Author Topic: Guatemalan Getaway  (Read 1508 times)

Offline ponash123

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Guatemalan Getaway
« on: February 16, 2021, 11:48:48 AM »
A mere 5-hour flight away, with beautiful weather, vistas aplenty, and fascinating culture, Guatemala is a no brainer for great winter getaway.
On Wednesday evening, we took a United direct flight, which was very smooth and comfortable, especially since the plane was very empty.
If flying international, be aware to give yourself an extra 40 minutes or so these days. There is a line where they are checking that you have the proper COVID paperwork in order, and it takes a while.

We landed in Guatemala City and proceeded immediately to Antigua, which is about an hour drive away.
We chose to stay at Casa Santa Domingo, which is a beautiful old hotel. Itís a converted monastery and ended up having a lot more religious items and decor than anticipated, which made me slightly uncomfortable. But it is a beautiful, inexpensive hotel, and has hard keys and only 1 floor which makes it great for Shabbos.
It is a 20-minute walk from Chabad, but itís a nice easy walk and a great opportunity to get a nice feel of the city.

Chabad of Antigua is a fabulous, all inclusive, warm and welcoming Chabad center. They have hotel suites, beautiful gardens, and a restaurant with delicious food. They also arrange tours of all kinds and can really be a one stop shop for your trip to Guatemala. 

Random point: upon just reviewing my credit card bill, I am noticing how incredibly cheap Uber (and everything!) is there.

View from our hotel balcony:


The streets in Antigua are cobblestone, so be aware if you are the sort of person that gets sick in the car.


Thursday /Friday:
We woke up at the crack of dawn on Thursday after just a couple of hours of sleep and headed to Chabad. We were doing the day and a half Acatenango hike, which had been planned through Chabad. We met up with our fellow Jewish travelers, gathered our food that they had prepared for us, and were soon on our way.  We werenít quite sure what we were in for but were excited for what lay ahead.

Acatenango is a beautiful volcano with an elevation of about 13,000 feet. Acatenango is dormant, and the goal of hiking it, aside from the spectacular views, is the crystal-clear view of neighboring, very active, Volcano Fuego.   
We drove for about an hour to the base, where we met up with the rest of our group and gathered our gear.
Due to Acatenangoís elevation, itís extremely cold in the upper parts of the volcano. For this reason, we bought many layers and warm clothing, in addition to our food.  We hired porters to carry our packs and were also able to rent walking sticks and windbreakers, which were quite helpful. Some people also rented horses to help with the climb. The tour company took care of tents and sleeping bags and set it up at camp prior to our arrival.

We travel like proper Jews. See our porter below carrying our Kosher pot.


We started off hiking and immediately decided that this was a terrible idea. You feel the altitude almost instantly, and the volcano is INCREDIBLY steep, which amounts to a lot of huffing and puffing.
The altitude, the steep incline, and loose rock make this an extremely physically challenging hike (I consider myself pretty fit).  We had rented horses, though I did do most of the hike on foot, I was able to hop on the horse every once in a while to catch my breath, which definitely helped.
Even the most fit find themselves stopping to catch their breaths every few minutes and the horses were panting. (Of course we had the ubiquitous Israel ex-chayal in our group who was running up the mountain in his shorts).
Itís beautiful and sunny, so we started off in thin layers and slowly added layers as we got higher and the wind picked up. It took us over 5 grueling hours to reach the summit, which included a couple of short stops.

As we neared the summit, we felt the increasingly cold temperatures, wind, and heavy fog, to the point where it was difficult to see around you. We finally reached our camp site, where the guides set up a fire, which was a sight for sore eyes.
We all kind of collapsed on the ground around the fire and stayed put for a while. We ate, had some tea, and rested up. Our little Jewish group enjoyed a Tu BíShvat party of dried fruits and nuts around the fire (and noted how apropos it was to be one with nature, quite literally, on this holiday 😊).

When we mustered up the energy to get up again, we headed to our tents, which were all pitched on a small ledge at the summit. In the distance we heard the rumble of Fuego but could see not a whit through the dense fog. Our guides said this weather was very unusual and seemed very pessimistic that we would actually see anything, which was about the most disheartening news Iíve heard in quite a while.
After the requisite grumbling and sulking at the weather, we settled into our thermal sleeping bags to get some sleep, as the temperature dropped, and the winds picked up. At around 10:30 PM, we heard the guides exclaiming and hurriedly climbed out (sweatshirts and shoes flying about in our excitement). The fog was clearing slightly and behold! There was Feugo before our eyes, in all its glory.

Seeing a volcano erupt was definitely a bucket list, once in a lifetime, am I really seeing this, kind of experience. It was surreal to hear the rumbling (and feel the ground vibrating beneath me!) and the ensuing boom, and then see lava spewing forth and flowing down the mountain. We all stood around for a while, shivering in the cold, and gasping each time the fog cleared and the volcano was in sight. We were able to make a bracha on it as well, which was nice (you learn new things every day!). At one point, it got so windy that I had to hold onto a nearby tree, but we stayed out until the fog got too dense again and visibility was down to nil.

We settled back into our tents for the night. This was quite a brutal experience, and not one I am keen to repeat. My whole body was shaking from cold, the wind was deafening, ripping through the tent and flapping furiously and noisily around. The thermal sleeping bag did do its job after some time, so the bottom half of our bodies were warm, but we were wearing layers, gloves, and hats on top. Between the cold, the hard ground, and the roaring, deafening wind, sleep was not really an option.
At about 5 AM, the guides woke everyone up for an optional hike to the peak to see sunrise. We chose not to partake, being that we hadnít slept a wink and the weather was so bad. It turned out that the group couldnít make it to the top either way because the wind was so strong that it became too dangerous.
We got up and out either way since the sky was completely clear at this point (Thank G-d!) and we wanted more views of the volcano while it was still dark. We were treated to some amazing eruptions, and then watched the magnificent sunrise from camp. After some time, we had a bit to eat and packed up our stuff to begin the trek down.

Hiking down the volcano is, in a sense, even harder than hiking up. Itís so incredibly steep and full of loose rock, that you have to hold yourself back at all times. We all took a couple of spills but eventually made our way down, shedding layers as we descended. After about 3 hours we reached the bottom, sweaty, blistered, filthy and exhausted. We proceeded to then drive back to Antigua after dropping off our coats, sticks and packs.
We arrived back at our hotel at about 1:00 PM. We showered, ate, and rested in bed for a couple of hours, until it was time to get ready for Shabbos.

Views from the hike:


Fog started rolling in:
on Flickr


We made it!



Home for the night:



VolcŠn de Fuego:








As it gets lighter, the view changes from red lava to smoke:


Shabbos:
We had a really nice and fun Shabbos with Chabad.
We only decided to do the hike a few days before. I probably would not have booked this hotel had I known, since itís a 20-minute walk and every bone in our bodies were aching, but it ended up turning out fine.
We had beautiful weather and since we didnít have much time in Antigua, this was a nice way of seeing the city.

On Motzei Shabbos, we packed up and drove to Lake AtitlŠn, which is about 2.5 hour drive from Antigua.
 
To be continued.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2021, 12:04:35 PM by ponash123 »

Offline sam28

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2021, 01:20:53 PM »
Wow nice TR keep it coming

Offline ponash123

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2021, 10:34:08 AM »
Sunday:

AtitlŠn is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen, encircled by mountains and volcanos, with absolutely perfect weather. It is surrounded by about a dozen different villages, many of which are home to a primarily indigenous community. The Mayans are still living in this area, and many of the towns each have their own signature style of clothing.
Most frum travelers that go to Lake AtitlŠn end up staying in San Pedro, because there is a Chabad center and Kosher restaurant. Food was never much of a barrier for us and so we opted to stay in Panajachel, primarily because itís a good location, and we could find a nice hotel on the water (San Pedro and many of the others tend to lean towards the backpacker/hostel crowd).

We stayed in Hotel AtitlŠn, which is beautiful and has magnificent grounds and gardens. They are directly on the lake, and has the most amazing views. 





View from the balcony:




Lake AtitlŠn:










Sunday Morning we took the hotel tuk-tuk to town for the Sunday market. This is really colorful, with lots of street vendors selling all sorts of food items, sitting on stools or pallets surrounded by their goods. We had a great time strolling about and enjoying the scene.





Street in Panajachel:


In the afternoon we took a guided tour of San Juan, one of the surrounding towns.
To get there, we took one of the many public ferries that go across and around the lake many times a day.
San Juan is a quiet, tranquil little town that doesnít have too many tourists. Thereís a great hike called Indian Nose that we had initially planned on doing for sunrise but opted out once we did Acatenango.
Strolling through town we saw handicraft vendors selling colorful wares, and farmers drying corn in the sun, all with the stunning backdrop that includes the mountains and the lake. The locals take pride in their craft traditions, which include painting and weaving. 
We visited a weaving coop, run by several local families, where we were treated to a presentation of how it runs and the process from beginning to end. We stayed there for a while and shopped a bit when the presentation was done.
We visited some art galleries and strolled around, stopping by a coffee plantation and shop.
We then took a ferry back to Pana and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our hotel.



Cotton growing:


Around San Juan:






Coffee beans:


Monday:
Monday was a chill day. We spent some time in town in the morning and spent all afternoon relaxing at the pool and lake by the hotel.
 
Tuesday:
The Solola Market takes place every Tuesday and Friday morning and is considered one of the most authentic market in Guatemala (as opposed to Chichicastenango which is a very popular market for tourist.
The market is not for gift or souvenir buying, rather simply enjoying the sights and sounds of a traditional market where you can find fish, meat, housewares, and just about anything else.
Solola Marketís main draw is witnessing the huge variety of colorful costumes worn by the vendors and sellers, Several Mayan tribes travel to this market from nearby villages to trade their goods, therefore the market is a blaze of color from the people, textiles, flowers, and produce.








We visited AtitlŠn Nature Reserve, located right next to our hotel.
There are a few nice walking trails, hanging bridges, and zip lines. One is able to spot spider monkeys, coatis, and kinkajous, as well as beautiful gardens and waterfalls. Itís definitely a nice place to spend a few hours.

In the late afternoon we packed up and headed out. We chose to get our COVID tests in Antigua, so stopped off there. After that, we had a delicious dinner and hung around Chabad for a few hours.
We then drove to the airport, giving ourselves plenty of time to go through the necessary lines and checkpoints at the airport, and had a pleasant, very empty flight home.

Offline whacked1

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2021, 10:49:48 AM »
Great TR!

Offline yuds70

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2021, 10:56:46 AM »
Planning a visit in March, thanks!
Make stuff happen.

Offline ponash123

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2021, 10:58:45 AM »
Planning a visit in March, thanks!

Enjoy! It's definitely the kind of place I would go back to

Offline ponash123

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2021, 11:07:39 AM »

Offline koplonko

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2021, 01:38:36 PM »
@ponash123 great TR, with nice schedule (mix of hiking and chilling). Did you rent a car? Or is it all Uber/tuktuk?

Offline ponash123

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2021, 11:29:21 AM »
@ponash123 great TR, with nice schedule (mix of hiking and chilling). Did you rent a car? Or is it all Uber/tuktuk?

Thanks!

No, I took Ubers locally and booked a driver ahead of time for the longer drives (though I could've done Uber for that as well)

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2021, 01:52:17 PM »
Great TR. been on my list for quite some time.

Offline justaregularguy

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2021, 11:35:35 PM »
I must note the pictures are really very sharp and colorful! I liked it a lot!
What camera do u use?
nothings impossible- the word itself says Im possible

Offline ponash123

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2021, 10:55:51 AM »
I must note the pictures are really very sharp and colorful! I liked it a lot!
What camera do u use?

Thanks! Most are phone pics (Galaxy S21), but a few are taken on a Sony A7iii

Offline justmeha

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2021, 10:14:06 PM »
would you mind giving a breakdown of costs?

especially for the hike up the volcano.

Offline ponash123

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Re: Guatemalan Getaway
« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2021, 10:31:40 AM »
would you mind giving a breakdown of costs?

especially for the hike up the volcano.

Sure, see below.

  • Flights: points, but I believe the cost is under $300
  • Hotels: Casa Santa Domingo cost $125 a night. Hotel Atitlan cost $155 a night (Shabbos overlapped and we paid for both hotels)
  • Inter-city driver for 3 long trips: $200
  • Ubers around town: minimal, maybe $7 all together for a bunch of trips
  • Hike: $50 per person, plus I believe another $50 if you want a horse. I don't remember what the porter costs since it was paid in cash then, but I believe about $10 each way
  • San Juan tour: $60 per person
  • COVID tests: $45 per person

Those were the big expenses. There were random tuktuks and small expenses, as well as food etc.