After finishing our Spanish course, we were both wiped out for a few days with stomach bugs which held us up in Antigua for a lot longer than expected. When we finally got our energy back, we launched straight in to tackling Volcana Pacaya. We were pretty unlucky with the weather so we couldn’t actually see the sunrise after a long two hour trek to the top, but it was still amazing being on top of an active volcano. We could even roast marshmallows in the hot rocks!
Last Tuesday, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from the beautiful Antigua and headed to Lake Atilan. All of the Guatemalan tourist guides we’ve had have pitched Atitlan as a number one highlight and everyone we’ve met has told us how incredible it is. Driving in through the winding mountain roads, the vast lake surrounded by picturesque volcanoes was certainly awe-inspiring.
When we arrived, however, things weren’t quite as good.
San Pedro, the town we stayed in, is completely overrun by tourism. The entire population of the town seems to be made up either of backpackers or of extremely drunk locals, along with a hell of a lot of litter. It was also easy to see why everyone who’d been there had such fond, fuzzy memories of the place. We were offered cocaine about five times on our first day there. But even the nightlife was nothing special. Past 11pm, the whole place was just overrun with hippies on a high. Not our kind of place.
We ended up hanging around Atitlan longer than we would have liked, simply to make sure we could go to the Sunday Chicicastenango markets. Highlights included a beautiful sunrise hike up one of the volcanoes, exploring the villages around the lakes and a lovely new bunch of Irish friends who made our time more enjoyable than it might have been. We were also hoping to paraglide on the lake but, unfortunately, the wind was going in the wrong direction the entire time we were there.
The largest markets in Guatemala, however, were well worth hanging around for. Even just to experience the hecticness of thousands of tiny Guatemalans pushing their way through the crowds with turkeys and chickens crammed into plastic bags. Because everyone here is so small, it was a surreal experience crashing our way through the market like giants.
The cemeteries were also fascinating, beautiful brightly coloured tombstones and memorials perched on the hillside.
Despite the Chichi markets, we won’t be sorry to leave Atitlan tomorrow and head up to Rio Dulce and Livingston.