also played the role of photographer. Despite the thunder heard along the way, when we reached the top of the pyramid, the skies cleared and we actually witnessed a beautiful sunset. To our surprise, there weren’t many people jostling for a perfect picture, so it was quite enjoyable.
Although we decided to skip the sunrise tour the following day, we still got up early and entered the site once it opened. The sun rose, of course, but behind a wall of clouds, so we were grateful we weren’t part of the group who got up at 4am to catch the sunrise. It was delightful to walk all alone through an awakening jungle full of animal noises. We saw numerous spider monkeys jumping from tree to tree, we crossed paths with a coati, we walked by ocellated turkeys, and Julie finally saw a toucan.
When we wound up at the top of Temple IV, all the non-visible sunrise watchers were gone and we had the place to ourselves. In a few hours, we dropped by all excavated structures, mostly before the tourist groups arrived. Thus, the only annoyance was the mosquitos who weren’t repelled at all by the thick layer of repellent.
Even though it didn’t take us long to roam around, the site is impressive and the jungle setting is amazing. Glad we came!
These weeks in numbers:
66 km – distance cycled
321 – restaurants in Antigua, according to TripAdvisor
1773 – the year Santa Marta earthquake destroyed much of the Antigua
1776 – the year the capital of Guatemala was moved to its present location
4,409 – homicides in Guatemala during 2017
15% – of Tikal is excavated