Antigua and Lago de Atitlan
21.04.2011 - 28.04.2011
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Antigua is described by the guidebooks, and rightly so, as one of Central America's colonial gems. The city has countless ruined churches, monasteries and convents and as we discovered an abundance of good restaurants and well stocked supermarkets. As well as ticking all of these boxes we were there during the celebrations for Semana Santa (Easter) which meant the City was alive with people from all over Guatemala.
The celebrations were elaborate and the whole event was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Throughout the day an army of people would work to create colourful carpets on the streets out of coloured sawdust and flowers. Over these, hundreds of people in religious processions would then walk, dressed up in purple or black robes and carrying or wheeling floats depicting scenes from Christ's crucifixion. The parades continued all day and throughout the night and the sound of the brass bands and the smell of burning incense was everywhere.
Carly and Ben had to leave us after the first couple of days to head back to reality in the UK. However, on our way to Antigua we had stopped in Guatemala City to pick up Michael's sister so we were not quite back down to two just yet.
We spent the first couple of days walking around town, watching the parades, eating delicious food and taking photographs of just about everything. The weather was good and we even decided to do some souvenir shopping given that we are coming up to the end of our trip and not so adverse to carrying extra stuff on our packs.
By Saturday night the parades were mostly finished and we decided to climb Volcan Pacaya on Easter Sunday. Pacaya is an active volcano and before a reasonably violent eruption in May last year it was possible to see glowing lava flows. Following the eruption the nightly lava show has stopped, but you can still climb to the top and toast marshmallows on volcanic vents, which was a bit of a novelty.
After Antigua we jumped on a chicken bus to Lago de Atitlan, a high mountain lake ringed by volcanos. The lake is famous for its natural beauty and tranquility and is ringed with small towns of indigenous Mayan communities and expatriots running small hostels and guesthouses.
We decided to stay in San Marcos, a town known for its meditation centres and yoga classes. The choice of town turned out to be a bit of a mistake as the annual San Marcos festival was on and although we usually enjoy festivals it basically meant that everything in the village was closed and Rammstein, Guns and Roses, Metallica and pounding trance music was played through the town PA system until about 4am each night. Despite this most unrelaxing atmosphere we managed to do some yoga in the mornings, walk between some of the villages along the lake front in the afternoon and jump into the lake from a 10 meter platform.
For our last night in Atitlan we moved to San Pedro, partly for ease of transport to our next destination and partly to get away from the San Marcos festival. San Pedro was a lot bigger, seemed to have more going on and we should have probably have spent all our time there, taking day trips out to some of the other villages. We stayed in a pretty nice place and got some fantastic views of the lake including a spectacular sunrise the morning of our departure.