1) pay $20 for direct on a shuttle transfer with gringos taking c.3 hours
2) pay $5 for various transport forms with locals taking 3.5 hours
Well with some Germans we took option 2. Started with standing in a pick up out of town with stunning views across the lake and being able to grab at coffee plants growing along the way. We got held in a village due to a parade so we had a birds eye view. Followed this by a local shuttle to the main PanAmericana Highway then two chicken buses to Xela. Why take the easy option when so much fun doing it the local way. Plus always funny seeing locals reaction to tall gringos with non-black hair...usually involves staring a lot!
Whats a chicken bus i hear you say...essentially a yellow US school bus converted to a bus with fancy graphics and lights and adults crammed in 3x3...particularly fun for a long legged gringo like myself! Also a nightmare if you need a pee as they stop for no one...I found myself peeing next to the front tyre by the door with the driver revving his engine and edging slightly forward...talk about a pressure piss! Whole bus probably thought i was a loco gringo!!
Next stop Semuc Champey essentially from far West Guatemala to East so a long 12hr journey. Decided on the local transport way again and saved Q270 ($35 about 4 nights dorm accommodation) and was rewarded with beautiful sceneries as I travelled through the Rio Chixoy valley and mountain range as i ate my peanuts bought through the window from a street vendor. Only downside was spending 3 hrs next to an old man who smelt like he had soiled himself...reminded me of being at home with the family!!
Semec Champey is a beautiful spot but only managed to stay for 2 nights. My hostel was on the river with hammocks to chill in so easily could of relaxed for longer. The main draw are the caves and river pools. The caves are 11km long but only venture in 1km by candlelight...yup candlelight and with water everywhere means darkness with bats around you a common occurrence. With our small group of Brits we ventured into the darkness; swam through rivers; jumped off ledges and slid through holes. All the time protecting our candle and thinking who the hell found out about this???
Next up was the swing in the river where i flew and flayed into the water and winding myself...following that some tubing and final adrenaline fix jumping off the bridge (I failed at the last hurdle after Fred winded himself!). Most nerve racking thing was crossing the bridge by truck as some idiot had stolen the slats!!
Following that the pools at Semec are stunning. From the mirador the site is huge but the real treat comes when swimming around and jumping into the deep pools. When chilaxing the fish start nibbling so get a bonus exfoliation!! Some pools even have mini caves where the only exit is by swimming under the rock face. Overall a fun day and a worthwhile stop through the Guatemalan countryside.
Final Guatemala leg was Tikal and nearby lake Flores. Tikal is the largest and most famous Mayan site of Guatemala. Built in c.200-900AD in the Mayan classic period it is famous for being surrounded by jungle and where the Ewok's lived in "Star Wars VI Return Of The Jedi". Tikal is a Mayan word for echo as showed by our guide in the main plaza as he awoke the forest! Went for the sunrise tour although being jungle the mist never cleared as the photos show. Although disappointing sitting on the tallest temple (No4) and hearing the howler monkeys wake up and birds start to tweet made up for the lack of sunshine. 80% of the 120sq km site of Tikal is still covered in forest thus what you see although impressive is just a small part of the huge city...having said that what you can see if stunning in terms of grandeur and forest location. It is bigger than Copan in Honduras but Copan has more detailed carvings and engravings thus a good contrast to see both.