Our trip to Central America was a great addition to our travels and such an eye opening and exciting experience.
We started in Guatemala, which was definitely our favorite destination of the 4 countries we travelled to. We flew into Guatemala City and stayed in a nice hostel called Theatre International. Once we settled we realized we had no plan, luckily we met a nice French girl who had travelled Guatemala thoroughly and gave us all of her advice and shared her experiences.
There is not that much to do in Guatemala City so we only stayed for 2 days. We had some amazing coffee made for us by Guatemala’s number 1 Barista champion at cafe Divino. Other than that we just walked around the city, one thing that we noticed is that although many people told us how dangerous it was, the people were unbelievably friendly. You could see how much respect and kindness they have towards each other and even to tourists, they are very smiley and relaxed people, but we still would not advise people to walk around the city at night because you can run into problems.
Our next stop was Antigua, a town 1.5 hours from Guatemala City, and after spending just over a week there it has already become one of my favorite places in the world. It is a beautiful city with cobble stone streets and colourful colonial style buildings. We stayed in hostel Somos, which was very comfortable, and a good price, which we would highly recommend. In Somos we made so many great friends, not only with the fellow travellers but also with the staff. Antigua is a place where you will instantly feel at home and it is very safe. It is somewhat touristic but its not overwhelming and people selling their goods mostly don’t push it on you. Antigua is one of the most expensive cities in Guatemala but compared to Europe it’s pretty cheap.
We spent our week doing a Spanish class in the morning from 8-12 and the rest of the day checking out the local restaurants and cafes, meeting up with friends and just exploring. One day after class we went to a dog shelter called Animalaware with over 350 dogs, there was lots of cute and friendly dogs that we got to play with, although the whole place did smell quite awful. To adopt a dog from there is definitely a good choice as all the dogs have all of their vaccines and are neutered, and they’re super cute (we were tempted). Also, if anyone wants to go and volunteer there for a day or longer they are welcome.
On the weekend we went with some friends to hike up one of the biggest volcanos in Guatemala, Acatenango that is 3880 meters at its highest point, which was where we reached. The hike was very tough, cold and wet. We started at 11am and reached base camp at 5:00pm, we had to setup our tents in the rain and immediately got in to warm up, but as everything was quite wet it was really uncomfortable and really not warm. Luckily the rain stopped and we were able to make a fire and warm up and dry most of our things. The volcano next to ours was still active and it was crazy watching it erupt from our base camp, it looked incredible and was very loud. After having some “dinner” and a whiskey hot chocolate we had to get some sleep because we had to wake up at 3am to do the last 1.5 hours to the summit. The whole hike was so hard and we barley got any sleep, but when we got to the top the view made it totally worth it. Seeing the volcano erupting and the sunrise was an unbelievable site which no picture could do justice. We could only stay at the top for 45 minutes because it was so freezing cold. After that we had to get back to base camp, pack up all of our stuff and start the 3 hour hike back down. When we got to the bottom we were completely exhausted.
We headed back to Antigua and even though we wanted to sleep we had so much to get ready for the next day because we were leaving so we just got all of that done. In the evening we met all of our friends for a final goodbye and a pub quiz, the girls team won, and we had a good few drinks with their winnings!
Next day we headed with Niamh and Patrick to Lake Atitlan, which is a big beautiful lake with a few small towns scattered around it. We started in San Pedro which was alright but we weren’t too impressed with the quality of the hostels, I guess we were quite spoiled in Antigua and the bar had been set pretty high. We spent two days in San Pedro and then headed over to San Marcos, which is the more hippy and laid back area. Our other friends Cameron and Bree joined us in San Marcos, which was great! The girls did some yoga and we just chilled out, ate lots and drank more.
Niamh and Patrick had to leave the next day, which was sad, the rest of us stayed for another night because we wanted to do another hike up the mountain called “Indians Nose”. Rafi had a bad knee so she couldn’t join so it was just Cameron, Bree and I. We had to wake up at 3am to head over and climb to the top to catch the sunrise. Of course as we are in Guatemala things did not go as smoothly as planned, our guide was late and then our bus never showed up, so we had to take a tuk tuk the whole way. Our tuk tuk had a flat tire because of the absolutely shocking roads so me and Cam helped to lift it up while the driver changed the tire. We arrived at the mountain to find our new guide was not there, instead a 13 year old boy showed up and was going to show us the way up. Because the sun was already starting to rise we had to basically run up the whole way, so we managed to do a 45 min hike in 15 minutes, but we caught the sunrise, which again made it all worth it.
We headed back to the hostel and made our way back to Antigua because we had to go through there to get to our next destination. When we got back it was so nice to see all of the hostel guys again, and we quickly decided we wanted to spend another week here and do another week of Spanish. We start that the next day and we stayed with a host family, so we could practice some Spanish with them.
It was really nice staying with our host family; they were really welcoming and helped us out a lot with our Spanish. It was sadly time to leave Antigua for the last time and continue exploring Guatemala. We headed North to Lanquin to see Semuc Champey, which is a beautiful natural river which is turquoise. We explored caves, jumped off bridges and rope swings and swam in the amazing river. It was a long and tiring day but certainly worth it. After Semuc Champey we went further north to one of the must see sites in Guatemala, the Maya Ruins. These are some really incredible structures, only a small percentage of which have been uncovered. We visited two different ones, Tikal which is the famous one and Yaxha which is less but the more relxing as there where nearly no tourists and so much to see.
Next was Honduras, we had a really tough time getting there from Guatemala and had to drive 6 hours in the wrong direction to get over the boarder. We ended up at the Copan Ruins, so we decided to stay there for a night and check out the Ruins. With Macows being renaturlised by the ruins it gave it whole special feeling. In theMaya time Macows where held as domestiv animals. After the copan ruinas destination was Utila, one of the islands just off of the coast of Honduras. We spent a week on Utila and did our open water diving certificates at Alton’s Diving Shop. We got a great deal and had such a fantastic time diving all week. We were able to dive right next to the worlds 2nd largest barrier reef and we saw some amazing fish and reefs, the highlight of which was definitely the 5 meter long manta ray.
We weren’t too keen on spending much time in Honduras so we went straight from the island of Utila to Nicaragua, which was a 16-hour journey in total. We arrived in Leon with a couple of friends which we met along the way and spent a couple of days there. We didn’t think much of the small city but we enjoyed some activities like volcano boarding. Our friends decided to stay for a few days, but we found a beautiful hostel away from the city right on the beach called the “Surfing Turtle Lodge” and decided to go there. To get there we needed to take a bus, a boat and a horse carriage, which was really exciting. This was another highlight of our trip and we ended up extending our stay from 2 nights to a week. We got to surf, horseback ride on the beach, do yoga, play volleyball, eat good food and read books in the hammocks on the beach. They also hosted drinking games in the evenings, which was a good way to meet people and there was always a party in the nights, which were a lot of fun.
Next we went to a small town way off the beetle track called Managua, there wasn’t a whole lot to do there, so we checked out a chocolate making factory and then made our way to Granada. Granada is a very nice town with beautiful buildings and seems to be quite well developed. We met more great people there who we went with to have a look at a volcano with a lava river, which was an incredible site. Another person we met in Granada was Yader, a local Nicaraguan guy who was our age and made his living by making woodcarvings. We asked him to do a carving for us and we sat and talked with him and watched him make our carving. It was fantastic watching him and listening to his stories and about how he lives. After he had finished he invited us to his home to have a drink. Seeing where he lived was quite a shock, just outside of the town we entered into the slums, and he lived in a shack made of some wood and tin. He was very proud of his home, but for us it was really shocking to see someone our age living in these conditions. It is something quite different to see this with your own eyes and made us very aware of how privileged we are.
Next stop was Ometepe, an island on a huge lake in Southern Nicaragua where we travelled to with some friends. The ride there was extremely choppy on an old wooden boat, this was a very interesting journey. We didn’t have long on the island, we stayed in a very hippy style lodge and spent our day trekking 2 hours through the forest to find a beautiful waterfall. It was a long trek but definitely worth it, it was really spectacular. We left the following day, back on the rickety boat to the mainland and made our way to San Juan. We did some more surfing while there and enjoyed some of the local cuisine. Again, we only had a day there and then made our way to our final destination, Costa Rica.
Our first stop in Costa Rica was the capital city, San Jose. With the bus from Nicaragua arriving in San Jose we got out at the end station and there were no Taxis around. It was a very long journey with loads of traffic. We stood there a bit plan less. When a taxi driver came to us and asked if we needed a taxi. Somehow Rafaela got a bit suspicious and asked him for his taxi license and he showed us some laminated thing. We put our bags in the car and he started to ask us if we had already arranged a hostel and what the hostels name is. He then decided to call it and handed the phone to Rafaela. She took it and the person on the other side was telling her to wait and he will check if they are full. He then said that they are fully booked. At that point we both got suspicious and told the driver to pull to the side and that we will jst walk from then on, which we did. Later when talking to the hostel owner he told us that this was a scam and that he was trying to get us to go to one of his friends hostels and basically rip us off, so we were lucky that we had realized this. Apparently in Costa Rica every Taxi needs to have a yellow triangle with the taxi number on it. Also for future reference it’s good to tell them to put the taximeter on.
This was the first city we went to that we didn’t enjoy at all; it is a big built up city and takes you out of the traveller feeling. We had to stay there for 2 days before we had our volunteer week on a farm in the jungle. We tried to make the most of our time there and see as much of the city as possible. We were relieved when we left and were excited to get to the farm; we started to feel like proper backpackers again.
The week spent on the farm had some ups and downs. The group we were staying with were great, we all got along very well and spent a lot of time together playing games in the evening, cooking together, going to the local bar and some yoga. There wasn’t that much work to do on the farm and we weren’t very satisfied with the tasks we were given. On our last day we got to build a bench from scratch which was probably one of the highlights.
When we left the farm we headed back to San Jose to meet Rafi’s mum Claudia, she came to join us for the last couple for weeks. It was a nice change as we stayed in some hotels rather than hostels, so we had a lot more comfort. In these weeks we travelled around the whole of Costa Rica and saw some unbelievable wild life. One day we saw dolphins and birds hunting flying fish together which was a beautiful sight. We of course saw lots of monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, snakes, spiders and much more. One day I went swimming and realized there was a crocodile in the water with me about 10 meters away, needless to say I got out of the water pretty quickly.