#ETLCA Travelling Guatemala: Flores, Antigua and Lake Atilan

On the morning that we checked out of our hostel in San Ignacio, we had made friends with three other backpackers and so we decided to travel together to Flores.

Crossing the border, Belize to Guatemala. 

We negotiated with a tour company, as there were five of us, to take us directly to the border for $5 each. You are able to get buses to towns just before the border and then take a taxi to the border, but it's quicker and probably around the safe price to take a private car.

Crossing the border was relatively hassle free. You are greeted by a hoard of currency exchangers when you leave your taxi / bus. But if you don't need any GQT then a simple and stern no thanks will do and they will leave you alone. 

To leave Belize you have to pay 37 Belize dollars or you can pay in US dollars (around $18 depending on your exchange rate). You then walk through a large office to get your passport stamped and to cross the border. 

Once onto the Guatemala side, you will then be hounded by taxi drivers wanting to take you to Flores or $12-15 depending on your group size. We ignored these guys and headed for the Guatemalan immigration centre which is a few minutes walk after the border. 

Here you pay again to enter Guatemala a fee of $4 and then if you continue walking across the bridge you will see a range of collectivo (mini van) buses. Then usually have the destination on them, but we asked how much to Flores and managed to negotiate the deal down to $4 each. 

Stop Seven: Travelling to Flores
I'm not going to lie, I was pretty worried about visiting here as I had seen reviews of muggings, murders and gangs holding up tour buses as this is a popular route for backpackers who want to visit the superb Tikal ruins without paying over the odds for a hostel/hotel in Tikal. But I have to say, I felt perfectly safe here. We didn't venture out at night and walked around in the day whilst staying at the amigos hostel. 

I would say to keep your wits about yourself when exploring Flores and Santa Elena, but in the day time you are fine. 

The Amigos hostel is also a great place to stay. Offering backpackers good food, cheap drinks and great tours. We stayed in a private room that turned out to be a tree house! It was pretty amazing. 

From here we booked a tour to the Tikal ruins for 95 GQT (£7.91). This included a guide and return transport to the park. 

I would highly recommend getting a guide as this is an extra 20 GQT dollars or £1.66 (just transport is 75 GQT return) as we took the sunset tour and ended up walking through the jungle in the dark. Plus he will point out all the little unknown features about the worlds latest Mayan ruins. (Read the full review if the Tikal Ruins

After seeing the magnificent ruins of Tikal, we booked an overnight bus with our hostel to Antigua for 250 GQT (£20.81). So the next day we check out and chilled in the hammocks before getting food and leaving for our overnight bus at 9pm. 

The bus was great and picked us up from our hostel. We purchased the first class ticket and not VIP. It was still impressive as you were given large reclining chairs and lots of leg space. 

Travel Note: One thing to understand about Central America is that you will always be around two hours late on your original arrival time. So our bus arrived at 7.30am in Guatemala City and was meant to get in at 6:00am. We then connected to our shuttle bus from here to Antigua, where we arrived around 9am after some minor delays on the shuttle bus...as the roof rack fell off (eek!).

Stop Eight: Antigua 

Arriving in Antigua, we were greeted by old cobbled streets and brightly painted streets. Antigua has to be one of my favourite places so far in Central America. It's also the best place to learn Spanish and is what the rest of our travel friends were doing there, a weeks home stay with a Spanish family. 

Antigua is also a relatively small place and so walking around the streets doesn't take too long. After checking into our hostel, we walked around the streets. Passing local markets and western restaurants, Antigua has a nice balance of local and western food and drink for you to choose from. We found an amazing local restaurant that was two blocks off the Central Park area and it was incredible! 30 GQT or £2.50 for a stuffed burrito with rice, meat, guacamole, sour cream etc and drink. 

There are also a number of tour companies who offer transport throughout Guatemala and Honduras. There is also a lot of things to do such as hiking tours and climbing the active volcano. 

Negotiate with the local tour companies to find a good deal on these. We took a tour up to the active volcano and it cost us 50 GQT for a half day tour (6:00am or 2:00pm). Personally I recommend taking the 6:00am as it's so clear and there is very little cloud. (A more detailed blog post coming soon). 

Stop Nine: Lake Atitlan 

When booking our Volcano tour we decided to also book a bus to the idyllic Lake Atitlan. It took 2.5 hours to get here and we took a collectivo mini bus for 70GQT (£2.40)

After reading a very helpful blog post on the Globe Trotter Girls, who spent two weeks at the lake, we discovered that the lake actually has 12 different villages surrounding it and all had something for everyone's tastes. These can all be reached by water taxi from Panajachel; however, due to timing we decided to stay in Panajachel (which is the slightly more touristy village) in a hostel that was located close to the lake and right on the main Santander road. 

On our first day we walked down to the lake and soaked in its natural beauty just before the rain hit. This place is truly spectacular and definitely worth a little trip around. Later that night, after paying a short trip to the ATM machine, we headed for pizza at a local restaurant. 

With the sun shining brightly and no more rain in site, we decided to head back down to the lake to see it in a clearer day light. The only word to describe this is breath taking, as we dipped out little feet in the cool water by the docks. Here you can take a boat tour around the lake or rent kayaks and paddle around yourself. 

After that that we explored around the market stalls on Santander Road. Here you will find a range of clothes, fabrics, leather goods and hand made jewellery for a good and negotiable price. Before heading out for dinner at a local taco restaurant close to us, we had been told that the sunset on the lake was superb and something which should not be missed. Trust me, it did not disappoint. 

After two relaxing days in Panajachel, we took a collectivo mini bus back to Antigua for one night before we began out 14 journey to La Ceiba in Honduras. 

Which leads me to me next stop...Honduras 
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