Writing this blog is reminiscent of looking through an old photo album. Not the edited, curated Facebook kind, but the old school kind, with tangible, malleable photographs that elicit nostalgia with every turn of the page.
Over a year on, there is a certain joy in being able to dive back into my memory, flick through my notebook and take myself back to the days when the biggest thing I had to worry about was where I was going to get my afternoon pina colada from.
So after an incredible, soul changing month in Vietnam, it’s time to delve back into the those Latin America adventures…all the way back to April 2016.
– Antigua, Guatemala –
After spending the last week surrounded by lush, dense jungle and picturesque flowing streams, it was a delightful change to find myself in the historic city of Antigua.
Sitting proudly as the capital of Guatemala, Antigua has all the charm of a European town, with its cobblestone streets and Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture, paired with the soul of Meso America.
Oh, did I mention it’s also surrounded by volcanos and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site?
After venturing down from Semuc Champey with Lizzie and Joe, we checked into our rooms at El Hostal and headed straight for lunch at Rincon Tipico, for what has to be the most incredible roast chicken I have ever had.
Cooked over charcoals, within a huge rotisserie oven that sits within a restaurant constantly packed with locals, the chicken is juicy, flavoursome and succulent, and comes with an array of sides, all for about $5. Let’s just say we went back here more than once.
For a relatively small town, there is a lot to do within and around Antigua. From the big handicraft market, to the chocolate factory (who likes free tours with free samples!) to the local hotel with an incredible collection of live-in macaws, there’s plenty to occupy your day, even before you’ve had a chance to step foot outside the city limits.
Make sure you reserve a morning or an afternoon to just flip flop your way around the streets, taking in the colours, the sights and the sounds. And have your camera ready for the wide range of festively decorated chicken buses that will no doubt gas you to death when they drive past.
Beyond the city walls, make sure you catch the shuttle (from said macaw hotel) to the Santo Domingo del Cerro, a free sculpture park located in the hills over looking the city. Various Guatemalan artists were commissioned to create the sculptures that now dot the grounds, including “Guatemala’s Picasso” and one of their most beloved artists, Efrain Recinos.
Not only does it have incredible views towards two of the surrounding volcanos – Fuego and Volcan de Agua, but if you’re feeling a bit daring, you can also take a ride on the zipline, visit the aviary or even get married in the on-site chapel.
One activity I must insist you partake in while in Antigua is to hike up to Cerro de la Cruz – a cross that sits atop a mountain to the side of town with sweeping views over the city, including an unobstructed view of Volcan Agua. Head there in the morning before it gets too hot or too busy and enjoy a bit of quiet solitude with a view.
After a couple of nights at El Hostal, and with the arrival of my British troops, I moved to Tropicana Hostel, a notorious party hostel in the centre of town. I was from here that I “decided” (ie. convinced) to do one of the hardest treks of my non-existent hiking career.
Trekking up Volcan Acatenango is a challenging but beautiful trek, that takes you up one of the highest Volcanoes in Guatemala. For a night you will camp at almost 4,000 meters at the base of the summit, with (weather dependent) spectacular views of the very active Volcano Fuego.
I would say that I was moderately fit when I left for Mexico, but after six weeks where exercise consisted of nothing more than strolling the streets and rum & pineapple bicep curls, my endurance was slightly diminished.
I won’t lie, I struggled. This is not for the fainthearted. And choosing to take this challenge with a bunch of 25 year old guys was both slightly embarrassing but also somewhat motivating. But with a bit of sweat, and a lot of volcanic dirt I made it! That summit sunrise, hilarious campfire dinners, loo with a view and a rather interesting tenting situation were worth that temporary pain.
Nothing in life will really compare to sitting on one volcano while watching another erupt in the distance.
Do/See: Volcan Acatenango
Handicraft and food markets
Santo Domingo del Cerro
Cerro del la Cruz hike
Stay: Tropicana Hostel