Tikal took us a day to explore and if the weather was warmer and drier
we may have been tempted to stay another day. As it was we decided to
get back to the west of the country where we would get better weather.
We were also really eager to see Antigua, the old capital, which we'd
heard lots of good things about.
So, another long but, this time, mostly dry journey later we found ourselves
at Guatemala City at dusk and in the rush hour. Not a pleasant place to
be and we had 100kms to go. The next hour was one of the scariest rides
ever with a busy unlit and unmarked dual carriageway winding its way around
mountains. I was really glad to take the slip road for Antigua where the
road quality improved dramatically and traffic was much reduced. Just
as well as the road descends at an incredibly steep angle for the last
20 minutes into Antigua.
Antigua is a lovely low-rise city set out on a grid pattern with cobbled
streets. We settled into a nice cheap hotel run by a lovely character
called Daniel who had a collection of 2 ancient American cars. We noticed
some of the guests had come in very nice cars from both Mexico and the
Antigua was the first capital of Guatemala when it was a Spanish colony
but following a devastating earthquake the capital was moved to Guatemala
This explains the lack of modern development in the city as well as
why most buildings are single storey. Since tourism has arrived the city,
which is really the size of a medium size town, has been restored beautifully.
It's not just a city for tourists but it comes close. An English barman
at our favourite breakfast place described it as a little Europe, which
is about right although few European towns are set at the foot of a stunning
volcano over which the sun rises. Yes, we most definitely liked Antigua!
We spent a couple of nights there and could easily have spent more but
as ever we were conscious of time. Incidentally, Cafe 2000 serves the
best coffee and cheesecake anywhere.
Stories of how beautiful Lake Atitlan is lured us away from Antigua.
We took a windy backroad route through the mountains to Panacachel on
the shore of the lake and stayed in a hotel connected to the one we stayed
Panacachel was very much a small tourist town. The streets were full
of restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. There were also a large number
of Indian women in colourful traditional clothing making a living selling
souvenirs. Surprisingly for a lake side tourist town the lake shore was
not the centre of activity although there were plenty of restaurants there.
Most of the activity seemed to be further up the road between the lake
and the traditional town centre.
Our favourite restaurant was a long established one on the lakeshore,
which seemed to be run by an American who loved playing mellow rock songs
for his customers. He wasn't bad but for me he was upstaged by a very
tasty dish of stuffed peppers.