We left Belize early on a Sunday morning to cross over the border. This crossing was actually pretty easy – nobody cared about Leika, and they even made copies for us rather than having us run to the next copy shop, after pressing them a little. As we left the border, the roads were amazingly great: no potholes, no speedbumps, all of a sudden we could travel at speed (60mph)!
In the afternoon we got to Tikal, but despite our repeated pleading we weren’t allowed to enter the park with Leika – we literally tried for an hour and half. We ended up camping at a nearby hotel, and then entered first thing the next morning at 6am with Leika hidden behind our seats. Again, showing up early at the tourist sites proved to be a great strategy, as we had the whole place to ourselves. We wandered around the ruins for about 2 hours, and watched as the sun was gradually burning off the fog. The ruins of Tikal were the most impressive that we have seen so far.
After this early morning start, we ran into Mona and Jan again and then started driving south. Our next stop was near Rio Dulce, where we had heard of a natural hot waterfall. It was a full day of driving to get out of the remote area of Peten, and we arrived at our next camp spot pretty tired. The next morning, we walked up the path to the waterfall, only a five minute walk. Quite amazingly, it’s at the confluence of a cold and a hot stream, so you can shower under hot water while swimming in a cold pool. We were warned of lots of theft in the area and to not leave our things unattended so only one of us would go in at a time. We also had heard that you could jump from the top of the waterfall but we weren’t quiet certain in which spot. When Nikki started to climb up to see if she could find the spot, she turned around in horror not 4 feet up the path… “toads about 5 inches tall blocked the path”…
Further on, we had read about the Candelaria Cave system, similar to the caves we have visited in Belize. The place is a lot less touristy (we were the only ones there), so we quickly found a guide to take us through some of the caves. In the end we went cave tubing for a second time.
After a few weeks of heat in the lowlands of the Yucatan, we finally got back to some higher elevations and more temperate weather. We stopped in Coban (where it supposedly rains 13 months per year – true from what we could tell) and then headed on to Lanquin and Semuc Champey, which is claimed to be one of the tourist attractions in Guatemala that are not to be missed. It’s a suspended limestone formation with a roaring river underneath and tranquil pools on top. It’s quite a sight to see the river disappear under the rock and resurface a few hundred meters further, although we ended up a bit underwhelmed by the guidebook descriptions. However, the hostel where we found a camping spot had some amazing international food, which we had sorely missed after eating tortillas every day in Mexico. We’d heard that the road from Lanquin to Semuc Champey, about 10km, was ONLY suitable for high clearance, 4×4’s and after some thought, we opted to take public transport. We figured that we have a lot more miles to put on our puppy so why push our luck? In hindsight, the road would have been completely doable in our Sprinter but no harm except for Jakob’s bruised ego.
We drove back past Coban, with plans to get to western Guatemala the next day. The grass on our camp spot for the night was completely soaked, and Jakob’s approach (“let’s just see if it works”) turned out to be one of his worse ideas. 2 hours later, we got the Sprinter out of the mud, but not until somebody pulled us out with a heavy-duty 4×4. In light of this, we discussed if our plan to drive the “highway to hell” the next day was a bad idea. The “highway to hell” is the dirt road between Coban and Uspantan that is prone to mudslides whenever it rains. “No, we should be totally fine! If it gets sketchy, we’ll turn around.” Off we went the next day, a little anxious and after about 1km we came upon an excavator cleaning up a recent mudslide. So, we kept going. We successfully made it to the end of the road. Lesson so far: the Sprinter is doing fine, as long as there’s no heavy rain / mud.
After successfully passing the “highway to hell”, Nebaj was our next stop. It’s in the Ixil region of Guatemala, an area with a horrific past where entire villages were wiped out during the civil war in the 1980s. What we found was a beautiful region that reminds of the Alps. We hiked out to some dairy farms run by Italian immigrants from the 1930s. People were extremely friendly, and we thought we were getting a lot fewer stares than usual as we would drive by.
With a quick stop in Todos Santos, we went for a hike to climb La Torre, the highest non-volcanic peak in the country at 3,800m. It’s really not a difficult hike given that you start at 400m below the peak. A local pastor let us park in front of his church, for which he refused to take any money.
We continued our trip further south to Quetzaltenango, where we visited hot springs and then met up with Heather & Dan to climb Santa Maria. They just put up some info on their blog about this hike – we’re the goats. What happened after that we covered in a prior blog post…
So after getting robbed, and getting things sort of back in order, we spent some time in Antigua and then in Lake Atitlan, where we spent 2 days just relaxing. We found a hostel run by a German who also bakes his own bread, which was an obvious purchase – really great and cheap! While in Atitlan, we debated what to do about our feelings of safety, as well as the rest of the trip. We decided to speed up through the rest of Central America, as the mountains of South America are really what we are excited about. We took off for the border, with the minor hickup of having to replace our rear brake pads which made us turn around and spend another day in Guatemala. The plan was to skip El Salvador and cross through Honduras.