I had a truly unforgettable experience traveling all around Guatemala with my little sister, Jessi. We started off in Guatemala City and on our first day we checked out the main square, the cathedral, and the huge market. We also got to explore the wonderful little zoo there which was a ton of fun. After Guatemala City, we flew to Flores and from there took a taxi to Tikal. Tikal is the forgotten city of the Ancient Mayans and is absolutely breathtaking. It is massive and awe-inspiring what this ancient civilization accomplished. We also got to see some great wildlife in Tikal, especially some very interesting birds. After Tikal we went back to Flores, went swimming in Lago de Peten Itza and explored the island town.
Once we were done in Flores, we went to the beautiful Semuc Champey. Though hard to get to, Semuc Champey is well worth it. Semuc Champey is a string of beautiful limestone pools that contain the bluest water I’ve ever seen. There is a breathtaking lookout that allows one to look down at the pools and you can see right through the water. We met some really fun fellow travelers in Semuc which was awesome. We left Semuc Champey with one of our new friends and headed to the Rio Dulce. We stayed at a hostel that was right on Lake Izabel and spent the next day kayaking around, checking out the abundant birdlife and a fortress built at the mouth of the river to protect the trade that flowed along the river from pirates.
Next, we traveled by bus to the amazing city of Antigua. Antigua is a completely colonial town with cobblestone streets, brightly painted buildings, and is surrounded by volcanoes, some active. One of the unique traits of Antigua is the ruins of churches that are pretty much on every corner. Being surrounded by volcanoes has had its impact on Antigua, as it has caused numerous earthquakes that have partially destroyed the city. It seems that the churches have specifically been affected by these and they were never fully restored. Most of these churches are now museums and we spent a full day just exploring Antigua and these churches. One that really stood out to me was this beautiful nunnery that was partially destroyed by earthquakes, where the nuns, who were admitted when they were about fourteen years old, never had contact to the outside world again. They were served food and water through a turntable device and spent their time praying in what looks like jail cells. There is also an amazing look out over Antigua that will simply take your breath away. It was in a small village just a couple minutes out of Antigua San Juan Del Obispo that I had the privilege to volunteer at a small school for underprivileged kids. Niños del Mundo under Guatemala Missions Executive Director Bishop Joseph F.Catrambone.
I only spent a couple of days with these kids but even I can tell you that they need our help. We helped build a garden near the school so that they have access to fresh vegetables and a healthier lifestyle. I had a great time getting to know these kids and the teachers who work so hard to help them. The Directors name is Leonel Aragon. Unfortunately, we had to leave the adorable kids to continue our trip. Our next destination was Lake Atitlan, which is surrounded by several villages and three volcanoes. We had a great time hiking from village to village around the lake, but my favorite part was touring a coffee farm on horseback. I learned a ton about coffee, from the different varieties, how it’s de-shelled and dried, and so much more.
We returned to Antigua after our wonderful time at Lake Atitlan and were lucky enough to see some of the processions for Lent. We also got to climb Pacaya, which is one of the volcanoes in the area. At the top, we got to roast marshmallows from a hole on the ground that vented some really hot air. That was an experience! Sadly, my time in Guatemala came to an end and I flew back to my home state of Arizona. My trip to Guatemala was one of those life experiences that one never forgets. I shall always dream of returning one day!