New Year in Guatemala

In last month’s travel post, I told you all about our trip to the Galapagos. But that was just part one: after spending a few days in the archipelago, we flew to Guatemala and began part two of our journey. We landed in Guatemala City and drove to Antigua, the old capital of the country.

We were staying at the Filadelfia Coffee resort, which was both our hotel and location of our first visit. While there, we had an in-depth tour of the coffee plantation, understanding how these tiny beans inside sweet berries are handpicked, washed, dried and roasted. Believe me, I now fully appreciate the hard work behind every cappuccino I consume!

After our morning exploring the plantation, we headed out for an afternoon in Antigua Guatemala, where we visited churches and marvelled at the beautiful, brightly coloured buildings. Antigua is also the first place where we could fully appreciate the beauty of Guatemalan handicrafts and textiles, so needless to say we picked up a few souvenirs before heading back to the hotel.

The next day, we woke up before dawn to start the long drive to Lake Atitlan. Arriving in Panajachel, we hopped on a boat to Santiago Atitlan, on the other side of the lake. We disembarked in a bustling town, where we learned about traditional Guatemalan embroideries and clothing, visited the Mayan deity Maximon (whose effigy moves house every year) and soaked up as much local culture as possible. It was dark by the time we got back to the hotel, but the next day was quite a relaxed one, with sleeping in, zip lining above the coffee plantation and an evening flight to Flores, to spend New Year’s Eve in the Mayan site of Tikal.

We were staying in the gorgeous Las Lagunas resort, with rooms overlooking the lagoons of Flores and which possesses the most incredible private museum of Mayan artefacts, including authentic jade jewellery, vases and even a skull with jade teeth inserts! December 31st was spent exploring Tikal and it lived up to every documentary I’ve watched or article I’ve read.

We spent hours walking, climbing and exploring the temples and humid jungle, with us wondering if every mound or hill we passed concealed yet another Maya structure. In short, I can’t imagine spending New Year’s Eve in a better place. One of my highlights of Guatemala and the entire trip, actually, was the morning of January 1st when we embarked on a boat on the lagoon. The hotel offered their guests monkey-feeding excursions so we couldn’t leave without a trip to a small island, which is home to a handful of spider monkeys. As soon as the boat pulled up to the island, the monkeys started to emerge from the branches and a particularly cheeky one, named Margarita, climbed onto the boat and began helping herself to the bananas in the bucket.

The other monkeys, who rely on these daily visits to eat enough, stayed on their branches and were handed bananas by the hotel staff. But Margarita stayed on the boat, sauntering between guests, sitting down next to each person, checking nooks and crannies for more food and eventually sitting down and waiting. Waiting for what, you might ask? Well, the boat started up and Margarita eventually stood up, holding on to the canopy and when the boat stopped, grabbed a branch and got back on her island. She was effectively using the boat as a bus and did so every day. I can tell you, meeting cheeky Margarita was definitely a memorable way to start 2018!