Welcome to Part II of my wrap-up of my 2015 trip to America (Mexico, Guatemala and Belize). Part I ended as I was leaving Mexico for Guatemala. Again, click on the graphic below to get an in-depth look at the route I took on my trip.
I first added Guatemala to my plans because it seemed like the next natural step after Mexico. I was also attracted to the country because two of my favourite podcasters, Josh and Chuck of Stuff You Should Know-fame did a show about Guatemala (Part I, Part II). I more or less just cherry-picked from Indie Traveler’s Guatemala itinerary (it all looked so good in the pictures): Xela, Lago Atitlán, Antigua, Semuc Champey, and Flores-Tikal.
I was also extremely excited to check out Quetzaltrekkers, a non-profit organisation that runs multi-day treks including one from Xela to Lago Atitlán, where a friend’s Dad had recently been to learn Spanish. In the end that didn’t eventuate, but I got to trek up a volcano with OX Expeditions in Antigua, which more than made up for it (I’m talking highlight of my trip here – I can’t recommend more highly!).
Tourism infrastructure in Guatemala is extremely developed, and the Guatemalans are well-versed in getting tourists to spend more. You can’t trust any price quoted to you; officially or unofficially, tourists are almost always required to pay more than locals. I copped this at the entrance gate to the Tikal ruins, but walked away in a huff when a local ferry operator wanted to charge me triple the going rate for the short trip to Santiago Atitlán. You can try as hard as you like haggling in Spanish with them but most of the time you just have to accept it.
After Guatemala, I knew I wanted to check out the Yucatan Peninsula back in Mexico. Belize was on the way, and I couldn’t pass up the extra stamps on my passport. In Belize, I visited Caye Caulker (a tiny island with a Caribbean feel), again on Indie Traveler’s suggestion. I had a rollicking good time there snorkelling and chilling out with fellow-travellers but I don’t regret not venturing further into the country.
The Yucatan Peninsula (Quintana Roo & Yucatán) is a real hub for international tourism. It’s known for its incredible cenotes (mainly near Tulum and Valladolid), snorkeling & diving (Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Xcalak), its natural beauty and quieter beaches (Akumal, Xcaret, Holbox) and, of course, its party game (Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres). I also spent a few relaxed days by Lake Bacalar, which I would highly recommend.
If I’m being honest, the Yucatan Peninsula wasn’t a good fit for me. I live near enough to Cronulla in Sydney to take the beach for granted, and staying at (admittedly, very beautiful, white sand) beaches (with no waves, though!) felt like a waste of time. I gave it an ‘old college try’ – I even went to Cancun for Spring Break – but was very relieved when I left. To reclaim my trip, I quickly found a Couchsurfing host, bought some cheap plane tix, and jetted off to Monterrey (that city with the big mountain next to it).
Monterrey was the perfect tonic for my restlessness. My host was super lovely, I hung out with her and all her friends all weekend, spoke Spanish the whole time, and had an amazing time. Besides this, you might like Monterrey for its shopping, nightlife, museums (the Kubrick exhibition was fantastic), and parks. There are also the nearby Grutas de García, and I think there might be good hiking and eco-tourism around Monterrey too, but I was there during winter and it rained every day.
After Monterrey, I lazed around in Mérida and Venice Beach for a few days before heading home to Sydney. I was smashed after (not) sleeping at Monterrey airport and was perfectly ok with just letting the last days come to me rather than the other way around.
In Mexico, I discovered a stunningly beautiful, culturally vibrant and extremely diverse country (and the food!). Guatemala and Belize were also fun destinations for chilling out and getting outdoors. If you’re wondering why I haven’t written about LA or San Franisco, it’s just because I think my readership would likely already know a lot about those places.
Looking back, I’m really happy with how my trip went and I can’t wait to go traveling again! Thanks again for reading, my next post will look at how I progressed with Spanish on my travels. Feel free to hit “Follow”, leave a comment below, tweet to me at @TimSpricht or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.