Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Guatemala - 2016 (Antigua) - Part I


  • When transiting through Mexico City, please plan to have a longer stop over time because of the flight delays and long lines for immigration, everyone has to go through immigration and customs. 
  • Stop by the Tourist Information center near the Central Park, friendly staff provides a lot of useful information.
  • Visit during the Easter time, there are a lot of processions and you can get a great cultural immersion. 
  • If you have more than a week to spend and want to cover more areas, think about getting into Guatemala City and getting out of Belize City or Cancun (or the opposite direction).  Accessing Belize or Cancun from Tikal is pretty easy that will save you a overnight ride back to Guatemala City by bus.
  • There are a lot of private shuttles operate between Lanquin and Lake Attitlan area, so if you have more time go for the day time ride to Lanquin from where go can easily go to Tikal.
  • We couldn’t find anything to do for more than 2 days in Antigua.  If you just want to chill there, it is a place. 
  • Guatemala is reasonably clean, at least in the tourist areas.  Even during the Easter celebration where thousands of people gather, the whole city was kept clean.
  • If you want to enjoy the local street food, head to the La Merced church area.
  • Yashkin is a very good driver who speaks good English and very punctual - his #4787-7055 (kiwis17@hotmail.com)

My Journey

Places that we visited in Guatemala - Antigua, Tikal and Lake Atitlan

Getting to Guatemala

I started to worry whether I’d be able to meet my kids in the Mexico City because the airline crew showed up 15 minutes in SFO and I have only 90 stop over in Mexico 
City.  On top of it, everyone has to go through the immigration and customs even if you are a transit passenger and the lines for the immigration were pretty long.  Just 20 minute before the flight departure, I had to cut in front of the immigration line to make it to the flight on time (last one to check-in).
Guatemala City airport is pretty small and getting out to find shuttles to go Antigua is pretty simple.  But booked a private taxi with Yashkin and he was prompt.  His dad was a German passport holder so he gets the German passport, which enabled him to work in Germany for more than 6 years before returning home to run his own business.  

El Hostel - Antigua 

El Hostel, the place where we stayed, was couple of blocks away from the Central Park area and it’s a pretty nice hostel to hangout to make new friends.  The breakfast at the hostel was pretty good.  We hung around talking to a friend from Canada (Joans) before went to the Central Park.  The Tourist Information center on the way provided very good information.

City Walk

Walked around the Central Park that was busy with a lot of activities and visited the Saint Joseph cathedral at the center, which was destroyed by the earthquake.  That church must be one of the impressive structures at that point in time.  The church at the Central Park had decorations for Easter and had a massive “alfombra” (street decoration) in the main hall.  There’s also some celebration happening in the church and the music was great.

After getting some mango slices from the street side vendor for the afternoon snack, walked towards the Santa Catalina arch and beyond.  We walked to the local market but there’s nothing interesting, so went back to the hostel.  We couldn’t go to the Pacaya hike the next day because of the festival in town. 

Easter Week Festivity

Part of the festival during the weekend, there’s a procession from the San Francisco church from where small kids, under 10 yrs., were carrying Jesus and Marry in the floats.  Some kids were happy to be in the procession and some were not.  All of the kids and adults who were participating in the procession were dressed up in black robes and carrying incense.  The whole street was very smoky with the incense. 

People started to decorate in front of their homes/businesses with “alfombra”s around 10pm and we waited for more than two hours to capture the progress of the artistic work but got tired and came back to the hostel :-(  

Woke up at early morning and walked on the procession route for more than a mile to enjoy the decorations done on the street.  There’s not much crowd at 630am and after spending about 90 minutes, we came back to the hostel for breakfast.  But within the hour when we were in the hostel, the crowd gathered in the procession route and we couldn’t even get closer to the procession.  There must be more than 100K people in the small streets.  We managed to get to a spot from where we could see the procession.

Teenage boys carried Jesus and teenage girls carried Mary floats, and the whole procession path was filled with a lot of incense smoke.  It’s a very colorful procession with people carrying the floats in the black robes and a lot of indigenous people in their colorful dresses. 

Festival Organization

We were totally impressed with the number of volunteers keeping the place, packed with a lot of people, very clean and as the floats passed over the decorations, the cleanup trucks cleaned it up immediately.

Walk to the Hill and Roaming Around the City

After having coffee in one of the cafes, where we met a few of Sharada’s friends from USC, we headed to the hill to have the panoramic view of the city.  The hike to the hill was petty easy and short, but the view was good.  There’s police everywhere in the city and in all of Guatemala we always felt safe.  

We noticed on the way to the hill that the whole city was decorated with “alfombra” because the procession
was going all over the city.  The procession started at 6am in a near by village and ends in the Central Park at 6pm.  There was live music at the city park in the evening because that’s the end point for the procession and the whole city was in a festive atmosphere and the ATMs were running out of money J Getting out of the city to the Guatemala City Bus stand in our shuttle took more than 2 hours because of the terrible traffic.

Una Zona

The bus stand is in Una Zona (Zone 1) in the Guatemala City, which is supposed to be one of the bad neighborhoods, but we felt pretty safe in the bus stand.  A few tourists ventured out to the neighborhood McDonalds to get their dinner and returned without any issues, but we didn’t want to take any risk.  The bus was on time and the bus ride was comfortable, good and freezing :-).

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