Lake Atitlan- The Most Picturesque Lake in The World

View of Lake Atitlan and Volcans Atitlan, San Pedro & Toliman from the shore of Panajachel.

Since I’ve been here in Antigua I’ve made two short trips to Lake Atitlan. The first trip was only for an afternoon and included a 40 minute cruise around the lake. The second time I stayed for three nights and three days. The first two nights I stayed in the Mayan village of Santa Catarina with a friend and her Mayan family.

the multi-million dollar view

Now, when I say I stayed with her family that really is quite the understatement. The house I stayed in was where her parents live. Next to this house was her brother’s house. On another side was her uncle’s house. Another side, her father’s shop, Turn in another direction and there was another brother’s small shop. It was more of a surprise to turn a direction and not see a relative or a relative’s home. I guess that’s how they roll here. Continue reading

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Tikal

Tikal are Mayan ruins located deep in the jungle of northeastern Guatemala.  The road into the park enters Tikal about 11 miles from the ruins.  The ruins are quite spread out through the park and despite heavy tourism the jungle atmosphere makes for a pleasant experience.  Many of the ruins remain uncovered and you can see current excavations taking place.  It’s possible to climb some of the structures in the park and to see stunning panoramic views with the tops of pyramids jutting out above the jungle canopy.  The history of the ruins dates back to 400 BC and ends around 900 AD along with the general decline in Mayan civilization.

I took an organized day tour from Flores to Tikal and this is what I experienced…

Upon entering Tikal the shuttle drove by a pack of pisotes. The shuttle stopped at the inn before we began our tour into the jungle. At the entrance there are a few restaurants, two museums, campground, ticket booth, the visitor center and the licensed tour guides. After showing our ticket we walked for about 5 minutes into the park and we came to the photographic map of Tikal.

path in Tikal

photographic map of Tikal

After walking another 10 minutes or so we came to our first structures in the park, complex Q. Complex Q was built to commemorate the end of an era (almost 20 years). Two temples were built, one representing the sunrise and the other representing the sunset. The temples have a staircase on each side. On the north side of the plaza is a building Continue reading

Hostel Review: Jungle Palace

After years of backpacking and hostel after hostel all of the places I’ve stayed in tend to become a blur. Not many places I’ve stayed in are memorable or they are memorable for the wrong reasons. The Jungle Palace in El Panchan near the Mayan ruins of Palenque would be a glaring exception to that rule. You really are IN THE JUNGLE. You live with the plants, bugs, and animals. In fact when you first arrive you begin to wonder if you live with monsters too, as in the mysterious “monster” from LOST. You hear this horrific noise in the distance that surely has to be otherworldly or from another time. If you watched the video clip above you can hear what I am talking about for yourself. As it turns out the noise is actually from the howler monkeys that are your neighbors here in El Panchan.

I stayed in El Panchan for 3 nights and if you can live without wi-fi I recommend that you do so as well. I didn’t stay in Palenque town, but I imagine if I did I would have already forgotten what it was like. If you really are suffering withdrawals from the Internet you can take a 10 minute ride into town if you need to connect back to the outside world. Or better yet, this may be your only vacation from the “internets” in a long time. Although you do not have Internet, the Jungle Palace does have electricity and clean bathrooms with hot water showers. The beds in my room were comfortable and hanging around in my room listening to the sounds of the jungle was relaxing, at least when the howler monkeys were not around. Another important feature is the free use of metal lockers for valuables as many of the rooms feature screen windows that could be easily broken into. The Jungle Palace can also arrange your transportation or tours to nearby places and attractions. In fact I booked my 8 hour trip to Flores, Guatemala with the receptionist.

Another fun thing to do at the Jungle Palace is to strap on some thermal vision glasses borrowed from Arnold and pretend you are in “Predator“. Make sure you turn up the volume to eleven. Check it out-

bridge over the stream

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Palenque

Palenque is a Mayan city state dating from 100 BC to 800 AD. The peak of its power and grandeur was achieved in the 7th Century. It was abandoned around 800 AD and gradually absorbed into the jungle. Today about 1 square mile of the site has been excavated and restored. This area is estimated to cover less than 10% of the total area that the city once covered. It is believed that there are still thousands of structures yet to be excavated and restored. Much of the ruins that we now see are largely attributed to K’inich Janaab’ Pakal or Pacal The Great. Pacal The Great ruled Palenque from 615 to 683 AD. He is best known for the Temple Of The Inscriptions which contain his tomb.

Temple Of The Inscriptions

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Tonina- Mayan Superpower

Tonina is an archaeological site located 8 miles east of the town of Ocosingo in the Mexican state of Chiapas. It is a Mayan site and gained significant power through the use of warfare. Tonina’s greatest rival was Palenque, some 40 miles to the north. It was Tonina that eventually toppled their great rival. The site is imposing, rising over 230 feet over a plaza and features several temple-pyramids over seven terraces.

model of Tonina

The cheapest way to get to Tonina from the town of Ocosingo is by catching a colectivo or combi from the market in town.  It will cost you less than a dollar each way and drops you off right at the entrance to the site after about a 15-20 minute ride.

At the entrance of the site is the museum and you should definitely take a look inside.  The museum contains several carvings from the site and a few models of what Tonina looked like at its peak.

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